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St. Croix Foundation: Twenty Years of Proud Leadership in Service to the Community

Roger Devey, director of the St. Croix FoundationThe St. Croix Foundation was created in 1990 by a group of citizens concerned about the deteriorating quality of life in our community following the devastating effects of Hurricane Hugo. These committed members were led by Michael Neuburger, a retried aerospace executive who was working with the Chamber of Commerce, and Phillip Gerard, who headed the Municipal Government Movement on St. Croix. Both men shared the firm belief that the devastation wrought by Hugo demanded immediate leadership and they decided that a community foundation was the vehicle with the most flexibility to address the myriad of issues faced by St. Croix and the Virgin Islands. They teamed up to create the St Croix Foundation (SCF).
Immediately after SCF was established, Phil Gerard engaged the National Civic League to hold a “Healthy Communities Conference” to bring people together to prioritorize needs for St. Croix and the Virgin Islands. Michael Neuburger knew Homer Wadsworth, former president of the Cleveland Foundation, then working as a consultant to the Ford Foundation. Mr. Wadsworth became our tireless advocate and presented the case for support for St. Croix to the Ford Foundation. In the summer of 1992, the SCF received its first operating grant from Ford. From the genesis of SCF to the receipt of the first Ford funding, early management staff included Lisa Torres as the first director, followed by Pat Welcome and then Peggy Resnick. I was hired at the beginning of 1993 as the first full-time Executive Director.
The traditional roles of community foundation are to serve as a conduit and repository of philanthropic funds, a developer of grant programs that respond to community needs, and a provider of fiscal sponsorship services. A portion of the initial Ford Foundation grant was directed to teaching us to administer grants. What we quickly learned, was that while we were good grant makers and awarded funds that helped various organizations, most grants served as band-aids to critical long-standing issues and thus did not address the structural or core problems of our community. SCF consequently chose a broader mandate-to serve as a hybrid organization, providing grants as well as to focus our resources on the root causes of problems of our community.
Non Profit Organizations
Upon receiving the first grant from the Ford Foundation, SCF funded a conference for the non-profit organizations of St. Croix and the Territory, for they carry a major burden in our community. In 1993, the conference was repeated and in 1994, the Foundation became the sponsor of the AmeriCorps Program for the VI and regranted members to a number of non-profit organizations throughout the Territory. The following year SCF added VISTA and created a literacy program. The program funding included training money so the non-profit training continued to be a focus.
Over the years, SCF has continued to work to strengthen the non-profit community in the Territory. Recently in partnership with Lutheran Social Services, we had the JFK School of Non Profit Management at Harvard University provide case study training for non-profits throughout the Territory. Following that, we had Hugh Price former President of the Urban League and VP of the Rockefeller Foundation and Board Source present best practices in organizational management and governance.
Community Development
Recognizing the badly deteriorating condition of downtown Christiansted, the Foundation set as our first programmatic focus area, Community Development. We immediately sought to reach out to VITIED, Virgin Island Tri Island Economic Development Corporation, the owner of many of the dilapidated buildings in Sunday Market Square.
Phillip Gerard had been a Board member of VITIED and had continually implored those in charge in St. Thomas to put the properties back in St. Croix hands. Sadly, Phillip passed away before he would see this brought to fruition. In 1996, VITIED filed for bankruptcy, and SCF requested to serve as court receiver of the properties in bankruptcy. We boarded and cleaned the properties and the court saw the wisdom of having a non-profit organization take the lead in restoring the western end of Christiansted. We were allowed to purchase seven VITIED-owned buildings as a block. We, in turn, immediately sold several of those buildings at cost to existing tenants such as the Thomas Bakery.
The first two newly acquired properties that we tackled were the corner of King and Market Streets, then a burned out shell. This building was a critical choice as the most prominent corner in Christiansted which at the time was serving as a glaring disincentive to investment in town as well as a disincentive to invest anywhere in our community. Architect William Taylor, a founding Board member of SCF, donated the design and project management work. The Community Development Block Grant Program provided some funding and a mortgage from the VI Housing Finance Authority providing the rest. The building, housing two commercial units below and two low-income residential units above, was completed and dedicated in 2001. At that dedication, Taylor’s redesign for the Square was presented to the DPW Commissioner the late Harold Thompson and Governor Charles Turnbull. Both agreed to go forward with the restoration of the Square and through the perseverance of Taylor, DPW, and Lt. Governor Vargrave Richards, Sunday Market Square was rebuilt using Federal Highway funds in 2005.
Our work in downtown revitalization continued through the co-authoring of Enterprise Zone legislation providing tax credits for rebuilding downtown buildings in Christiansted, Frederiksted and Savan in St. Thomas. We also developed the Scrape, Paint & Rejuvenate Program with the Anti-Litter and Beautification Commission and in turn, shared our policies, procedures, and forms with Our Town Frederiksted and with the Historic Commission in St. Thomas to replicate this successful program. We have painted, boarded, and cleared overgrowth on over 100 properties in Christiansted town to date. Moreover, we were recognized by the International Downtown Association (IDA) for the comprehensive nature of our work in Christiansted, and in 2006 SCF was invited to make a presentation at IDA’s annual meeting in Curacao.
In 1995, the Foundation began to focus attention on business development. We applied for, and received a commitment of $1 Million in small business lending funds from the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Office. Chase and VI Community Banks as well as the Community Development Block Grant Program provided the 25% local match. We commenced lending and over the years helped startup 45 small businesses on St. Croix. During this time, the Foundation also established the Women’s Business Center (WBC) to promote entrepreneurship for women and a micro lending program for women coming off welfare, as welfare reform was passed in the late 90’s. As we continued to build an impressive record of accomplishment of successful programs, our Women’s Business Center was recognized by the US Small Business Administration as one of the five best centers in the nation.
Maintaining our commitment to economic development, in 2009, we launched the Territory’s first Small Business Incubator in Sunday Market Square, with the goal of nurturing and strengthening burgeoning small businesses- the core of every community’s economic health and vitality. Having identified the most prominent building in the Square for our Business Incubator, the Old Chase Building provides cost-effective fully equipped office space for new and emerging small businesses. Our Incubator also contains a twenty-seat conference room with video/internet capabilities for use by the community at-large. This was made possible by grants from the Public Finance Authority, Community Development Block Grant Program, and USDA Rural Development.
Public Safety
As a critical extension of Community Development, the Foundation has recognized that downtown revitalization cannot succeed without improved public safety and in turn, initiated a partnership with the Virgin islands Police Department in 1995. Our co-founder, Michael Neuburger, who had once sat on the Board of the University of Kansas, reached out to the institution’s well-respected Law Enforcement Training Institute. With support from University of Kansas, the Foundation sponsored their officers coming to St. Croix to work with the VIPD to update the training curriculum at the Police Academy. That commenced a partnership that continues to this day.
Several years later, when Christiansted merchants were contemplating placing a security camera in the Government parking lot, the Foundation asked them to fund a grant writer to secure cameras for all of downtown. The Christiansted Restaurant and Retail Association and the St. Croix Hotel Association provided $5,000 and the Foundation secured nearly $400,000 for the VIPD to place security cameras in Christiansted, Frederiksted, Charlotte Amalie and Cruz Bay.
Even beyond our involvement with the Security Camera project, the Foundation has provided on-going support to the VIPD for many years. When Governor Turnbull committed to create a VIPD Bicycle Patrol upon the certification of the officers, within two weeks we had secured funding, and provided trainers so that the Bicycle Patrols could commence in Christiansted, Frederiksted, and Charlotte Amalie. When St. Croix’s fingerprint expert retired, concerned citizens provided funds to SCF with which we funded training for a VIPD officer to qualify to attend the FBI academy and receive the necessary fingerprint certification. Additional training funded by SCF includes Homicide Investigation, Window Tint Measurement, and K-9 acquisition and handling. The Foundation houses the Christiansted Bicycle Patrol rent-free in its Sunday Market Square Location.
Fiduciary Services
As a community foundation, SCF provides fiscal sponsorship and fiduciary services. At any given time, SCF provides such services to up to fifty small non-profits, community-based programs and grassroots initiatives. We also provide fiduciary services for local and Federal Government programs, where it is deemed that independent and accountable fiscal management will result in better programmatic outcomes.
Our fiduciary work began in 1992 as we were entrusted with the proceeds from the first AIDS fundraiser in the Territory, when the impact of the AIDS pandemic on our Community was just coming to light. Further funds were raised and coupled with a grant from SCF, VI CARE was formed. Then, in 1999, the US Center for Disease Control approached the Foundation asking that we become the trusted conduit of federal funding for critical outreach services and medicines for AIDS patients in the Territory. We have managed that critical task now for over ten years. More recently, in 2008 the Health Resources Services Administration, the Federal agency that funds AIDS medications for uninsured and underinsured patients, requested that the Foundation expand our financial management role to include greater administrative oversight to the VI Department of Health. In just eight months, with SCF’s assistance, VIDOH’s grant increased by $400,000 and the Territory became eligible for up to $600,000 in supplemental funding.
Over the past ten years, the Foundation has also established longstanding partnerships with organizations such as the Waste Management Authority (formerly the Anti Litter and Beautification Commission) through which we have provided sound financial oversight for programs like the Youth Environmental Summer (YES) Program, and the St. Croix Junk & Abandoned Vehicle removal program. A more recent partnership with the Law Enforcement has afforded numerous crime prevention community grant programs the requisite fiscal oversight which ensure programmatic goals are being met and funds are being spent according to established guidelines.
Youth and Education
While the Foundation has always recognized the vital role of education in our community, in recent years, growing incidents of crime and youth violence in our community coupled with the state of our public schools proved to be a major impetus for a focus on Education. In 2002, our Board of Directors made a firm commitment to focus significant resources and effort on educational initiatives. Having reflected on our impressive record of successful initiatives in the areas of Community Revitalization, Economic Development, Public Safety, and Fiscal Management, we collectively came to realize that almost all roads surrounding our community’s most pressing socio-economic problems lead back to Education.
With that realization, the Foundation developed a comprehensive educational initiative. Doing what we do best, we got busy, not writing checks, but by immersing ourselves into the problem. We conducted extensive research, identified specific needs and in the end, initiated our Model Schools Initiative, which developed and offered to our local public schools programs in literacy, classroom enrichment, and educational best practices. With a focus on our local middle schools, Elena Christian Junior High served as the launching pad for our Initiative. In the end, the incredible success of our four-year partnership with the school served to clarify the Foundation’s educational agenda. Our work was further validated through recognition by National School Boards Association who had SCF present at their annual conference in San Diego in 2009.
In upcoming months, we will be launching our newest educational project- our Community Grants Program, which is an offshoot of our hands-on experience in our public schools. Pooling educational funding from local private sector entities, our Community Grants Program will offer targeted, competitive grants to our local public schools in such areas as innovative instruction teacher grants, professional development, and vocational education. The ultimate goal of this new program will be to ensure greater focus and accountability in public school giving while also creating a repository of successful initiatives at individual schools that can serve as models for other schools.
Through our Model Schools Initiative, and in partnership with committed organizations like HOVENSA, Marmarus Management, Tropico Management and TEAM Consulting, the Foundation has invested over half a million dollars into the Territory’s public education system over the past five years. We remain committed to promoting best practices and we are currently working with education stakeholders like the Parent Teacher Student Association as we seek to strengthen our collective goals of supporting our children by ensuring educational equity and opportunities. We will continue to offer a number of scholarship programs, particularly summer scholarships in math and science, the arts, literacy, and adult continuing education.
Supporting the St. Croix Foundation
What the St. Croix Foundation has been able to accomplish over the past twenty years, is in one word, inspiring. But, we by no means do it alone. For the past twenty years, our hardworking and dedicated staff, along with all of our many partners in the private and public sectors, has made our work possible. Of course, our Board of Directors (past and present) has been most instrumental in consistently providing the highest level of leadership and vision in charting the Foundation’s course. Unlike most community foundations that limit themselves to grant making, we have strategically and courageously chosen a much broader role- a choice which was necessary at our inception and remains so twenty years later, in order to meet the critical needs of our Community. The breadth and depth of our work was recognized by the Council on Foundations and we presented our accomplishments at their meeting in San Francisco in 2007.
Undoubtedly, that choice is wrought with inherent challenges. While most community foundations are secured by large operating endowments, SCF has until now, foregone such fundraising goals, because the myriad of needs facing our community demanded primary attention. As a result, each year the St. Croix Foundation must raise its operating money, while also raising funds to address pressing problems and sustain established programs, often times with the latter needs outweighing the former.
As we mark this incredible milestone of our 20th Anniversary, we will soon embark on a capital campaign to raise an operating endowment for the first time in our history, which will ensure the longevity the organization and our mission. I wish to express our heartfelt and public appreciation to our donors; many who wish to remain anonymous, for their donations are a testament to their belief in our work and a deep understanding of its importance. The Foundation and the community thank you.
As a conduit of approximately $5 Million of funds which flow into our community each year, the work of the St. Croix Foundation touches almost every aspect of our lives here in the Territory, through community revitalization, public safety, health and human services, youth and education, nonprofit organizational development, and fiscal management. The St. Croix Foundation is an extraordinary organization with a philanthropic mission to improve the quality of life for us all.
We are YOUR Community Foundation and as we look toward the next twenty years, we ask you to please support the work we do through monetary donations or by volunteering your time. There are many worthwhile needs in our community, and our record of accomplishment is real testament to our collective ability to address the root causes of many issues, for working together we can truly make a difference.
Editor’s note: Roger Dewey became the first full time director of the St. Croix Foundation in 1993. He began working in community economic development as a VISTA volunteer and has worked for the San Francisco Local Development Corporation, Roxbury Community Development Corporation and the U.S. Small Business Administration prior to coming to St. Croix.

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