Project Promise Winds Up Creative Expression Program for Spring 2023

Students are focused on writing and drawing. (Photo by Elisa McKay)

Six students, ages 10 to 12, are huddled over a work table at the Cane Roots Art Gallery in downtown Christiansted on Saturday morning. Papers with writing and drawings are practically covering the surface of the table space. After nine weeks, Project Promise Creative Expression Program for Spring 2023 is winding up its 10th week, which began April 15.

Cane Roots Art Gallery owner Sonia Deane told the Source that her motivation for having the Project Promise program in her gallery was constant. “To be constant is to always find ways to engage the community. Specifically, my priority has always been to engage activities around children in the gallery. For this to be their mini-museum, their mini-gallery, however they see it.”

Sonia Deane (Photo courtesy of Sheila Karcher)

Deane made reference to her youth when she and her friends would roam the MET [Metropolitan Museum of Art] in New York City as teenagers. She would like local children to access the gallery in much the same way.

She offered Project Promise Founder/President Resa O’Reilly the invite for the organization to use the gallery for art projects and O’Reilly readily accepted.

Resa O’Reilly (Submitted photo)

Nearby St. Mary’s School students come regularly to exhibits to peruse and do scavenger hunts under the direction of their art teacher Tralice Bracy. “The exposure is terrific. Art transforms,” Deane said.

The intense atmosphere in the gallery on Saturday gave way to occasional laughter and expressions of delight as the students hurried to get their last creative expression fulfilled before the end of the last session.

Students’ Creative Expressions (Photo by Elisa McKay)

Local author Torhera Durand is sharing her ideas with the students on how to illustrate and write their very own book. This final week of instruction shows just how much they’ve accomplished. They have come a long way, according to Durand and her assistant Damalia Simmonds.

Torhera Durand (Photo by Elisa McKay)

Through Project Promise’s Empowered Me Program, the youth had the opportunity to attend engaging Saturday classes. The creative expression program is one of the activities that centers on the following programming pillars: personal wellness; financial literacy; career exploration; cultural awareness; community service; and life skills.

Durand has been “writing little stories and poems all my life.” Her first book, “How Anansi Spun Madras” is the nucleus for the creative expression program.

“I gave each student a copy of my book [How Anansi Spun Madras] and we walked through different forms of culture and trickster tales — identifying the plot, characters, and conflict.” From there, they gathered up ideas of what they wanted to write about, Durand said.

The students came up with an Anansi tale that relates to hurricanes, friendship, the wind God, the Flamboyant tree, and the creation of the Caribbean Islands.

The end result is an interesting and fun story that gives credence to the students’ cultural heritage. “It would be a ‘spoiler’ to tell the story before it’s published,” Durand said. “I have plans to put their work together and create a hardcover book for sale online.”

When the book is available, patrons can use a code to purchase a copy. The book should be available to the public in early August. Durand plans to do a spinoff of their book as the second book in the Caribbean Series.

The program has given the students the skill of writing and illustrating their very own book and the ability to become entrepreneurs in the process.

Durand captured the attention and the energy of the students in the Empowered Me Program, a holistic enrichment program designed to provide participants with the tools and attitudes they need to succeed in life. The students’ enthusiasm grew during the 10-week sessions, as they looked forward to the next step in the learning process.

Damalia Simmonds, from left, Aiden Young, Alejandro Quinones, Ramsey Adams,Avery Adams, London Curran, Jayden Osiris, and Torhera Durand. (Photo by Elisa McKay)

Some of the students were eager to express their feelings about being in the program. London Curran loves to draw and likes that she can “do her own thing” and not follow another student’s ideas. Alejandro Quinones is in the Project Promise year-round. “I get to learn salsa dancing at Dazzled in Christiansted and I go swimming at the pool in Good Hope Country Day School,” he said. Aiden Young, Ramsey Adams, and Avery Adams like being in the program and each enjoys writing and drawing. Jayden Osorio likes the program also.

“How Anansi Spun Madras” by Torhera Durand will be available at the end of July on her website and at Neighborhood Pharmacy on St. Croix.

Her book is also currently available at Bajo El Sol Gallery on St. John.

Project Promise is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, whose mission is dedicated to improving the lives of at-risk youth on St. Croix by providing empowerment initiatives, cultural programs, and family services.

O’Reilly recognized a need for a holistic program that would simultaneously address many of the challenges that the island’s at-risk youth face. Her realization that a large number of the island’s youth experience a combination of risk factors, motivated the creation of a support program that would empower the whole child to succeed. In her desire to make a difference in the lives of these at-risk youth and her community, Project Promise was born.

The Project Promise Board of Directors and Program Assistant Sheila Karcher work closely with O’Reilly to maintain an effective organization.

“The more exposure the students get, the more ‘aha’ moments I see,” Karcher said. “With the new building, we expect to hold classes there and hold even more classes that will help our youth grow. It’s a new chapter.”

Project Promise’s Annual “Summer Kickoff Fundraiser” has a deadline of July 1, offering a raffled for a four-night and five-day stay for up to two adults at a Divi Carina Bay Hotel beachfront room.

For more information:
Torhera Durand