July 12, 2001 – The Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park announced Thursday that its new resident executive director, Joe Kessler, has accepted the operational reins of the organization. Kessler replaces John Garrison who left the full-time position in April for a role with the Trust for Public Lands in Florida.
"John contacted me in Africa about this position," Kessler said. "We're long-time friends from my Peace Corps days. I first visited St. John in 1973, during a break in my Peace Corps training in Puerto Rico."
It was to be the first of many visits.
"My wife, Cristina, and I have enjoyed visiting St. John numerous times over the past 28 years," Kessler said. "I was ready for a professional change and coming here is the right combination of challenging work in a culture and setting of natural beauty that I have appreciated for years."
Kessler brings more than 19 years of non-profit management experience with him. For the past 14 years he was country director for CARE, the international aid organization, residing most recently in the city of Bamako in the West African nation of Mali. Kessler led CARE’s efforts in five African countries and Mexico. Before joining CARE in 1981, he spent five years in the Peace Corps in Central and South America and Africa. Kessler has been involved in a wide variety of projects including several successful environmental conservation efforts, according to a release from the Friends.
In the midst of its 10th year, the Friends group is the Virgin Islands National Park’s official fund-raising partner. The group raises funds from private sources to support park projects in the areas of environmental education, natural resource protection, cultural preservation, scientific research, long-range planning and upgrading facilities.
Kessler knows that he’s joined a stable, successful organization, but there is always more that can be done.
"In addition to fund-raising," he said, "I’ll be spending some time in Washington D.C., in my role as an advocate for the Virgin Islands National Park to ensure that our park gets the support that it needs. I will also devote attention to increasing the Friends’ constituency among the larger V.I. community and look for ways to broaden community participation in the organization."
"Joe has the knowledge, experience and approachable demeanor that will assure his success with the Friends," said board chairman John Fuller.
"We’re delighted to have Joe here. He brings a new perspective on what we do and he has a commitment to becoming a part of the St. John community that will be a real benefit to the Friends," said board secretary Christie O’Neil.
Kessler will start his new job by meeting with the 13 Friends board members and many of the principal Friends partners. Next, he will begin working on current Friends projects, including organizing the volunteer cleanup of park property on Hassel Island and the installation of boat moorings in the Hurricane Hole section of the newly designated Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument.

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