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Not for Profit: St. John Festival and Cultural Organization

June 22, 2007 — Every year, when the annual July Fourth Celebration rolls around, a hearty band of volunteers makes it happen. "It's a labor of love," Chairwoman Leona Smith said.
She said the event brings out a big cross section of St. John residents who take time out to visit with each other and enjoy all the activities. Additionally, hordes of visitors from St. Thomas, St. Croix, the British Virgin Islands, the rest of the Caribbean, and the mainland arrive to have a good time.
Smith, who is also St. John's administrator, has head up the St. John Festival and Cultural Organization since a group of energetic St. John residents took over organizing the event from the old guard seven years ago.
"It has grown so much, and the magnitude continues to grow," Smith said, noting that the event is now advertised in many places, including the entire Caribbean.
In addition to Smith, Camille Paris, Natalie Thomas, Alecia M. Wells, Linda Williams, Ira Wade, Jane Johannes, Claudine Daniel, Enid Doway, Lucinda Jurgen, Yvette Powell, Janice Paris, and Malinda Nelson head up committees.
Thomas is the harried person out there by the V.I. National Park's road getting the troupes and loupes in line for the July 4 parade.
"That's a big challenge," she said.
She said she tries her best to get the parade off at the 11 a.m. scheduled start, but troupes showing up late cause delays. However, she sends the royalty out first, then any troupe that's around goes next.
Thomas said that for many years, St. John had only a small parade, but in order to make it longer, the organization subsidizes transportation for St. Thomas troupes.
While Thomas' specialty is the parade, she's always on hand for other July Fourth Celebration activities. She said she enjoys seeing her friends shine when they organize other events: "It's really a lot of fun to see them take shape. Thomas also said she enjoys the entire event because it's part of the island's culture.
Smith said the organization starts planning for next year's event about a month after the end of the last one, adding that they make the event happen with an allotment of about $200,000 from the local government. However, the money doesn't arrive in time to make deposits and buy goods for the upcoming event. Instead, Smith said she uses her credit card to make payments and gets reimbursed many months later.
"I put $20,000 on my credit card last year, and just got paid in December," she said.
Smith noted that with last year's funding, the organization was able to pay its debts from the 2006 July Fourth Celebration as well as pay off old debts that had been on the books since she and the others took charge.
She added that the private sector comes up with the funding for the fireworks display that signals the end of the month-long event.
In addition to more funding, she said the event needs more space. However, since there just isn't any other venue available on St. John, the organization must have the Village in the Cruz Bay parking lot, the Food Fair in Cruz Bay Park and shows at a makeshift stage set up in Winston Wells Ballfield.
For the past few years, the organization has put a strong emphasis on security with cameras in the Village. Smith said she's writing to Police Commissioner James McCall to ask that security be stepped up at Red Hook to prevent troublemakers from getting on the ferry or breaking into vehicles parked by people attending the St. John event.
She wants the police department and the ferry companies to randomly screen people for weapons before letting them board the ferries for St. John.
Smith said that in particular, the ferry companies benefit from the event because of the increased traffic, while the island's hoteliers, restaurants and other businesses benefit as well: "Everything's already booked up."
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