Last of four parts
April 28, 2004 – With the opening of the Village on Monday night and the Cultural Fair on Wednesday, V.I. Carnival is in full swing on St. Thomas. And, as Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards said from the stage at the ceremonies opening "Freddie's Calypso Kingdom," during these days in April "we pause for the cause to celebrate. We reflect upon the year and let go of stress."
But there was another voice raised amid the cheerful din of Carnival revelry Monday night — the voice of Alfred H. Lockhart Sr., the namesake of this year's Village. Health problems kept him from attending the opening, but his words and his influence were still felt.
His daughter, Alaine Lockhart-Mollah, stood before a crowd of hundreds and read a statement prepared for the occasion by her father. She read, and Freddie's words rang out:
"I see segments of the community at odds with each other … but Carnival is a 'we' thing. And we need to look around us right now and see what volunteering can accomplish."
Lockhart's point was well taken — that it is volunteers who make the whole Carnival thing happen. That and a lot more.
Volunteers and volunteering are at the core of the work that St. Croix resident Dave Rivers has spent the last three years doing in the territory.
Thanks to Rivers and an ally, Rebecca Dedmond, 400 computers have made their way into child and adult learning centers, after-school programs, assisted-employment facilities for the disabled, assisted-living centers for homeless young women and a long list of other such places that provide a myriad of resources for those who otherwise might go without.
Since showing up sight-unseen in the Virgin Islands three years ago, Rivers has become the touchstone in a grass-roots community-development network that has achieved unprecedented success at matching needs with resources.
Rivers does not see himself in these terms, however, and is always eager to point to the work of others. He says his efforts have succeeded because of support from a number of key companies and organizations, as well as individuals who in many cases have lent more than just a hand.
Among the businesses Rivers works with locally are Antilles Financial Group, Caribbean Property Management Investment, Financial Strategies Group, Ford Real Estate, Mile Mark Charters, Millennium Fund, Pfizer, Rivers Enterprises (owned by his dad, Dave Rivers Sr.), and Tip Top Construction.
Rivers also emphasizes that the work of a number of community organizations and institutions have paved the path he's been able to follow. He cites particularly the Agere Foundation, Interfaith Coalition, New Image Foundation and the University of the Virgin Islands and its Small Business Development Center.
But, as has been touched upon in the previous articles in this series, an organization called One Church One Family stands above all others in its encouragement and assistance. (See "Dave Rivers sees himself as part of an equation".)
And soon, the founder and president of One Church One Family, the Rev. George Clements, says, the full strength of the organization will be brought to bear in the territory.
An eye-opener for a doubting delegate
Delegate Donna M. Christensen, now serving her fourth term in the House of Representatives, first became aware of Father Clements and One Family in her capacity as chair of the Health Braintrust of the Congressional Black Caucus.
"We put on programs twice a year to look at issues which keep African-Americans and people of color out of the mainstream," Christensen said, "and I invited Father Clements to participate in an all-day summit on mental health issues facing the African American community."
Christensen recalls being impressed by Clements' contributions to the discussion that day, but the program ended and the two went their separate ways. It wasn't long, however, before the two crossed paths again.
"We would see each other at various functions," she says. "And then one day I found myself locked in conversation with him. He explained the One Church One Family concept to me and said that the organization was interested in starting a pilot program in the Virgin Islands."
Having inhabited the world of politics for so long, Christensen had met and even worked with lots of people with good ideas and even better intentions. "A lot of times you meet with a person or a group — you talk, you plan," she explained, "and years go by and nothing happens."
Not so with Clements and One Family.
Their next meeting came shortly after she heard his plans for the Virgin Islands. "I'd shown a great deal of interest in working with them — we shared many of the same ideas for the territory," Christensen explained. "So they'd invited me to be an honorary member of their board of directors."
She went to her first board meeting with few expectations. "I thought we'd talk about what to do, make some plans, you know," she said. "But when I got to the meeting I learned that work was already being done in the territory … It was like I'd blinked and, when I opened my eyes, they already had programs up and running."
It was around this time, too, that the relationship between Dave Rivers and One Church began to take shape.
Rivers and Dedmond had been so successful in their endeavors that, at the urging of Rivers' father and his business associate Randall Goulding — both of whom are involved in Economic Development Commission beneficiary companies on St. Croix — they sought out One Family's assistance in handling the financial aspects of their work.
"Basically, we needed a charitable organization with an established track record that we could trust to deal with the money that was coming in," Rivers explains
But the relationship quickly grew far beyond mere dollars and cents.
One Church One Family comes calling
On April 18, four people representing the guiding leadership of One Church One Family arrived on St. Croix to start what they termed "the courtship period" of the organization in the territory.
The delegation comprised Clements; the chief financial officer for One Family, Paul Bather; the national coordinator for One Church One Inmate, Lester Pryor; and the national coordinator for One Church One Addict, Lee Youngblood .
One Addict and One Inmate are outgrowths of Clements' original organization, One Church One Child. One Family is the umbrella organization under which the others are now run.
Begun in 1980, One Child was Clements' simple, but at the time radical, approach to halting a growing epidemic on the streets of his native Chicago: homeless African-American children.
In a city of more than 700 African-American churches, Clements believed the solution was to find one family in each congregation willing to adopt — literally and legally — an abandoned child.
What was needed, aside from love and willingness, was support and training for the adoptive families both before and after bringing the children into their homes. Such help, Clements reasoned, was already being funded by the State of Illinois. Why not simply channel that help directly to the people needing it the most, while at the same time leveraging more resources by encouraging adoptions instead of financing an endlessly revolving door of foster care?
He took the message to the pulpit of his Roman Catholic parish and encouraged other religious leaders to do the same, but nobody bought into his idea. Then Clements took matters into his own hands, announcing that he, himself, would adopt a child — something no Roman Catholic priest in the nation had ever done.
The Vatican eventually gave its blessing.
The program took off and in the years since, Clements says, "more than 145,000 childre
n have found their way into permanent homes."
Clements explains that his intent was "to help someone that nobody else wanted to help, and I wanted to see communities of faith do the same thing. I broadened the concept into the addiction and incarceration arenas because this same community base is motivated to help these people because their faith tells them it's what they're supposed to do."
Bather, a businessman and Kentucky legislator, describes himself as "a detail man" in the One Family structure. He explains the April "courtship" in the territory in terms of an operating structure that has been successful for the organization as it has grown, diversified and flourished for more than a quarter of a century.
"We don't believe in rolling into a community and dictating what must be done," Bather said. "We work from the bottom up … We get out into the community and we see what's already being done. We meet with people and see what's working, what the strengths are, and we build on those."
Pryor added that "in terms of establishing strong relationships here, Dave Rivers has already laid the groundwork for us. Sometimes, when you're an outsider in a new community, you can encounter barriers. But everyone we've met with here has been so open to us."
Actions speak loud in lieu of words
At an interview scheduled with the four men for this article, Youngblood, who heads the One Addict program, did not attend, and Bather was absent for a good portion of the session.
Youngblood, as Clements explained, had gone to assist a St. Thomas family struggling to find substance abuse treatment for one of its younger members. The family heard through the grapevine that Clements was on-island for the day and had reached out to him for help. So Youngblood set aside his afternoon plans to see what he could do for them.
Bather was on the phone with a Texas group One Family works with. The deadline was near on applying for a federal grant to fund mentoring programs for children of Texas inmates. Bather was trying to make sure the group completed its application and got it the mail on time.
The One Family leaders left the territory on Monday, but they won't be gone for long. To put it simply, which is how One Family prefers to do things, their work in the Virgin Islands has scarcely begun.
They said they cannot detail their plans yet because, as Clements put it, "you first have to respect the culture you are in." To the One Family team this means taking the time to "integrate with what's already happening in the Virgin Islands."
Considering One Family's track record, the possibilities locally loom large. After all, with a lot of volunteers and a little money, Clements and those he works with have found permanent homes for children who number well in excess of the total population of the Virgin Islands.
Bather says the organization plans a broad approach. Meetings held in the territory were "about looking at the uniqueness of the Virgin Island and bringing everyone together to build an action plan … so we can address the problems of homelessness, addiction, abuse, teen pregnancy."
He added: "Being a large organization, we have worked with all of these issues before."
Yet untapped potential for positive impact?
Rivers, who has spent much of the last decade in community development work on a largely volunteer basis, said: "We're already working with EDC companies. Some have been very generous, but there are so many more resources here that haven't been tapped yet."
According to Nadine Marchena, assistant chief executive officer of the Economic Development Authority, while tax beneficiary companies are not required to contribute to charitable organizations, "all of them do."
Such commitments are generally made while companies are seeking beneficiary status — a designation which exempts owners, partners and shareholders from taxes on all but a small percentage of the profits generated by the business. Promises to provide funds and other resources to the specified not-for-profit entities become part of a company's contract once it has been approved as an EDC beneficiary.
Marchena says records show that the territory's current 101 EDC beneficiaries are contributing $2.5 million annually to such causes — which works out to just under $25,000 per company. Nearly half of the beneficiaries, according to the EDC Web site, are financial services firms.
Marchena adds that many companies form special relationships with agencies whose work resonates with them and make additional donations that go unreported to the EDC.
Goulding, a Chicago lawyer and certified public accountant who works with a number of EDC beneficiary companies, has been involved with One Family for more than 10 years and currently chairs its board. He played a key role in bringing Dave Rivers and One Family together.
While it is evident that the EDC companies represent an economic boon to the Virgin Islands, Goulding and Rivers question whether the full potential of their positive impact on the territory's social fabric is being realized.
Bather and Clements remain committed to the model for community development that has proven to work for One Family. "More than anything," Bather says, "I believe in the voluntary sector. I believe that, overall, volunteerism is the solution."
According to Clements, "the reason I believe this organization resonates so well in the islands is faith. There is a strong faith-based element here that's felt even more strongly than in the states. Scripture talks about the question of whether we are our brother's keeper. My interpretation has always been that I am my brother's keeper. I believe that we are all personally responsible for each other's welfare."
Clements says One Family is committed for the long term in the territory. "One of the differences between working in a place like the Virgin Islands and a huge, sprawling city like Chicago," he says, "is that here you can see the changes. You can see the impact."
Another, perhaps, is that in these small islands, a little help can make a big difference. Take the item currently on the top of Dave Rivers' wish list: He needs assistance in transporting 55 donated computers on St. Croix to learning centers on St. Thomas. Anyone able to help out can contact him by calling 643-6513.
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