St. John Rescue, Family Resource Center, Tout Programs for Block Grants

Two non-profit organizations presented their initiatives to improve the quality of life for St. John residents at a meeting Wednesday night at the Legislature Annex in Cruz Bay.

St. John Rescue, Inc., and the Family Resource Center, Inc., have each sought funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2018 Discretionary Grant program which is administered in the territory through the V.I. Housing Finance Authority. The grants are commonly known as Community Development Block Grants.

Both organizations have already brought critical services to St. John and are continuing their efforts to maintain and expand their programs.

The meeting was designed to give the public an opportunity to respond to the awards granted to the organizations for Public Service Projects, but only one member of the public showed up.

Vivian St. Juste, executive director of the Family Resource Center, testified on behalf of that organization. The center sought $43,000 to pay the salary for a social worker to provide counseling services to St. Thomas and St. John youth. The FRC was granted $20,000 in 2018 for this program.

St. Juste said the program was necessary to meet the needs of children in crisis ages 5-17 who are referred to FRC by schools, churches, courts, and community agencies.

After describing a particularly troubling case of a young person now in foster care, St. Juste said, “We are impacting youth who [have the potential to] grow up to become productive members of society. We continue to see how deep their wounds are.”

On St. John, the program was formerly housed at the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Clinic, but the counselor has had to meet with her clients elsewhere since the clinic was severely damaged by Hurricane Irma.

St. Juste said the Family Resource Center would continue its fundraising efforts to supplement the grant and ensure that the program continue.

Andi Vacharat, president of St. John Rescue, testified on behalf of that organization, which is trying to construct a new headquarters on Parcel 9-1a Glucksberg on Gifft Hill near “the fork in the road.”

St. John Rescue sought funding in the amount of $509,105 to construct an “operational base” to house their equipment and serve as a training facility for their 30-plus members. They were awarded a grant of $500,000 in 2018.

This is the third year that St. John Rescue has obtained Community Development Block Grant funding to construct this project.

In 2014, St. John Rescue received $452,000, and in 2017 they received $155,000. Those grants were used to purchase the property and hire Springline Architects to design the facility.

Vacharat said in April St. John Rescue sent out the plans to four contractors to get bids to construct the 1,280-square-foot, single-story structure; however, all of the bids had exceeded the available funds in the grant.

Construction costs have gone way up since the hurricane, said Antoinette Fleming, CDBG program manager. She said the plans had been sent back to the architects at Springline to see where costs might be cut.

Wednesday’s meeting on St. John was one of three held on each island during this second round of hearings. Similar meetings were held on St. Croix on Monday, and on St. Thomas on Thursday.

In April, the first round of public hearings was held to present the Community Development Block Grant proposals for 2018. From those, 17 projects were selected for funding. The territory has received a total of $1,984,382 for the program, of which 20 percent can be used for administration and planning.

By law, the funding must be divided equally between the two districts in the territory, St. Thomas-St. John, and St. Croix. After administrative costs are deducted, projects in each district receive $793,752.80.

The full explanation of the programs are here: 2018 CDBG Second Public Hearing Booklet.

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