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'WEED AND SEED' ALIVE AND WELL IN BOVONI

You can hear the laughter and the music outside the Estate Bovoni Community Center auditorium as you mount the cement stairs. Inside, about 160 children ranging in age from 6 to 18 years are laughing and singing along with 105 Jamz radio personality Robert Luke.
"Stop the violence," Luke pleads as he sings, dances and gives little messages along the way. "You can dream," he says. "As small as you are, you’re as big as I am inside. No matter what, you’re going to make your dreams come true."
With that, Luke hands out pledges to his intent audience asking the youngsters to sign their names, if they can write, or else get somebody who can, to pledge "Victory over Violence," the theme of the afternoon’s program. "I will value my own life – I will respect all life – I will inspire hope in others," the pledges read in part.
It’s all a part of the Estate Bovoni Weed and Seed 2000 summer program funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice and administered by the V.I. Housing Authority in conjunction with a number of other local government agencies. Bovoni residents are the first in the territory to take part. The local Boys and Girls Club, located in the community center, has been designated as the on-site "safe haven" Weed and Seed site.
"What the program does," says Petra Phipps, administrative secretary to program manager Zelda Williams, "is to weed out crime, violence, gangs and drugs." That’s the "weed" part.
The "seed" part, Phipps explains, is about neighborhood restoration. Bit "what we really do," she says, "is give hope and opportunity – just about everything!" Gesturing at the auditorium full of smiling children, she adds, "It’s really rewarding."
As Phipps explains it, there’s no end to the activities Weed and Seed sponsors. Thursday’s entertainment was just for the one afternoon. Other offerings include a computer lab, steelpan lessons, swimming, sewing, diving, gardening, dancing, theater and several sports. "We took some 7- and 8-year-olds through the computer lab the other day, and they couldn’t get enough," she says.
Community response to the Weed and Seed idea was slow at first, Phipps says, but obviously that’s history. The six-week program, which ends in August, is full up.
Saturday’s special feature will be a fitness and health fair from 8 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. at the community center. It is primarily targeted to the Bovoni community, but anyone is welcome, Phipps says.
Williams and Phipps are both enthusiastic about their jobs, which they started last February. Phipps, who had been working in the private sector, clearly sees this as a mission. "It’s so good to work directly with the kids and watch them learn," she says, helping youngsters in the center’s colorful, carpeted library. Williams, a Crucian, moved to St. Thomas to take the position she occupies.
Animal activist Rita Roth is on hand this day to talk about being kind to critters and about the signs of animal abuse. Roth, who testified at a Senate hearing on Wednesday in favor of a bill to toughen penalties for animal abuse, says she’s "trying to think of a way to get a free number for kids to call to report animal abuse." Why? "Because kids usually just don’t have 35 cents," she says.
On hand to read his poetry Thursday afternoon is Linus Mathurin, reading from "Ghetto Renaissance: The Rebirth of Ghetto Poetry." Mathurin, who lives on St. Thomas but hails from St. Lucia, has dedicated his book to his late St. Lucian grandfather, whom he credits with inspiring him to become a poet.
Next on stage is the St. Thomas rap group 2-E-Kwhip and DJ Benny-D. Theron "Mahadon" Thomas and Timothy "Jahdan" Thomas, sons of Legislature security guard Kebo Thomas, are recent graduates of Charlotte Amalie High School. Maurice "Jahcoolieano Brasco" Simmonds is the third member. The group performs "all over the island" with their theme of "Stop the violence – Keep the Peace."
Teachers come from AmeriCorps, the Boys and Girls Club, Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School, even the University of the Virgin Islands, which has supplied Wanda Evans, theater and dance instructor. "We have been given enough funding to be able to get professional teachers," Phipps says, "which is so much better for the kids." They still gladly accept volunteer help, but they don’t have to depend on it, she says.
Winding up the program in the auditorium, Luke’s voice can be heard over the music. "Now, if we call each other names, that’s violence," he says. "But remember, you can dream, and you can make the dream come true."
For further information about Weed and Seed, call (340) 775-3575.

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