Connect with us

USVI Community Pulse

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



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.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

USVI Community Pulse

Bill Reforming V.I. Real Estate Commission Advances with Strong Support



In a significant move to enhance regulations in the Virgin Islands’ real estate sector, Senator Novelle Francis Jr. has introduced Bill 35-0117, aimed at reforming the territory’s Real Estate Commission. This follows closely on the heels of his earlier successful introduction of Bill 35-0193, which sought to regulate the local real estate industry further.

Bill 35-0117 proposes amendments to Title 27, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 15, Sections 421a and 422. These amendments address the qualifications, term limits, and duties of the Real Estate Commission members. Key among the proposed changes is the addition of a licensed property manager to the Commission, a move Senator Francis highlighted while seeking support from the Committee on Rules and Judiciary.

If passed, the bill will mandate geographic representation on the Commission, with three members residing on St. Croix, three on St. Thomas, and one on St. John. Additionally, it sets term limits, restricting members to no more than two consecutive four-year terms. The bill also allows for members to receive per diem expenses and empowers the Commission to appoint a secretary and a treasurer.

The proposed legislation quickly garnered support during its initial committee review on Thursday. Laurent Alfred, the current chair of the Real Estate Commission, and the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs (DLCA) both endorsed the bill. Horace Graham, DLCA assistant commissioner, praised the bill as a “progressive step forward for this industry and our community.”

A noteworthy provision in the bill requires that no more than four of the seven Commission members hold a Virgin Islands real estate broker, sales associate, or property management license. According to Mr. Graham, this ensures that decisions are informed by substantial industry expertise while allowing the Commission to effectively represent various stakeholder interests, including real estate personnel, property owners, and prospective buyers.

Mr. Graham emphasized the bill’s aim for “equitable geographic representation,” which he believes will address unique real estate issues across the Virgin Islands. He also noted that term limits would promote fresh ideas and prevent stagnation, fostering an environment of transparency, accountability, and responsiveness.

The Real Estate Commission fully supports the proposed changes, with Mr. Alfred testifying that term limits would ensure a healthy turnover in Commission membership.

Committee members echoed the support from invited testifiers. Senator Milton Potter described the bill’s provisions as “prudent upgrades” for the real estate industry. Senator Marise James, experienced in real estate law, saw no drawbacks and encouraged Senator Francis to address real estate fraud in future legislation. Senator Diane Capehart agreed, stating that the legislation offers transparency and parity.

The bill will now proceed to an upcoming legislative session, where it will be voted on by all fifteen senators.

Continue Reading

USVI Community Pulse

USVI Diplomatic Pioneer Terence Todman Honored with Conference Room in Buenos Aires



The U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, has dedicated the Terence A. Todman Conference Room to honor the distinguished USVI-born diplomat. The unveiling on Wednesday celebrated Mr. Todman’s significant contributions and showcased his remarkable career.

“If you walk through that room, you’re going to learn a lot more about his career and the courage that one person took to change the world,” stated Marc Stanley, U.S. Ambassador to Argentina, during the ceremony.

Terence Todman, born in 1926 on St. Thomas, served as a U.S. ambassador to six countries: Chad, Guinea, Costa Rica, Spain, Denmark, and Argentina. He retired in 2014 and passed away later that year. The son of a maid and a grocery store clerk, Mr. Todman broke numerous barriers in his ascent to a high-ranking diplomat, mastering seven languages along the way. The conference room, named “A Life Less Ordinary,” highlights these achievements.

“The courage it took to be a Black ambassador for the United States in 1969, the courage it took to integrate a lunchroom in Virginia in the 60s—it took a lot,” Ambassador Stanley remarked, noting that Mr. Todman was one of only two Black Americans in the State Department at the time.

Mr. Todman’s career was marked by his challenge to the Virginia segregation law, which mandated separate eating areas for Black diplomats at the Foreign Service Institute. His activism was a significant part of his legacy, including becoming the first Black ambassador to a Spanish-speaking country when appointed to Costa Rica in 1974. He also served as the ambassador to Argentina from 1989 to 1993.

The conference room exhibit includes visual timelines of Mr. Todman’s accomplishments and multilingual panels, offering a comprehensive look at his pioneering career. “All of these things tell this one giant story,” said Joseph Van Jemming, the senior chair of the Office of Cultural Heritage who contributed to the exhibit’s creation.

A central display in the room features a black outline of Ambassador Todman amidst white outlined diplomats, symbolizing his frequent position as the only Black individual in a room. “The imagery is powerful and pulls the room together in a really interesting way,” Mr. Van Jemming noted.

Stacey Williams, a mentee of Mr. Todman and current chief of staff in the Bureau of Budget and Planning for the State Department, reflected on the significance of the honorary conference room. He posed the question many ponder: “Will anyone remember my name?” With Mr. Todman’s name now honored in various locations, including the State Department cafeteria in Washington, DC, and a road leading to the Cyril E. King Airport, Mr. Williams believes his mentor’s legacy will endure indefinitely.

Continue Reading

USVI Community Pulse

Waste-to-Energy Initiative Aims to Transform St. John’s Environmental Landscape



During the Public Services Commission’s (PSC) monthly meeting on Tuesday, Advanced Sustainable Technologies Limited (AST Cleantech) reintroduced its proposal to build a waste-to-energy plant on St. John. The project, long touted by AST, aims to generate nearly one megawatt of electricity while managing the island’s waste. However, the venture hinges on agreements with the V.I. Waste Management Authority (VIWMA) and the V.I. Water and Power Authority (WAPA).

AST Group CEO Dan Levin reported that the final design plans are nearing completion, with financial backing secured from a U.S. bank for the entire project. Engineering partners and land in Florida for fabrication and testing have also been arranged. “We expect to start construction and fabrication in the coming months,” Levin stated, projecting the unit to be operational in Florida within 10 months, followed by two months of testing. The unit is anticipated to be installed at St. John’s transfer station within 12 to 13 months, with a startup planned by the end of 2025. The installation cost is estimated at $10 million.

In response to PSC Commissioner David Hughes’ inquiry, Levin assured that the waste-to-energy process produces no residual waste, yielding only electricity and an inorganic crystal byproduct. The gases from waste decomposition are cleaned and used in gas turbines, producing emissions significantly lower than natural gas. The closed system design mitigates odor and noise, with current operations in Seattle, Washington, the Czech Republic, and Germany meeting stringent environmental standards.

Commissioner Hughes highlighted the need for AST to coordinate with VIWMA and WAPA, despite their current challenges. Levin mentioned that a draft power purchase agreement with WAPA is expected to be finalized soon, although the agreement with VIWMA, which involves no tipping fees, remains pending. He sought the PSC’s assistance in expediting this process.

Hughes encouraged AST to work closely with the PSC’s general counsel and executive director on agreements with regulated utilities to ensure seamless progress. He emphasized the importance of being prepared to fully agree when the project moves forward. Levin projected that the plant’s power production capacity could reach about 10 gigawatts annually.

Continue Reading