8-Week Storm Resilience Program Aims to be Incubator for Innovation

What was once a colorful two-story wood frame house flattened by Irma.

The Storm Strong Project — which is intended to fortify community resilience before, during and after hurricanes — is only the beginning of mobilizing families on St. Thomas to learn about and develop specific programs that can meet the unique needs of their neighborhoods, organizers say.

“There is so much to learn from those who have already been though these events,” Storm Strong developer Kristin Grimes said. “The program is designed for maximum feedback.”

Grimes, who is the project’s team leader, has vast experience in coastal communities. She holds a master of science and Ph.D. in Marine Biology, Marine Policy, and Ecology and Environmental Science from the University of Maine. She has made the Virgin Islands her home for more than five years.

Grimes, and the nine other team members, hope participants will walk away from the eight-week workshop series with new ideas to meet the specific needs of their particular communities. Workshops are to be held from 6 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays at the St. Thomas Recovery Team’s offices on Kongens Gade (also known as Education Street) beginning May 8, and running through June 26.

Participation is free and includes a $100 stipend for each family that completes the course. A light meal will be served at the evening workshops to make it easier for attendees.

The classes will include learning about hazards, hurricanes and preparedness and how to get information before, during and after storms. Naturally, participants will also be taught how to make their homes safe and their surrounding neighborhood more resilient including things like how to make drinking water safe.

Hurricanes are not the only natural hazards Virgin Islanders face.

Grimes said in a phone interview this week that participation can lead to what she calls “community transfer projects.” They come with a potential for grants up to $5000 and are meant to be designed by the young people and their families.

“They could be anything,” she said, “like community gardens or rain gardens to reduce runoff.” But much will depend on the specific needs and ideas expressed by the participants.

“They will take what they have learned and apply it.”

While young people in middle and high school are the target audience for Storm Strong, they are required to bring at least one family, or family-like member.

“The family member could be an aunt or even a very close family friend,” but the point is that the young people are the obvious ones to take the lead.

Further to the specific exchange of information and ideas, Grimes said as a family, “they will be more prepared; more confident,” to face weather events and their aftermaths.

What Grimes wants people to understand is that though she has secured $500,000 in funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Environmental Literacy Program (ELP) to conduct the current workshops, the ongoing program is dependent upon participation.

The deadline for signing up has passed, but in order to fill the slots expected to meet the grant requirements, she needs at least 13 more families.

She is encouraging folks not to wait, but to go immediately to the website.

The program is designed to run for five years and to move to St. Croix and St. John after the inaugural workshops on St. Thomas. But without participation up front, grants will be more difficult to justify.

Grimes is passionate about the need for these interactive meetings and how they can set the stage for future generations who will be handling weather events to be better prepared to meet conditions.

“We don’t underestimate the influence of these kids,” she said.