Project Promise Spreads Kindness Across the US

The organization helps at-risk youth in St. Croix to succeed.

Sep 20, 2019

Four teenage girls, their chaperones, a volunteer videographer, and a volunteer driver crossed the US for three weeks in August doing good deeds and acts of kindness along the way.

“It’s not a vacation. We’re going to serve,” Resa O’Reilly, Project Promise founder, told her seven-year-old son, Nyan, who helped out along the way, before they left according to the St Croix Source.

Project Promise, a nonprofit in St Croix US Virgin Islands, helps at risk youth with programs that encourage them to lead healthier and happier lives. The organization was founded in 2014 to address the numerous challenges these Island kids face, including poverty, failing in school, and a lack of positive role models.

According to the organization, they offer three different programs for at-risk youth to help them integrate into society and lead productive lives. All of the programs seek to address risky behaviors and to teach the kids how to make positive choices.

The Caterpillar Project, the one the girls who came to the US, belong to is a pilot long-term project that begins in the fifth grade and continues through high school and then hopefully into higher education. The Caterpillar kids meet with organization staffers after school every day.

The kids receive mentoring – something similar to the big brother/sister programs – to keep the youth on the right track. They receive life coaching, educational intervention when needed, career exploration, as well as learning about their history and culture.

A very important part of the project is doing community service. The youth take part in projects to revitalize their community and to help people in need. This summer, they took their community service on a plane, and on the road.

The trip began with a flight to New York that was donated by Spirit Airlines. The St Croix Source reported that the group visited 18 cities in 14 states as they traveled in a van over 4,000 miles (6437 kilometers) from coast to coast.

The trip combined community service with valuable history lessons and some just fun activities. Afterall, they are just kids. “There wasn’t anything in any state we didn’t do,” O’Reilly told St Croix Source.

In New York, the youth did their first community service project by cleaning up a community garden and a playground in East Harlem. They visited a slave burial ground, crossed the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, and attended a PitBull concert in Central Park.

When asked about the highlights of the trip, the youth talked about the community service projects they performed.

J’Neelah Daniel, 13, said that she like visiting an orphanage, El Rancho de los Ninos, in New Mexico. Project Promise bought toys and books for the children. The girls played with the kids in the orphanage and read to them.

Vianca Medina liked helping to pack 7,000 lunches for Meals on Wheels in Columbus, Ohio and the other girls agreed that it was really fun. She also really liked visiting seniors at Care House in Chicago saying that the elderly residents, “were happy for the company.”

Before they left St. Croix, the girls raised $250 in a walkathon to donated to refugees. They gave the donation to a family from Burundi when they were in Oklahoma City.

In their travels, the group visited the National Civil Rights Museum , BB King's club, Graceland, and delivered gifts to a homeless shelter in Memphis. They visited Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield Illinois. They took a train to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, a western town and the Hoover Dam in Nevada. They volunteered at an animal shelter in Las Vegas, –favorite activity of many of the participants – and took in a show.

In New Mexico, the Caterpillars took their first balloon ride and other "firsts" included staying in a motel, going to the zoo, attending a major league baseball game, and the surprise happy ending celebration was a surprise trip to Disneyland.

O’Reilly said that most of the stops were arranged by friends and that people helped the group along the way by buying meals and paying for attractions. “There was no shortage of people who wanted to help along the way,” she said.

The girls were required to fundraise before the trip – they needed to raise $1,500 – and to get good grades all year. They held water bottle sales, bake sales, made jewelry to sell, and did gift wrapping before Christmas.

Besides Spirit Airlines, other sponsors included the Community Foundation of the VI, Department of tourism, VI Economic Development authority, and other government and private donations.

The caterpillars are home and back in school now, but they will have the memories of the places they visited and the people they helped forever.
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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.