6 Ways to Use Your Unique Abilities to Rebuild the Virgin Islands

6 Ways to Use Your Unique Abilities to Rebuild the Virgin Islands

Hurricane Irma Maria Virgin Islands Senator Janelle Sarauw
Hurricane Irma and Maria relief efforts with Senator Janelle Sarauw and Adam Israel, Hotel Mafolie. Photo by Chantel Hoheb.

We all react differently in a disaster. Some hit the ground running. Within minutes, action-types are doing something to help. If not clearing roads or checking on injured neighbors, these first responders are making plans to get the basic necessities to the affected.

Others step back to reflect, nurture, and plan. These organizers are our support network. They create a home base and perhaps, weeks later, are getting schools back online, hosting fundraisers, disseminating crucial information, and providing counsel to the frontline.

We are not all the same, and that’s natural. Everyone has something to contribute – money, time, words. What is most important is to stay connected, informed, and active. We are the power, and we can help the Virgin Islands recover and thrive.

Whether you are in the Caribbean or elsewhere in the world, there are many ways to help. Action-based or charity-based, an organization that fits your unique style and interests is waiting for you.

1) Children and Families

Hurricane Irma Maria Kids and Families
Students headed to their first day of school after Hurricane Irma and Maria. Photo by William Stelzer.

The children are our future and families are their support. Without families, the cornerstones of our society would crumble. For families to function, they need to feel safe and provided for. Normality and routine need to be restored. Access to schools, fresh food, clean water, medical care, secure shelter, social engagement, purposeful work, and comforts like toys and games are all necessary to maintain healthy family lives. This can be a challenge even in the best of time. In a disaster zone, it’s near impossible without assistance from people like you.

If your interest is helping families rebuild, there are multiple ways to provide support:

  • Help a single family through organizations like Adopt a Family or individuals through crowdfunding campaigns on GoFundMe or YouCaring.
  • Provided financial support and goods directly to local, grassroots organizations that know what the community needs because they are part of it!
  • Donate to a national or worldwide nonprofit organization and earmark your donations for families and youths.

For a full list of ways to contribute funds and goods to children and families, click here.

2) First Responders, Emergency Medical, and Counseling Services

St. John Rescue
St. John Rescue emergency unit. Photo from St.John Rescue website.

Within 24 hours, The Red Cross, Global DIRT, St. John Rescue, and similar organizations were providing needed emergency services to hurricane victims. In fact, The American Red Cross set up on-site relief centers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands BEFORE Hurricane Irma even made landfall.

On St. John, St. John Rescue volunteers provided disaster relief to hundreds in need and continue to work directly with military and private aid organizations. St. John Rescue members have specialized skills such as structure stabilization, triage, Jaws of Life, portable AED, oxygen administration, and restoring island-wide communication systems.

Global DIRT’s first responders, subject matter experts, and prior service military personnel responded to the needs of Virgin Islanders immediately after Irma and Maria. D.I.R.T. (Disaster Immediate Response Team) volunteers provide medical assistance, communications access, search and rescue, and coordination support.

If you are interested in supporting volunteer forces that provide crucial and immediate action in the wake of a disaster, click here.

3) Infrastructure, Rebuilding, and Small Businesses

Irma Maria Businesses Destroyed
Photo showing the absolute destruction of the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Photo taken from St.Croix Animal Welfare Center website.

Now that time has passed; the missing have been accounted for; and systems distributing medical services, food, water, and goods are in place; our focus shifts to rebuilding. For the most part, the government is responsible for restoring public works, but private properties and small businesses have sustained billions of dollars in damage.

Again, there are many ways to contribute. Funds have been established to assist those who work in the tourist industry either directly or through their employers. Many islanders will be without work for months. The Virgin Islands Community Foundation has established a general fund for subsidies and rebuilding efforts. Again, individuals crowdfunding campaigns on GoFundMe or YouCaring are available to provide funds to homeowners, businesses, and workers that have lost everything.

To help communities or individuals rebuild, click here.

4) Pets and Wildlife

Hurricane Irma and Maria Pet Evacuation
Evacuation of animals from the St. John Animal Care Center following Hurricane Irma and Maria. Photo from the St.John Animal Care Center Facebook page.

Virgin Islanders are passionate about pets and wildlife. This love for animals radiates out in all directions. Pre-Irma/Maria, many of the best charity events on any of the islands revolved around the animal shelters like the Animal Care Center on St. John, the Humane Society on St. Thomas, and the Animal Welfare Center on St. Croix.

Post-hurricanes, more services are needed for animals like evacuations, veterinary care, wildlife rescue, and more. The ecology of the islands also falls into this category. Wildlife habitats have suffered as much as human ones.

If pets and wildlife are your interest, there are multiple ways to help. For a listing of organizations that help animals, click here.

5) Volunteer Work Crews

Hurricane Irma Maria Volunteers
US Coast Guard brings supplies into Coral Bay, St.John. Photo by USCG

Residents of the islands continue to provide some of the most needed and informed help. They know what to do because their community is directly affected. Local restaurants prepare meals and brown bag lunches. Charter companies donated boats and crew to deliver supplies and evacuate those who needed to leave. Those with functional shelter host their homeless neighbors. Friend and family are on the phone day and night to get government officials to act and to get the press to report.

The islands are stabilizing and more independent volunteers and workers will be welcomed. Many hands are needed to rebuild devastated areas, especially those skilled in construction and infrastructure.

“Volunteers, you will be contacted once public officials and disaster relief organizations have had an opportunity to assess the damage and identify what the specific needs are.”

To put your name on the Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) list and to find other volunteer opportunities in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, click here.

6) Fundraising Events and the Arts

Artist Provide Hurricane Irma and Maria Relief
Image of Kenny Chesney taken from “Art for Love City” website.

A fun and uplifting way to support the Virgin Islands is to host or to contribute to a fundraising event. If your interest is in the arts, event organization, or promotion, this may be the best way to help. It’s as easy and fun as throwing a party, only for a purpose.

Get on the phone. You will be surprised how many venues will waive rental fees and how many entertainers will perform for no cost for a good cause. Don’t go it alone, ask your friends to volunteer. Once you have booked entertainment and a space to enjoy it in, promote, promote, promote. Invite everyone, create advertisements on social media, send out press releases, print up postcards and flyers. You can raise money with ticket sales but don’t forget raffles, merchandise, contests, and auctions… let your imagination run wild.

If visual arts are your thing, enlist your fellow painters, sculptors, and media artists to participate in a gallery opening or online event with all or a portion of the proceeds going to charities. If you sell art online, again, you can earmark a portion of your proceeds to charities serving the Virgin Islands or for direct action groups.

If you are a creative-type, this is an opportunity for both you and the islands. Show what you’re made of. Throwing a successful fundraiser can be a rewarding life experience. It is a selfless act of expression, and it feels good!

For a list of events and resources for fundraising, the arts, and celebrity sponsored charities, click here.

Show That You Care

Artist Provide Hurricane Irma and Maria Relief

No matter what kind of temperament or skills you have, you can help the victims of Irma and Maria. The storms may have passed, but for many, the disaster continues. Islanders are suffering from stress, exhaustion, malnourishment, and are living in unlivable conditions. Do not forget about these friends and neighbors. The media may move on, but the Virgin Islanders are still there and still in need. Please don’t forget our fellow Americans. Your support will be needed for years to come.

For a complete list of charities, crowdfunding, and nonprofit organizations that benefit the victims of Irma and Maria, please click here.

Catherine Turner
Catherine TurnerCatherine Turner is a freelance writer and editor formerly based in the Virgin Islands. Her contributions have appeared in many publications including the St. John Tradewinds, Caribbean Travel and Life, Onboard Online Magazine, and the Elephant Journal. In a former incarnation, Catherine was a nightclub owner and a resort showgirl. A lifetime ago, she spent a decade chained to a desk as a computer programmer/data analyst. Catherine recently completed her first novel Carnival Carib. See more of her work at catherineturner.media

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