The St. Croix Chamber of Commerce chose Cane Bay Cares, a service initiative of Cane Bay Partners VI LLLP, as Nonprofit of the Year on Saturday during the organization’s annual Awards Gala.
“We’re humbled to even be considered for such an award,” said David Johnson, co-founder of Cane Bay Partners. “We didn’t start this for recognition, but it really does mean a lot.”
Cane Bay Cares began as a hurricane relief effort after hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the Virgin Islands in September 2017. Since then, the initiative has raised more than $1 million through its partners and donors.
The initial effort began with the evacuation of about 230 people, including the elderly and disabled, off the island ahead of and after Hurricane Maria made landfall. The organization, in partnership with the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, was able to then deliver more than 75,000 pounds of aid to tens of thousands of St. Croix residents. The effort started by giving generators to organizations, community centers and churches so they could begin helping the larger community. From there, the effort delivered critical supplies like water, food, solar lights, tarps, cleaning products and tools, distributing them through some of the same organizations it helped power up.
“When the initial immediate relief work was winding down, we got together and really brainstormed how we could continue to support the island in the most meaningful way,” said Kirk Chewning, co-founder of Cane Bay Partners. “Ultimately, we kept coming back to helping young people and supporting education – it’s a win-win for everyone.
Once the community’s critical needs were met, the effort shifted gears to focus on the long-term needs of the community. Cane Bay Cares joined the Unmet Needs Committee of the St. Croix Long-Term Recovery Group in order to see how ongoing disaster relief needs could be addressed.
At the same time, the organization began developing a project-based learning, afterschool program called Operation Inspire. For this long-term work, Cane Bay Cares began working with St. Croix Foundation to assist with supporting the programmatic aspect of Operation Inspire. Through this collaborative effort, Cane Bay Cares successfully secured the necessary contracts and insurance and was able to execute a Memorandum of Agreement with the V.I. Department of Education to facilitate the program. The pilot is now set to launch at the John H. Woodson Junior High School, with plans to expand to support students adversely impacted by the storms.
Supporting innovative educational programs for young people as an investment in the island’s future has become a mission of Cane Bay Cares with support going to numerous organizations and schools, such as the World Ocean School, the Coral Reef Academy, Project Promise, each of the island’s junior high schools and more.
For the initial disaster relief effort, Johnson and Chewning personally donated $100,000 each to the effort. Their company, Cane Bay Partners, has committed $250,000 annually to charitable giving across its businesses, with about 80 percent of that going to St. Croix – giving that is in addition to what Cane Bay Partners is required to do under the Economic Development Authority rules on giving.
“We sincerely thank the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce for this recognition. This has been a labor of love, and to know that it means as much to the community as it means to us, that makes it all that much more worth it,” said Stephanie Hanlon, Cane Bay Cares manager.