March 2, 2002 –– From the prayers to the songs to the speeches, every word at Saturday's dedication of the John's Folly Learning Institute on St. John celebrated the hard work that went into making the center a reality.
With John's Folly resident Alvis Christian in the lead, the residents turned the shell of what was previously the Horace Mann School into a bright, shiny structure. Since the school closed in the 1960s, the structure had stood open to hurricanes, vandals and animals. Then, in 1997, residents began by mucking out decades worth of animal manure and other debris. By 1998, with the building barely semi-usable, they began holding classes in marine science, gardening and other subjects for the area's children.
Aldria Wade, a member of the institute board of directors, said on Saturday that 66 students are enrolled in its programs today.
Work to rehabilitate the building proceeded with community labor until a $40,000 Community Development Block Grant enabled the residents to hire St. Thomas contractor Joey Vanterpool to install plumbing, electricity and other necessities. When the block grant money ran out in 2001, Christian said that Vanterpool agreed to finish the job but wait for his money until residents could raise it.
They have pledged the proceeds from many future food sales to pay off the bill. In fact, food sales paid for much of the materials used to make repairs.
While it is residents' hard work that made the institute happen, Christian said Saturday that all are welcome to use the facility. Perhaps the last line of the "Virgin Islands March" sums up the message sent out on Saturday: "Hold out a welcome for one and all," sang the nearly 100 people who gathered at this spot by the sea for the ceremony.
The community was listening. Moe Chabuz, a co-owner at Skinny Legs Bar and Restaurant in Coral Bay, said he planned to donate money raised at the annual Coral Bay Open in April to the institute. The rather madcap event is played on Coral Bay streets and yards to raise money for a different program every year.
From the oldest area resident to some of the youngest, they came on Saturday to browse through the rooms, to swap stories about the olden days when many of them attended school there, and to hear what the few politicians who attended the ceremony had to say.
"Mr. Christian had a dream," St. John Administrator Julien Harley said. He added that too often when efforts are made for St. John, they happen in Cruz Bay. That being the case, the residents of John's Folly, located between Coral Bay and Salt Pond on the island's southeast shore, decided to do it for themselves.
Delegate Donna Christian Christensen called it a bittersweet day, noting that earlier the Coral Bay community had come together for the funeral service of Doris Samuel. "We celebrated the life of a matriarch of the community," she said.
Christensen said the institute was the result of a village coming together to nurture its children. Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd, whose roots are in Coral Bay, called it a rebirth. Keynote speaker Guy Benjamin, a long-retired educator who taught at Horace Mann School in 1934, spoke about how small and close-knit the John's Folly community was in those days. "I expected to see changes take place, but I didn't expect to see this," he said, referring to revitalized building.


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