With its beautiful waters, white sandy beaches, lush hills, and envy-inspiring climate, St. Croix is a veritable tropical paradise. But even this idyllic island is not problem-free-particularly when it comes to the challenges facing the youth. Many of the island's at-risk youth live in poverty, suffer academically, lack positive role models, and don't possess the necessary decision-making skills to succeed. "Times are different now," said island native Resa O'Reilly, founder and president of Project Promise, a 501 (c) 3, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of at-risk youth on St. Croix. "The challenges that children faced when we were growing up, don't compare to what these children go through today."
O'Reilly has worked with at-risk youth in the Health and Human Services sector for a number of years, and witnessed firsthand the challenges facing these youth. She realized that while existing local programs can help, they tend to be short-term and typically only address one of the many issues at-risk youth may face. After being laid off by the Virgin Islands Department of Justice in 2012, Resa did some soul-searching to figure out how to make a significant difference in the lives of these kids. "I came up with a concept that would be a holistic, multi-systemic approach, a concept that would empower the whole child. I would incorporate several components that help children succeed and tap into their full potential." Shortly thereafter, Resa got the opportunity to purchase a building in the historic downtown Christiansted area of St. Croix. Despite being unemployed, she jumped at the chance and bought the building sight unseen. Project Promise was born three months later.
Project Promise's first program, the Salt River Bay "Ticket to Ride Program" developed by O'Reilly, was implemented in January 2015. It's a collaborative effort between Project Promise and the National Park Service which gives public-school sixth-graders the opportunity to visit the Salt River Bay National Historical Park and learn about its history-a history many of the island's sixth-graders know little about. "It's imperative that our students learn about our island's history," O'Reilly said when describing why she started the Salt River Bay Program. "We have such a rich vibrant culture, it's important that our youth get an opportunity to experience it firsthand. The "Ticket to Ride Program" provides such an opportunity." In 2015 more than 450 students got the opportunity to participate in the program.
O'Reilly will implement Project Promise's next major program, the Caterpillar Project, in January 2016. This comprehensive program will offer nine separate components-life coaching, mentoring, tutoring, career exploration, personal wellness, creative expression, cultural awareness, community service, and family support services-to a pilot group of twelve selected fifth-grade students. The students chosen for the pilot program will be tracked up through to the 12th grade and into college. The Caterpillar Project will initially be delivered at the Lew Muckle Elementary School during the after school hours, until Project Promise's planned facility is renovated and ready for daily, on-site programming in fall 2017.
"We're very excited to introduce the Caterpillar Project; this approach will inspire hope in the lives of these children and provide them with the tools to successfully change their lives and positively impact our community," O'Reilly said when discussing the launching of the program. One thing that makes the Caterpillar Project unique is its eight-year duration. Participants will receive positive support services that will have a long lasting impact on their lives.
Getting laid off turned out to be a blessing in disguise for O'Reilly. She's now looking forward to all of the exciting opportunities to help at-risk youth on St. Croix. For her it's been a journey of self-reflection, personal growth, and perseverance. "It's been an amazing journey so far," she said with a smile. From getting laid off, to purchasing the building, figuring out what to do with it, and starting the organization-doors have opened one after the other." The community's involvement through financial support and partnerships is key in order for Project Promise to keep its doors open. "Together we can change lives and improve our community one youth at a time", O'Reilly said. If you'd like to help with the renovation of our building, or donate time or money to Project Promise's efforts, see our contact information below. All contributions are tax deductible.
P. O. Box 875, Christiansted VI 00821
St. Croix This Week | St. Thomas + St. John This Week
Location: # 1 Havensight Way, St. Thomas, VI 00802
Mailing Address: PO Box 11199 St. Thomas, VI 00801-4199
Telephone: (340) 774-2500
Fax: (340) 776-1466