Virgin Islands Lieutenant Governor’s wife Cheryl Francis appealed to Love City business people to support the Junior Achievement Virgin Islands (JAVI) program at a meeting of the St. John Chapter of the St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday night, February 22.
Eight chamber chapter members attended the meeting at the Cruz Bay Battery to hear about the new JAVI program, which is designed to introduce students to the world of business though hands-on lessons in budgets, taxes, savings and spending.
Rolled out in the territory by Pastor Themba, the local JAVI executive director, Francis has signed on to be the program’s chair. She was inspired to get involved as a way to reach out to young people, she explained.
“I look at these young people as children with hopelessness in their lives,” said Francis. “A lot of these children see that their parents don’t know how to pay bills and do a budget. A lot of them can’t read or write and I don’t want these kids to think they can’t because their parents can’t.”
“We make a difference by giving these kids hope,” said Francis.
When a child can picture himself as a business owner, that is one less child on the street, Francis told the group.
“The program is about telling kids they can have a future and showing them what they need to get there,” she said. “We talk about these young people out there stealing and we’re trying to teach them other things to occupy their minds.”
“They think about ‘If I want a car or a house, this is what I need and I don’t have to go out there and rob anyone,’” said Francis.
The program is currently being introduced in seventh grades across the territory and JAVI is looking for St. John volunteers to teach the program at the Julius E. Sprauve School. Volunteers commit to 45 minute classes once a week for six weeks and JAVI provides a comprehensive training kit of step-by-step instruction.
“We make it a game,” said Francis. “You don’t go in and lecture the students. We make it fun.”
Volunteers work in pairs in concert with teachers and are supported and trained by JAVI members. The program is flexible as far as times and days of instruction, but the central focus is getting students to imagine a future for themselves and then work towards that future, explained Francis.
“JAVI is about helping our young people become business owners,” she said. “As business people we look to you to get the word out to our young people. Try to get them to imagine a future by hearing you, seeing you and understanding your experiences.”
“Then they say, ‘I can do that,’” Francis said. “No one else is telling these kids they have a future. No one will tell them the way you will.”
Students take a pre-test to see where their level of business sense is before JAVI, and a post-test to gauge what they have learned during the program, Francis added.
“A lot of these kids don’t get that they have to have respect, that they have to sell themselves, that they have to get the right job to get that house of their dreams,” said the JAVI chairperson. “They can’t imagine where to start and that is what JAVI is all about.”
Young people just need a chance to get ahead and change their future, Francis added.
“The young people just want a chance and an opportunity to grow,” she said. “We can do this, but we need support. Kids have to get from under this sense of hopelessness.”
“This is not a perfect world, but if you reach one person that is one person who is not out there robbing,” Francis said.
JAVI officials have set up four classes at JESS. The program is set to kick off at the St. John public school on April 4 and run through May 23. Officials are hoping St. John residents will volunteer to lead the four JESS JAVI classes.
Chamber chapter members also discussed the large beige fencing surrounding Frank Powell Park at the meeting.
“The fencing around the park has created a very dangerous corner and it’s so blah and boring,” said Kate Norfleet, St. John representative for the local chamber. “We are stuck with it now, so we have to make it a positive thing. Maybe we can have school children paint a mural welcoming people and excusing the appearance of the park.”
Other members questioned whether the fence could at least be moved back to allow for access to the sidewalk along the waterfront.
“We must demolish the sidewalk in order to put pavers in,” said Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation’s Hubert Mucosco. “It’s a construction site. It’s a liability issue.”
Local chamber chapter members announced that this year’s public service honoree will be Department of Public Works St. John Deputy Director Ira Wade.
Wade will be honored at the at the chamber’s annual awards banquet on April 9.
“We’re going to get a good group from St. John to attend the banquet and honor Ira Wade who has been there for all of us,” said Norfleet.
St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce board members met with Governor John deJongh in mid-February to discuss the territory’s fiscal situation, Norfleet explained.
During the two hour meeting, deJongh outlined his plans to raise the gross receipts tax by one percent and hike the hotel tax by two percent, which the chamber as a whole opposed, according to Norfleet.
“We had a close and lengthy conversation with the governor about the fiscal situation and his pitch for the group to support his raising gross receipts and hotel taxes,” she said. “The chamber as a group is against the one percent increase, but we had a great back and forth and it was an excellent meeting.”
Chamber members who feel strongly about the proposed gross receipts tax hike are asked to put their thoughts into a letter to the governor and email Norfleet, who will forward the letters to the board. St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce board members will compile the letters and share them with the governor, Norfleet explained.
Local chamber members can email Norfleet at firstname.lastname@example.org. To volunteer for JAVI on St. John, contact board member Bonny Corbeil at email@example.com.