ST. CROIX–The Committee on Youth, Sports, Parks, and Recreation chaired by Senator Samuel Carrión held a public hearing on Wednesday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Conference Room, St. Croix. The hearing’s purpose was to receive testimony from the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation (DSPR).
Freshman Senator Carrión opened his first committee hearing, focusing on youth programs, including work, job training, sports, and recreation while ensuring relevant agencies have plans for this summer, given that so many of our young people have spent the last year at home.
Cindy Richardson, Assistant Commission of DOL on behalf of Commissioner Gary Molloy, said in her status update that the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted their service delivery since the suspension of in-person meetings in April 2020. Nevertheless, the Youth Team continued to offer employment assistance through alternative methods such as telephone and online technology.
The Youth Services Division provides year-round training, employment, and educational opportunities for in and out of school youth ages 14 to 25. Some of these services include job preparation skills, resume building, job search assistance, and career counseling. The application window for their 2021 Summer Youth Work Experience Program is currently open and will close on April 23, 2021.
This year, she said, they intend to provide a five-week work experience to five hundred and sixty-eight (568) participants ages 16-25 and a four-week virtual career exploration program to two hundred (200) participants ages 14-15. They have tentatively scheduled a Resume Writing workshop on March 19, 2021.
The Asst. Commissioner informed the Committee that DOL had submitted a dual application to VI Housing Authority to complete a portion of the Workforce Development component of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBGG) grant. She added that the application had been accepted and is in the Request for Proposal (RFP) contracting phase. There were nine (9) respondents to the RFP, with an anticipated start date in April 2021.
The focus of Phase One will be on the construction industry to prepare individuals with little or no formal training and provide them with general knowledge to perform an entry-level position in masonry, carpentry, electrical services, and plumbing. Phase Two will focus on those individuals who excel in the first phase and builds a career pathway in construction supervision. Phase Three will create additional employment opportunities beyond construction in Marine, Cybersecurity, Administrative Services, and Hospitality. Phase Four will focus on job retention with intensive job readiness preparation to enter the workforce, including life skills training, self-marking tools, and management relationship.
DOL’s new programs said Richardson would include Work Readiness Program (Virtual), Leadership and Career Development Conference, Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, and Roundtable Discussion and Training Series (Quarterly).
Calvert White, Commissioner of the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation (DSPR) said the Recovery Team has worked extremely hard to get their FEMA Disaster Recovery Project obligated and available for contractors to bid. He added that while they continue to move forward with their facilities’ restoration, DSPR has additional projects to enhance their facilities. They added a newly constructed batting cage at the Alvin McBean Complex with Public Finance Authority capital improvement funding. A private business is currently considering donating a batting cage at the DC Canegata Ballfield.
He added that the Department of Planning and Procurement (DPP) would be accepting bid proposals to resurface, repave and restripe basketball, tennis, and paddleball courts in St. Thomas/St. John district until March 8th and March 12th in the St. Croix district. This project, he said, funded by a Capital Improvement Grant from the Department of Interior, Office of Insular Affairs, will see 20 basketball, 14 tennis and eight paddleball courts refurbished across a total of 21 facilities in the territory.
The Commissioner to the Committee said that the government successfully negotiated with the Renaissance Group regarding land donation at the Renaissance Park, St. Croix, for DSPR and Caribbean Drag Racing Association (CDRA). He pointed out that DSPR has been working very closely with the President of CDRA, Arthur Hector, to rebuild and open the racetrack.
The initial appropriation said Comm. White, by the 33rd Legislature of $500.00, was used to resurface the track. With Governor Bryan’s recent legislation to appropriate $676,000 to complete the drag racing strip, he is hopeful that they will see car racing very soon.
He pointed out that in the 21st Supplemental Executive Order and Proclamation, the Governor provided a list of all sports deemed low risk and allowed for training and conditioning purposes only. Those sports are track and field, cross country, swimming, tennis, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, baseball, softball, and cricket.
The Commissioner said he hopes DOH will allow a few moderate and higher risk sports to resume practices, namely volleyball, baseball, football, and soccer. For now, they have several new programs that they will be launching on St. Croix. “Take Me Fishing, ” which will occur at the Altona Lagoon and Vincent Mason Beach, with a partnership with the Department of Planning and Natural Resources Division of Fish and Wildlife. A group of 15 students, ages 8-12, will learn the correct way to hook bait, cast a line, and secure their catch. Also, there will be a three-day girls softball clinic for ages 13-18, instructed by a scout with Cillege Bureau, LLC. On St. Thomas, he said, they are finalizing the details of Moko Jumbie classes for ages 5-16 and have begun conversation to offer a Batik print class as well.
When asked about the return of territory’s horse racing industry, the Commissioner said he could not discuss legal matters, but he can assure that Governor Bryan is working extremely hard to get both parties to settle. He told Committee members, “the recreation leaders are brainstorming new exciting programs to administer to the public.”
Chairman Carrión expressed several concerns about the mental and physical health of our children. “We have got to get them active and engaged.” He added that while this pandemic has been hard on us, it has been tough on our youth, who cannot have the social, academic, athletic, and other experiences they need for their development.
Senators at Wednesday’s public hearing were Chairman Samuel Carrion, Senators Dwayne DeGraff, Novelle Francis, Jr., Alma Francis-Heyliger, Javan James, Sr., Carla Joseph, Steven Payne, Donna Frett-Gregory, and Genevieve Whitaker.