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Editorial / Featured / Opinion / Virgin Islands / September 25, 2016

ST. CROIX — Resa O’Reilly, founder of Project Promise — a nonprofit whose vision is to give at-risk youth the tools and support they need to live healthier lives — is vivacious. Her spirit brightens up any room, and The Alcove in Christiansted was no different on Saturday night, as she bounced back and forth between conversations, delighting guests who showed up in great numbers in support of Project Promise’s 1930’s era cocktail party affair. The event was the group’s first fundraiser, and turned out to be highly successful.

But for a brief moment, while Sylvia Stanislas, a parent whose son is enrolled in the nonprofit’s Caterpillar Project, was giving an account of how the program had changed her son’s life, Ms. O’Reilly’s eyes welled up; touched by the impact of Project Promise, and the overwhelming support of the community.

“The outpouring of support has been amazing,” Ms. O’Reilly told us last night. “I mean, I literally had people offering me auction items; we did not have to approach every single person.” She explained how the owners of Adventures in Diving reached out to Project Promise via Facebook looking to donate to the cause.

The Alcove was at capacity with supporters from different walks of life. Upon entering, diners, elegantly dressed, enjoyed catered service, while others had drinks at the bar. A separate room to the north hosted live music and the auction tables.

The event offered a silent auction with 30 items including artwork by Leo Carty, two-night stay at the Buccaneer Hotel, a sunset sail for two by Lyric Sails and a private chef experience with Frank Robinson, among other offerings. It also featured live jazz music with performances by Liz Combie and Shay, a complimentary drink, hors d’oeuvres, and two tickets to the Dominican Republic as a door prize.

All the funds raised goes to the Caterpillar Project. The project’s initial pilot group of 12 fifth-grade students meet with staffers after school on a daily basis through high school and into college. Over time, the Caterpillar Project will become a “support system” for these youth, with close ties to adults who take a personal interest in their growth and development, according to a blurb on the organization’s site.

The Consortium has followed Project Promise’s efforts, and participated in a tour up the Caledonia Gut to a waterfall deep Frederiksted in March, where students learned the history of the area. See video here.

The importance of the program cannot be overstated. It takes youths who are statistically less likely to transition into adulthood successfully, and gives them them a myriad of tools to beat the odds.

“The short time that Ricardo has been in the program, I have seen him change. Positive change,” said Ms. Stanislas while testifying of the program’s impact on her son’s life. “I have seen him go through struggles with reading comprehension, motivation, his homework, and with the teachers at Project Promise and the facilitators, he’s been doing great. It has helped him a great deal with his confidence to work hard and to keep trying — pushing through, challenging himself — to go that extra mile, an extra step in whatever his doing.”

Before she spoke to the wider audience, Ms. Stanislas told The Consortium that her son, who would rarely show emotion, is beginning to do just that once the discussion is Project Promise and its many activities. She described the program as the best thing that could have happened to her and her son, and was astonished by how complete it is.

For Ms. O’Reilly, Project Promise is a realization of a dream long harbored in her mind, birthed from adversity after being laid off from the Department of Justice some years ago.

If she was not laid off , “I would have been stuck at the same job, and constantly wishing I had pursued my dreams,” she told us in January at the announcement of Project Promise while expressing that making a difference in the community, especially through a youth-support program, has been her lifelong purpose. “Everything is perspective,” she added, “it’s the choices we make after a difficult decision that will determine the outcome of our future.”

Project Promise’s approach, Ms. O’Reilly says, is deliberately holistic and includes the following:

  • Life Coaching – Weekly one-on-one sessions with a trained life coach to build self-esteem, vision, hope and self-worth; and help participants learn how to set and achieve goals. The Life Coaching Program promotes personal and social growth, thus helping the youth become more responsible and accountable, and ultimately lead fulfilling and purposeful lives.
  • Mentoring – Similar to a “Big Brother/Big Sister” program, participants will be carefully matched with rigorously screened, trained, and supervised volunteer mentors, who each commit to at least one year of service. Weekly one-on-one get-togethers and an evidence-based mentoring program provide consistent encouragement and guidance to help youth get and stay on the right path.
  • Community Service – Learning to give of yourself to help others is an integral part of the growth process. Participants take part in meaningful projects focused on the revitalization of our community. These projects also function as team-building activities, which foster responsibility and self-esteem, and help youth develop a stronger sense of attachment to our community.
  • Tutoring – Designed to supplement classroom instruction, the Educational Intervention Program uses an individualized approach to help students achieve grade-level proficiency in reading and math, approach learning in a different way, and reach their full academic potential overall.
  • Career Exploration – Participants receive support identifying, researching, and exploring their career/vocational interests. The evidence-based curriculum motivates youth to plan for their future and acquire the skills and credentials needed for career success. Whenever possible, participants are also paired with rigorously-screened volunteers to gain hands-on experience in the field.
  • Personal Wellness – Interactive activities teach participants mindfulness techniques (such as breathing techniques, progressive relaxation, meditation and yoga), how to make good food choices, preventative health information, and more. Ultimately the Personal Wellness Program helps strengthen character and self-discipline, and shows youth how to channel their energies towards a positive and constructive life.
  • Creative Expression – Starting with group activities and eventually expanding to activities based on individual student interest, this program engages participants in the creative process and builds confidence and self-esteem through art. Youth get the opportunity to do something positive with their time and talents, and learn how to channel their energies towards a positive outcome.
  • Cultural Awareness – Many of our youth know little to nothing about the Virgin Islands’ rich cultural heritage. The Cultural Awareness Program uses fun, hands-on activities and numerous field trips to explore St. Croix’s vibrant past. Participants are introduced to the Virgin Islands’ traditional foods, music, dances, natural resources, literature, and history.
  • Family Support Services – The Family Support Program links participants’ parents with needed resources. It also gives parents the tools to effectively communicate with and participate in their children’s lives. To remove barriers to participation, transportation to and from the evening meetings, a healthy meal, and child care for younger children are provided.
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Ernice Gilbert
Ernice Gilbert
I wear many hats, I suppose, but the one which fits me best would be journalism, second to that would be radio personality, thirdly singer/songwriter and down the line. I've been the Editor-In-Chief at my videogames website, Gamesthirst, for over 5 years, writing over 7,000 articles and more than 2 million words. I'm also very passionate about where I live, the United States Virgin Islands, and I'm intent on making it a better place by being resourceful and keeping our leaders honest. VI Consortium was birthed out of said desire, hopefully my efforts bear fruit. Reach me at

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