April 12, 2006 — The status of the Junior Firefighters Corps – a program which currently reaches 85 students on St. Thomas – is still "up in limbo," according to program coordinator and firefighter Daryl George.
When contacted earlier this week, George said he received a letter from the V.I. Port Authority in late March stating that the organization is being kicked out of its home in Estate Bournefield – an eviction which also extends to approximately 39 other families living in the area.
George said he is "distraught" by the news, as the organization – which has been in existence for the past 26 years – reaches hundreds of students in the local community though annual low-cost programs, which run after school and on Saturdays during the year. The organization also runs summer programs that teach students about fire safety.
George explained that while parents pay about $25 per child per week for the program, excluding discounts for certain students, the organization is also subsidized through the V.I. government. He said rent paid to VIPA for the facility is low and that the organization would not be able to handle the full cost of rent at another facility.
"If we fail to find a new home or get assistance, then our doors will be closed permanently," George wrote in a recent press release.
When contacted Monday, George said he had sent correspondence about obtaining assistance to several government officials, including Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, VIPA Executive Director Darlan Brin and Fire Services Director Merwin Potter, but George had not yet received a reply.
When contacted Wednesday, George said that while he still had not received responses from VIPA or the executive branch officials, he had heard from Potter – who is presently off island and said he would assist the organization upon his return – and Sen. Celestino A. White Sr., who recently organized a walkout for Bournefield residents who came to testify at a VIPA meeting last month (See "Bournefield Tenants Look for Answers from Port Authority").
"Other than that, no one has really come and talked to me about the situation," George said. "There was one person from VIPA who came to see me, but they didn't say anything really relevant – just that we have to move."
George further said that he was confused about the eviction because VIPA had recently agreed to give the organization a building next door to its current facility to use as a computer lab and youth center. "It just feels as if all our hard work to get these things have gone out the window," he said. "I don't think the VIPA board even approved this move to evict the tenants, and Brin has been a bit arrogant in his mode of trying to deal with the situation. Because of this, I feel there's a distrust for Brin on the part of the community right now. So I challenge the board to do what is right, and address the problem with Brin – who's gone and done things on his own."
When contacted Tuesday, VIPA spokesperson Carol Henneman said that she "did not know the specifics of the matter relating to the Junior Firefighters, but I am sure that the authority will provide as much assistance as possible."
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