As the proud Chairman of the Board, and on behalf of the Board of Directors of Friends of Virgin Islands National Park, I would like to express our great exception with the letter to the editor in last week’s edition of the St. John Tradewinds.
The letter writer does a great disservice to the Friends, its many members and supporters, and to our president, Joe Kessler. The writer’s unwarranted personal attack on Mr. Kessler presents a distorted picture by addressing only one of Friend’s revenue sources. In the past six years (i.e., during Kessler’s tenure) the Friends has raised more than $3 million in support of our mission to protect and preserve the natural and cultural resources of Virgin Islands National Park and promote the responsible enjoyment of this unique national treasure.
The Friends ardently desires what the community believes is best for the children of St. John, including moving the school out of Cruz Bay to an appropriate location: safer and more conducive to learning. Under the guidance of Joe Kessler, with important input from our Advisory Council and support of the Board and staff, Friends funding has increasingly focused on supplementing the science curriculum available to our youth to better prepare them for their roles as future caretakers of our fragile island environment.
Please consider these facts. During this past school year alone, Friends funding has: supported not only the Folk Life Festival, but the transportation of 578 children from St. John and St. Thomas to the event; provided nine teachers from St. John schools with funding to utilize the park as a living classroom through the Park Study Grant Program; afforded the opportunity, through the Transportation Fund, for 500 students from St. John and St. Thomas to visit Virgin Islands National Park; allowed Friends to host the Earth Day Environmental Fair, which was attended by most St. John school children; provided a college scholarship to a young Virgin Islander studying marine biology; made it possible for 140 children to attend the Summer Eco-Camps at the Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station facility at Lameshur, where they are, as I write this letter, enjoying a camping and summer learning experience while studying both terrestrial and marine eco-systems.
We believe the Friends organization is very fortunate that, with more than 20 years of work with relief groups worldwide, Joe Kessler has turned his attention and skills to the benefit of those who enjoy all the wonders that Virgin Islands National Park has to offer. This includes Virgin Islanders as well as visitors from near and far, from this, and future generations.
Finding a solution to the issue of the relocation of the school has been challenging and taken far too long. However, there is a solution and I personally, and on behalf of Friends of Virgin Islands National Park, look forward to working in conjunction with all parties to develop it. With a committed Delegate to Congress, an able and energetic governor, a dedicated administrator, an earnest Senator at Large and a diverse and passionate community, I know that we’ll find a way to make that happen, and soon.
Chairman, Board of Directors
Friends of V.I. National Park