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WOW: Democrats Hand Out Women of Worth Awards

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Oct. 29, 2006 — Maureen Burke-Ventura has always stood at the side of her only child during his ventures, so it proved fitting that he stood by her Sunday night as the V.I. Democratic Party recognized her and 20 others with Women of Worth Awards.
"I feel proud of her, because she's put in a lot of time and effort into the band, and for all that she's done for other youth," said Angel "AJ" Ventura.
The awards ceremony took place at the Island Center for the Performing Arts. Ventura spoke after listening to his mother proudly acknowledge that, at 15, he established the Xtaushun band with some high school friends. Burke-Ventura serves as manager, mentor and confidant to the band members.
Sharing mistress of ceremonies duties were Alicia Barnes, a St. Croix District member, and Carole M. Burke of the Democratic National Committee. Barnes said the awards ceremony would be held annually to "honor women who are living legacies."
"We want to give them their flowers while they're alive," she said.
The community chose the honorees, Burke added. "We simply went out in the streets and posed questions like, 'Who would you choose for an education award?'"
In addition to the Xtaushun Band, which won its first Road March title when it debuted three years ago, Burke-Ventura has mentored others in groups such as the Girl Scouts and the St. John's Anglican Youth Group. She has served as chair of the Prince and Princess Pageant at the Crucian Christmas Festival.
For those contributions, she received the first Youth Advocate Award, named for Maria "Chi-Chi" Heywood, a Democratic stalwart and member of the American Federation of Teachers. Before her death, Heywood worked with her fiance, Ali Paul, to lead the Ali Paul Mocko Jumbies to international fame.
Paul came Sunday to give the awards to Burke-Ventura and Charlita Schuster, who has mentored young girls through dance in the group Music In Motion.
"Chi-chi was a tireless worker, and her memory will live on with this award," Paul said.
In brief remarks, Burke-Ventura said she advocates parents taking a larger role in their children's lives.
"We should not depend on our baseball coaches, our educators or dance instructors to raise our children," she said.
Schuster thanked public officials and private donors, crediting them with keeping Music in Motion afloat. Many times, she said, the young women who join the group do not have money for tights or shoes, but get them through funding from agencies such as Human Services, the V.I. Council of the Arts and other legislative appropriations. Because of those contributions, Schuster said, her dance school will continue to be a saving grace for many years to come.
Other awards bore the names of Democratic stalwarts, and some prominent Democrats were onstage to help present them. The Gov. Alexander Farrelly Lifetime Achievement Award went to Asta K. James and Helen J. Moorehead-Roebuck. The Mario N. de Chabert Trailblazer Award went to Jennifer Matarangas-King, president and general manager of Innovative Cable TV; attorney Diane M. Russell; and Sharon Theodore-Scope, the first local female engineer to work at HOVENSA. Sen. Ronald Russell, representing Senate President Lorraine Berry, gave each of the women certificates of honor from the 26th Legislature.
Delegate Donna M. Christensen also gave congressional certificates of honor to all of the women. Gregory R. Francis and wife Cheryl also attended. Francis, the Democratic running mate of gubernatorial candidate John deJongh, presented Lillian Caesar-Sutherland with the Unity Award. In 1998, Sutherland began a grassroots operation to raise funding and awareness on tissue transplant, and founded the Minority Organ-Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP). The organization has earned national recognition.
Each of the award recipients — including Jan Mitchell-Larsen, who received the Ladies and Legends Award — received a glass plate with the acronym WOW.
For the past 11 years, Mitchell-Larsen has designed and crafted many of those plates for various businesses and government agencies, as well as ornaments for the National Christmas Tree of Peace in Washington, D.C. She runs a studio in downtown Christiansted where she sells her glass artwork.
"It's very strange to get one of my own awards," Mitchell-Larsen joked, evoking laughter from the audience.
Many listened with rapt attention when Shayna Powell-Johansen, recipient of the Young Entrepreneur Award, called on politicians and parents to do all they can for children.
"On our little island, and in our territory, young people are committing violent acts against each other and dying at an alarming rate," she said. "Why? Because they have no vision for the future. They lack hope. They lack hope because they lack opportunity. They lack opportunity because they lack education. They lack education because our community is failing them."
Powell-Johansen, known simply as "Shay," opened Shay's Boutique with her mother, Dianne Canegata in 2003, soon after graduating from Spelman College in Atlanta.
"I challenge every parent and politician here to make education the priority in years to come," Powell-Johansen said. "For without the tools to compete in a global market, our talented and capable young people will never realize their full potential. And, as a result, neither will St. Croix."
The award categories and recipients:
Ladies and Legends Award
Ruby V. Fleming
Jan Mitchell-Larson
Beatrice Ramos
Working Mom Award
Louella Johnson-Leon
Maria "Chi-Chi" Heywood Youth Advocate Award
Maureen Burke-Ventura, AIA
Charlita Schuster
Sports, Culture and Heritage Award
Athalie McFarlane-Petersen (posthumously)
Sherry E. Simmonds
Patriot Award
Silva T. Gibbs
Gov. Alexander Farrelly Lifetime Achievement Award
Asta K. James
Helen J. Moorehead-Roebuck
Mario N. de Chabert Trailblazer Award
Jennifer Matarangas-King
Attorney Diane M. Russell
Sharon Theodore-Scope
Young Entrepreneur Award
Shayna Powell-Johnson
Touching Lives, Saving Lives Humanitarian Award
Dr. Michelle Berkeley
Justa Encarnacion
Pastor Thelma Youngblood
Unsung Hero Award
Juanita A. Fergus
Unity Award
Lillian Caesar-Sutherland
Victory Award
Gail Watson-Chiang
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