ST. JOHN – The Committee on Culture, Youth, Aging, Sports, and Parks, led by Senator Angel L. Bolques, Jr., convened in a meeting at the Cleone H. Creque Legislative Annex. Lawmakers advanced a bill to establish an official dish and dessert for the Territory. Furthermore, officials from the Aviation Industry and the Virgin Islands Department of Human Services were among the testifiers who shared an update on youth programs and initiatives.
Committee members voted in the affirmative for Bill No. 35-0078- An Act to require the Commissioner of the Department of Tourism (DOT) to conduct a territory-wide survey of the residents of the Virgin Islands to assist in the establishment of an official dish and dessert of the Virgin Islands. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Bolques, stated that the U.S. Virgin Islands have a rich history, culture, and economic stability. Food tourism is much more than a list of meals and menus. It is directly connected to experiences of consumption that reflect history, diversity, and culture. Concurringly, Alani Henneman, Assistant Commissioner for Marketing at the Department of Tourism, mentioned that establishing a national dish and dessert will only elevate the Virgin Islands already thriving Culinary and agricultural Tourism, including the Carnival Food Fairs, the Taste of St. Croix, Mango Melee, Agrifest, King of the Wing Competition, and others. The measure mandates the Department of Tourism to conduct a territory-wide survey to establish the official dish and dessert of the Virgin Islands within 180 days of the enactment of the bill. Henneman added that a survey was launched on the DOT’s website, distributed to senior homes and facilities, culture bearers, and published on social media to attract the participation of younger voters. Ambassadorial Chefs Sandra Gerard-Leung and Julius Jackson also testified in support of the bill.
Separately, Suzanne Darrow-Magras, Director of UVI CELL, provided testimony regarding programs and initiatives such as the Coral Wings Aviation Program (CWAP) to introduce and train young people in careers in the Aviation and Aerospace industries. The Coral Wings Aviation Program targets youths who are sixteen years old and exposes them to careers such as private or commercial pilots. Senator Bolques noted that this is an opportunity to address pilot shortages within the Territory. Although CWAP obtained grant funding, identifying additional funds is one of the biggest challenges. Darrow-Magras stated that the grant does not provide funding for interisland travel for flight instructors. Additionally, the completion of the three components necessary for the Private Pilot License Program costs approximately $30,885 per student. However, complete financial coverage can only be offered to a small number of participants due to the lack of funding. Moreover, Makeda Dawson, Founder of Love City Flight Training, indicated that the Aviation Industry is lucrative in terms of job opportunities for pilots, maintenance technicians, and cabin crews. Dawson is a strong advocate for training and providing financial support to an underserved population pursuing an Aviation career, specifically in St. John.
Kimberly Causey-Gomez updated policymakers on the status of services and programs available to youth and the aging population. DHS youth services are inclusive of the Office of Intake and Emergency Services, the Division of Family Services, the Division of Intervention and Prevention Services, DIPS, the Youth Rehabilitation Center, the Head Start Program, and the Office of Residential and Interstate Compact Affairs. Causey-Gomez noted that although the Office of Intake and Emergency Services investigated 273 cases of suspected child abuse throughout fiscal year 2022, the data for FY 2023 was not shared during the meeting. Regarding senior services, the Division of Senior Citizen Affairs currently supervises eleven programs dedicated to assisting older people in the United States Virgin Islands. Seniors can seek assistance in applicable programs such as Socio-Recreation, Homemaker Services, Senior Community Services Employment Program, Retired Senior Volunteer Program, Family Caregiver Support Program, Foster Grandparent Program, State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program, Adult Protective Services, Information and Referrals, Elderly Nutrition Program, and Two Homes for the Aged, among the vital services provided by these programs. The challenges plaguing DHS include staff shortages and a lack of funding for pertinent services such as ADA-compliant transportation and adult day care.
Gary Malloy, Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Labor, shared the age range and the number of youths utilizing workforce development services offered by VIDOL. To date, the Summer Youth Work Experience Program has helped 69 youths ages 16–25 obtain professional experience. Moreover, there are 114 students in the Career Exploration Program from ages 14–15, and 99 participants in the Labor Investing for Tomorrow Program. In the 2022-2023 academic school year, there were 182 participants in JAG-VI territory-wide. Out of that 90 participants are in the St. Thomas-St. John District and 92 in the St. Croix District. Additionally, VIDOL continues to provide hands-on work experience through apprenticeship programs that are compliant with State and Federal standards.
Senators present at the committee meeting are Angel L. Bolques, Jr., Samuel Carrion, Ray Fonseca, Alma Francis Heyliger, Franklin D. Johnson, and Milton Potter. ###