Oct. 13, 2004 – Many Virgin Islanders got a taste Wednesday of the strength that can be brought to bear when the public and private sectors team up for a common good. In a ceremony held at the Lindberg Bay eatery, Walkers by the Sea, 50 free computers were distributed to 21 non-profit organizations, churches and schools.
V.I. Girl Scouts, Junior Firefighters and Peace Corps Elementary School children were among those to benefit from the high-tech giveaway that started out in the office of Sen. Celestino A. White.
Franke Hoheb, White's chief researcher, told the crowd at Walker's most of whom were there to pick up their new, Dell desktop systems that earlier in the year he'd become "concerned that our young people are not being prepared for the computer age."
He voiced his worry to his boss, and White responded by asking his researcher what they could do about it. Quickly thereafter, White's Computer Outreach Initiative was born, with Hoheb placed at the helm. "The senator wanted 100 computers," Hoheb said, but that number proved daunting and 50 was a compromise both could live with.
In March, a letter asking for financial assistance was drafted and distributed to all of the Economic Development Commission beneficiaries in the St. Thomas-St. John district. At the same time, an independent board comprised of community members was assembled and charged with developing an application process and evaluating groups who wanted computers, Hoheb explained.
First to rise to the computer-call was the J. Epstein Foundation, the charitable arm of St. Thomas-based Financial Trust Company. Cecile R. de Jongh, FTC's manager, committed $33,000 to the cause with the intention of purchasing all 50 computers. But the final cost of all the machines loaded with the necessary software drove up the price. "We didn't want to hand out empty machines," Hoheb said, so he had to go looking for more help.
That's when Trust Asset Management stepped up to the plate, providing the remaining funds to seal the deal. Frieda Webster, Trust Asset's office manager and compliance officer, was honored at the ceremony along with de Jongh. Both women were presented with commemorative plaques by White on behalf of his office.
De Jongh said she enjoyed the ceremony and she was "surprised by how appreciative everyone was." She said the J. Epstein Foundation is committed to supporting education in the territory and this was just one of the projects to which they've contributed.
"These donors said they wanted to remain in the background," White said during his remarks. But the senator had no intention of letting the generous contribution remain anonymous. "I said no way we want to use your organizations as a beacon to others."
White went on to implore both companies to keep up the generosity. Both he and Hoheb promised this initiative was just the beginning, and that more donors will be found and more computers given away.
Susan Penn, a volunteer leader of the College Preparatory Learning Center, said her organization received four computers that will be used by the more than 35 students who come to the Anna's Retreat center. Penn said the center believes in "educating the whole child," and in addition to providing an after-school program for adolescents and teens, the center also houses a learning center for children as young as six months old.
The Girl Scout Council of the Virgin Islands received four computers that will be used in support of an effort to make girls more comfortable with technology, math and science. Liz Bass and her daughter, Thalia Richards, were ecstatic as they shared the job of carrying their new computer out of the building.
Ras Cubu, president of We Grow Food Inc., a farmers' cooperative located on the West End of St. Thomas, said the organization was given one computer that will go into the organization's Bordeaux headquarters. "The main thing is to get the kids involved," Cubu said. But he also hopes to interest some of the farmers in using the technology as well.
Rita J. Howard, assistant commissioner of education, was on hand to accept computers donated to Charlotte Amalie High School's business and science departments, Ivanna Eudora Kean High School and Peace Corps Elementary.
Also awarded computers were:
– Full Body Evangelistic Pentecostal Church.
– Adult Continuing Education Program (ACE).
– We From Upstreet After School Program.
– St. Andrew's Episcopal Church.
– Wesley Methodist Pre-School.
– Academics Enhanced Incorporated School.
– Heritage Learning Center.
– The Village-VI Partners in Parenting.
– Youth Splash-Faith Christian Fellowship Church.
– We Savaneros, Inc.
– Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station (VIERS).
The event drew a modest showing of local elected and appointed officials, including Sen. Carlton Dowe, Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Education Commissioner Noreen Michael. Senatorial aspirant Alex "Good News" Randall drew a special nod of recognition from White.
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