April 30, 2020

Keep Safe USVI: Supporting Recovery in My Island Hometown

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Jelani Newton speaks at a Keep Safe workshop in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

As a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, I’ve seen my share of hurricanes. The frequency and severity of the storms would vary from year to year, but every year, we would prepare, we would endure, and we would recover. I had been doing this for most of my life, and families like mine have been doing it for generations.

Still, the devastation that came in September 2017 from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, two consecutive Category 5 storms, is like nothing I had ever experienced. I now live in the Washington, DC area, but my family and friends still living in the islands, and the enduring challenges of the post-storm period are very real to me.  For this reason, I feel both proud and very fortunate to be a part of the Enterprise team that is supporting the housing recovery in the USVI.  

While we are all grappling with the health and financial impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, we know that storms and other natural disasters will continue to come and that many communities are now more vulnerable than ever. With support from NeighborWorks America, the Enterprise team hosted two workshops in March focused on building resilient homes in the USVI. These sessions highlighted Enterprise’s Keep Safe resilience guide, and included presentations from the University of the Virgin Islands and the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority.

Two women look at a stack of books on a table

In addition to a robust discussion of resilience strategies, local challenges and key priorities, the programming included a tour of various recovery sites and sites of historical and cultural significance on the western end of St. Croix, the largest of the Virgin Islands. Sitting with me on the tour bus were local public officials, nonprofit leaders, homeowners, and several housing recovery stakeholders visiting from the mainland. It was easy to see the pride with which our local partners shared information about the islands’ history of resilience and the rich culture of its residents – pride that I share as well. 

I also felt very proud to be a part of the Enterprise team hosting these workshops. Since joining Enterprise Advisors in 2018, I learned quickly that the team’s approach to work in communities is to lead with listening and learning – we do not assume that we arrive with all the answers to help every community.

Instead, we seek to empower residents to share their perspectives and priorities, so that solutions can be informed by those most impacted. One message that was emphasized at the USVI workshops was that the housing recovery in the islands needs to demonstrate value for the local culture and history that is so important to this community. Based on follow-up conversations, this message was heard loud and clear by the housing recovery stakeholders that participated.

These workshops represent just one of the many initiatives Enterprise is leading in support of equitable and resilient disaster recovery in the U.S. Caribbean through the Climate Strong Islands Initiative. I look forward to continuing to support the USVI and other disaster-impacted communities as they continue down the long road to recovery.

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