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USVI Community Pulse

Urgent Call for Action: Addressing the Youth Crisis in the USVI

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In a virtual community stakeholder event held on December 19, 2023, the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development revealed the latest findings in its 2023 KIDS COUNT USVI Data Book, poignantly titled “A CALL TO ACTION: Sounding the Alarm on Child Well-being in the U.S. Virgin Islands.” This crucial document, supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF), serves as a key resource for tracking the well-being of children and families across the United States, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the USVI.

The 2023 edition of the Data Book places a spotlight on pressing issues impacting USVI’s youth, spanning family and community dynamics, educational outcomes, health, and economic stability. A central focus is the rising concern regarding “Opportunity Youth,” those between 16 and 24 years old who are not engaged in education or employment. The report notes a worrying increase in violent crimes within this demographic, jumping from 198 incidents in 2021 to 243 in 2022, marking a 22.7% rise. Encouragingly, participation in youth employment and internship programs, such as those offered by the V.I. Department of Labor, has seen an uptick.

The Data Book also brings to light the unsettling reality of child poverty in the USVI, with a staggering 33% of children living in poverty territory-wide. This figure is even more pronounced in St. Croix, where 42% of children under five are in poverty. Despite these challenges, there are beacons of hope and progress. Organizations like My Brothers Workshop, Caribbean Center for Boys and Girls of the VI, and Women’s Coalition of St. Croix have been instrumental in driving positive change. The Family Resource Center on St. Thomas has notably expanded its reach, assisting 379 minors in 2022, up from the previous year.

Academic performance has seen a significant downturn, especially post the 2019 hurricanes and the Covid-19 pandemic, with a vast majority of 7th graders not meeting proficiency standards in Math and English Language Arts. On a brighter note, the graduation rate for the 2021-2022 school year climbed to 74.4%, the highest since 2016-2017.

The health sector in the USVI reported a commendable 70.9% breastfeeding rate in 2021, contributing crucially during the 2022 national baby formula shortage. However, there has been a concerning 39% rise in reported child maltreatment cases in 2022, reversing years of decline.

Dr. Saul Santiago, the principal investigator and Data Analyst of KIDS COUNT USVI, stressed the imperative for collective action in addressing these alarming trends to secure a brighter future for the territory’s youth.

The Data Book also casts light on the demographic shift in the USVI, revealing a declining child population and an increasing median age. This demographic change poses significant challenges in workforce development, healthcare, and education,

underscoring the necessity for a strategic, collaborative approach in policy-making and community engagement.

Deanna James, president and CEO of St. Croix Foundation, raised pivotal questions about the territory’s commitment to its younger generation. Reflecting on the societal obligations towards children, she questioned the future being built in a community with a dwindling child population. The 2023 Data Book, she emphasized, is not just a compilation of data but a symbol of urgency and a clarion call for action. The cover image, depicting a child blowing a conch shell, serves as both an alarm and a rallying cry for concerted efforts.

In summary, the 2023 KIDS COUNT USVI Data Book presents a comprehensive and stark overview of the current state of youth welfare in the US Virgin Islands. It underscores the necessity of focused interventions and strategic collaborations to address the complex challenges faced by the territory’s younger residents. The report is a wake-up call, urging stakeholders to come together and work diligently towards creating a more prosperous and equitable future for the children and youth of the USVI.

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USVI Community Pulse

St. Croix Central High School Shifts to Online Learning Due to Severe Weather

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Following unexpected heavy rainfall that led to the premature closure of its campus on Monday, St. Croix Central High School has promptly adapted by moving to virtual learning for Tuesday, as announced by the V.I. Department of Education.

The decision came after students were released from school earlier than scheduled, a move necessitated by the rain’s significant impact on the infrastructure and daily operations of the school. This proactive transition to digital classrooms ensures that education remains uninterrupted, allowing students to connect with their educators via Teams during their usual school hours. Coursework and assignments will be managed and submitted using Teams alongside Schoology, ensuring a seamless continuation of the academic program.

The Department of Education is actively addressing the situation by conducting thorough cleaning and evaluations to make certain the school environment is secure and conducive for the return of its students and faculty. The goal is to welcome back the school community for in-person learning by Wednesday.

It’s important to note that this weather-induced adjustment is isolated to Central High School, with all other institutions within the district operating as per their standard schedule, unaffected by the recent climatic challenges.

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USVI Community Pulse

Unlocking $75 Million for Business Resilience: A Call to Action

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The Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority (VIHFA) has unveiled an extraordinary opportunity for local enterprises with the launch of its Commercial Hardening and Financing, alongside the Small Business Mitigation programs. These initiatives, bolstered by a generous $75 million from the Community Development Block Grant-Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) Action Plan, are specifically designed to fortify businesses against the adverse effects of natural and human-made disasters.

A sum of $40 million is earmarked for the Commercial Hardening and Financing Program, with an additional $35 million allocated for Small Business Mitigation efforts. These funds aim to minimize operational interruptions and enhance resilience among the business community in the face of unforeseen challenges.

Dayna Clendinen, the Interim Executive Director and Chief Disaster Recovery Officer at VIHFA, strongly advocates for prospective applicants to partake in the forthcoming workshops. These sessions are crucial, offering vital technical support and guidance throughout the application journey.

The schedule for these informative workshops is as follows:

  • St. Thomas: Monday, March 4, at 6 p.m., located at the UVI Innovation Center in the SBDC Training Room.
  • St. John: Tuesday, March 5, at 6 p.m., hosted at the Julius E. Sprauve School Cafeteria.
  • St. Croix: Friday, March 8, at 6 p.m., taking place at the Sunny Isle Shopping Center in the Elections Office.

In addition to in-person gatherings, VIHFA will host two online townhall meetings for broader accessibility. These virtual engagements are slated for Wednesday, February 28, and Wednesday, March 6, both commencing at 6:00 p.m. AST. Pre-registration for these events is mandatory, with details available through VIHFA’s provided links.

For those ready to seize this opportunity, applications for the CDBG-MIT Economic Resilience and Revitalization Program are accessible online. Whitney George, the Management Assistant, is available for inquiries or assistance regarding paper applications or the application process at (340) 772-4432 Ext:3248, or through email at [email protected] or [email protected].

The application deadline is set for April 5, 2024, at 11:59 PM. This timeline offers businesses a substantial window to apply for this pivotal funding, a step forward in ensuring their growth and sustainability amidst challenges.

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USVI Community Pulse

UVI Gears Up to Host David Roberts for Prestigious 13D Business Leadership Lecture

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The University of the Virgin Islands is setting the stage for the much-anticipated 2nd Annual 13D Business Leadership Lecture, which will be held at the UVI 13D Research and Strategy Innovation Center. The event, taking place on Monday, March 11, at 6 p.m., will spotlight David Roberts, a distinguished figure in the realms of singularity and innovation.

Renowned for his expertise in disruptive technology and exponential leadership, Roberts brings a wealth of knowledge from his tenure as a faculty member at Singularity University. His dedication to harnessing technological advancements for global betterment has made him a pivotal figure in shaping future leaders and innovators.

Dr. Pamela Moolenaar-Wirsiy, the Dean of Innovation and Student Success and Vice President of Institutional Advancement at UVI, shared her excitement for the lecture. “Hosting the second annual 13D Business Leadership Lecture underscores our commitment to fostering an environment of groundbreaking ideas and innovation,” she stated. The event is designed to spark revolutionary thinking and aligns perfectly with the visionary objectives of the 13D Innovation Center.

With a rich background that includes leadership roles in Singularity University’s Graduate Studies Program and an academic foundation from Harvard Business School and M.I.T., Roberts is uniquely positioned to guide discussions on artificial intelligence, bio-computer engineering, and the future of technology. His ventures have attracted significant investment from industry giants, including Kleiner Perkins and Vinod Khosla, highlighting his impact on the entrepreneurial landscape.

The lecture is open to the entire community, inviting local leaders, business professionals, and students to engage in a dialogue that promises to reshape perspectives and inspire innovative solutions for the challenges of tomorrow.

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