Letter to the Editor: St. John Christian Academy Strong

Editor’s Note: We received the following letter in response to the “Swift Remediation in Time for New Year at St. John Christian Academy,” article. We appreciate the efforts of Ms. Polhemus for her fundraising efforts and her outreach to the St. John Community. We don’t want to overlook the work of Kenny Chesney’s Love for Love City Group for coordinating the reconstruction of the St. John Christian Academy either. Chesney’s group has played a critical role in recovery efforts made throughout the island but has been very quiet about taking credit for the invaluable work they have done for individuals and institutions. 

Chesney’s group’s work for the Christian Academy was not mentioned at any public meeting on St. John until October 11. Since the day after Irma, the group has been quietly filling needs and has said they are happy to help wherever they can. They can be contacted through messages left at Connections. 
As the island continues to recover, many more names of people will surface who deserve much credit. Right now, many are too busy doing the work that needs to be done to stand in the limelight.

Dear St. John Tradewinds,

As Hurricane Irma hit the tiny island of St. John and my beloved former home, I couldn’t help but immediately think to myself, ‘I must do something to help.’ While I fled South Florida to escape Irma stateside, it gave me time to scour the Internet in search of articles, images, anything really, that provided information on St. John and its post-hurricane status. Several Facebook messages to St. Johnians went unanswered, but within days, my initial findings turned out to be true:  their replies expressed they were alive, but the island had been devastated beyond recognition and they needed assistance.
Spotty communication began between Kemuel Bailey and me, a former student (and current teacher) at St. John Christian Academy, the tiny missions school I taught at while living on St. John.  Because Kemuel’s brother Kevaughn had better mobile service, he would pass along the messages to him, and soon, Kevaughn’s countless messages came pouring in that the school had made it, but with its fair share of problems.  The roof ripped off of the Computer Lab, technology was damaged beyond repair, classrooms were flooded, and the list went on.  A stirring in my heart to help evolved into one solid focus:  to raise awareness and assist in the rebuilding efforts of St. John Christian Academy (SJCA), where my career as an educator began.
From that focus, SJCA Strong was created.  A Facebook page was launched, and soon after, friends, family, and other St. John lovers began liking and supporting my often offbeat requests.  It started with filling two boxes with relief items in a matter of a few hours. With the success of this endeavor, I thought, “What items are not being thought of that St. Johnians will need in the near future?”  And so, “Fill the Box | School Edition” was campaigned.  With the opening of the Gifft Hill School, St. John Christian Academy, and soon to be Julius E. Sprauve School, I thought students (and their parents) would be delighted to receive an individualized kit of supplies to make their day and education a bit brighter.  Over ninety kits were delivered last Friday, and by nothing short of a miracle, a private jet was able to drop these school supplies to St. Thomas along with 1,000 lbs. of donated relief items for SJCA and its community.  What made it all the more unimaginable was when I received news I would copilot the plane and get to reunite with Kevaughn, a once former student who had become a coworker for one common purpose:  to get the school open, operational, and advance it forward.
The task to do so was a daunting one, with limited finances, resources, and contacts.  But SJCA Strong had seen miracles before, and with a tiny amount of faith, I pressed forward with seeing how I can assist. Through John Smith, an SJCA Strong supporter, I became aware of Jeff Quinlan, one of Kenny Chesney’s main ground contacts doing amazing things for St. John.  With a “no fear” attitude, I messaged him via Facebook asking for assistance in helping SJCA. His initial response? An immediate yes, and within a few short hours, Jeff was on campus with my ground contact, Kevaughn and Pastor Reginald Joseph assessing needs.  The amount of workers placed on the job was impressive, and the speed at which they worked was even more so.  Through daily texts and images, I was able to see first-hand the progress being made and the miracles happening mentioned in the article:   the roof replaced in a matter of days, classrooms gutted, repainted and repaired, and St. John coming together like never before.
Although Hurricane Irma may have compromised the school’s infrastructure and destroyed supplies, it has not destroyed spirits.  Through the generosity of statesiders and local St. Johnians coming together, the motto of SJCA still rings true:  “To Advance Always…” meaning to excel past limitations. SJCA remains committed to progressing forward in the advancement of the school, St. John Christian Academy, its founding church, Cruz Bay Baptist Church, and the surrounding community. 
Scripture states, “… with God all things are possible,” and this is certainly the truth at St. John Christian Academy.  
As the founder of SJCA Strong, I am glad to have been a small part of it.

Leah Polhemus

Editor’s note: This letter was revised October 13, 2017.