June 7, 2001 – While the police commissioner on Thursday morning was addressing the recent escalation of crime on St. Thomas, a group of people on the other side of the island was celebrating the absence of it.
Officials past and present came together to celebrate the opening of the Seedtech Technology Learning Center at the Estate Bovoni Weed and Seed Community Center, the first in the territory and the first outside the U.S. mainland. The overall program "weeds" out crime and "seeds" community revitalization.
Two former U.S. attorneys for the Virgin Islands, Terry Halpern and James A. Hurd Jr., got the U.S. Justice Department-sponsored program going about 11 years ago. Both were on hand Thursday to congratulate Azekah Jennings, assistant U.S. attorney; Zelda Williams, program manager; Idita Matthew, Bovoni Resident Council president; and a bevy of Bovoni residents. Hurd flew in from his new home in Houston for the occasion.
Weed and Seed is funded by a grant from the federal Justice Department that is administered by the V.I. Housing Authority and other government agencies. Conrad E. Francois II, VIHA director, said his agency contributed $30,000 for Seedtech.
It could have used much more, Irma F. Hodge, VIHA director of management and tenant services, said. She shared some history behind the program.
"Bovoni was a community under siege when the program started," Hodge said. "Violent, rampant with crime, teen-age pregnancy, drugs and drug dealers — people were afraid to come out of their homes into the street," she said. "There was running water just a few hours a day. Some of the buildings were vacant and in disrepair. We started a task force. It was a resident-driven program."
What the residents did, she said, was "they demanded their rights, a Boys and Girls Club, GED courses, a cleanup of the Bovoni dump."
"Now," she said, "Bovoni is rocking."
This assessment was heartily endorsed by Jennings, who has stepped into Hurd's shoes, and by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, who lauded the program and the Bovoni community.
"The Bovoni community is a symbol of what can be done," Turnbull said. "I'm asking parents to start correcting your children from the crib up. Show them you care. Caring, loving parents make a caring, loving community."
Nancy Ware, director of technical assistance and training for the national Weed and Seed executive office, praised Williams for her efforts in helping to set up Seedtech. Ware also gave Williams an application for a grant from the National Home Libraries Association that could allow the local gorup to complete efforts to establish a resource center and library to complement the computer program.
In the little more than a year that Williams has been managing the Bovoni program, it has won several awards including recent Environmental Protection Agency recognition for the community's clean up efforts. Seedtech has been a goal of the program from the beginning, Williams. "We already have 41 residents enrolled," she said. "The first class is filled up."
Youngsters and adults can sign up for the free program. The only requirement is to be a Bovoni resident, defined as living between the Nadir Esso gas station and Bolongo Bay. There are only five computers now in the small lab, so classes are limited, Williams said. The courses offerings are computer fundamentals, Internet usage and word processing. They are offered in three-week sessions of 45 hours.
St. Thomas businesses have enthusiastically pitched in to help the program. Peter DeBlanc of Cobex International has donated at least one year of free Internet service. Malcolm B. Harewood of the Caribbean Institute for Training and Development is teaching three-hour classes four nights a week. "I really want to help," Harewood said, "and I enjoy it, too."
The program works through a partnership with the National Urban Technology Center. The objective is to set up the computer learning centers as a means of demystifying technology and of teaching employment skills in communities that haven't had access to computer technology.
The Bovoni center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Courses start Monday, June 11. For further information, call 714-0812 or e-mail [email protected].


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