How the Love for Love City Foundation Continues to Help Our Islands

The Love for Love City Foundation crew poses for a pic on Jost Van Dyke. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

The Love for Love City Foundation crew poses for a pic on Jost Van Dyke. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Back in October, we introduced you to the Love for Love City Foundation, a not-for-profit organization created by Kenny Chesney before the last winds of Hurricane Irma even left St. John. As many of you may know, Kenny owns a home here on St. John and has visited the island for years. So when he learned that his home-away-from-home and many of his longtime friends needed some major help, he quickly sprung into action, conducting interviews to spread the word on our plight, as well as setting up the Foundation which has been instrumental in the recovery efforts here on St. John.

Many people have asked me how St. John is doing so well following two extremely destructive category five storms. The answer, in my opinion, is simple. 1. The people who live here are incredible and resilient, and have done whatever it takes to get our home back to the new normal. 2. We have the unwavering support of all of you. 3. We have two private citizens who have gone above and beyond to help us – Kenny Chesney and Tom Secunda.

(Mr. Secunda is the co-founder of Bloomberg L.P. He too owns a home here on St. John with his wife Cindy. The Bloomberg Foundation dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy back in 2012 and brought that expertise to St. John. They can be credited for helping restore our infrastructure among other things. We will have more on the Bloomberg Foundation’s efforts later this month.) 

When we first spoke of the Love for Love City Foundation back in October, they were still in the emergency relief phase, delivering much needed supplies to St. John and Jost Van Dyke, our neighbor over in the British Virgin Islands. Since then, they’ve moved into the recovery phase. To put it simply, they’re fixing things.

One of the best parts about the Love for Love City Foundation is that you can see exactly where your dollars are going. Drive into Coral Bay and you will see that Skinny Legs has a beautiful new roof. The Love for Love City Foundation helped with that. Cruise around to the corner to Coral Bay Caribbean Oasis and you will notice how Karen’s damaged building has been repaired over the past week. The Love for Love City Foundation fixed that themselves.

Karen and the Love for Love City boys

Karen Granitz, owner of Oasis, with Connor Masterson, Kyle Eckhoff, Benny Wolfe and Seth Bettinger, four amazing employees of the Love for Love City Foundation. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Hop on a boat to Jost Van Dyke and you will see a brand new dock in Great Harbor. The Love for Love City Foundaiton built that. Wander down the beach and over the new bridge to Foxy’s. The Love for Love City crew built that too.

The Love for Love City Foundation rebuilds the dock on Jost Van Dyke. Image credit: STJ Creative

The Love for Love City Foundation rebuilds the dock on Jost Van Dyke. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

The new bridge near Foxy's in Great Harbor. Image credit: STJ Photography

The new bridge near Foxy’s in Great Harbor. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

They even transformed into elves at Christmas time, personally wrapping more than 1,000 gifts which they handed out to children both here on St. John and over in Jost Van Dyke.

Delivering gifts on Jost Van Dyke. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Delivering gifts on Jost Van Dyke. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

A little girl received a new bike for Christmas thanks to the Love for Love City Foundation. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

A little girl received a new toy for Christmas thanks to the Love for Love City Foundation. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

They’ve built docks, bridges, roofs and buildings. They’ve helped repair schools and clinics. They’ve cleared debris from people’s homes who couldn’t help themselves. They cleared brush over at Oppenheimer. They set up lights in Cruz Bay along with the Bloomberg Foundation before the power was restored. They handed out hundreds of generators – from ones large enough to power grocery stores to smaller ones that helped the elderly power up their homes. They handed out more than 1,000 Engel coolers so people without power could keep their food and drinks cold. They handed out plywood before Hurricane Maria hit, so people could protect their homes and businesses. They’ve given books to the three schools here on island and donated laptops and desks to the Christian Academy. They helped rebuild the Christian Academy. They cleared out classrooms at Julius Sprauve. They cleared debris from Gifft Hill, so the school could reopen. They evacuated more than 1,000 people on private planes. They’ve transported more than 700 cats and dogs from St. John and our neighboring islands to rescues up in the States.

Jeff Quinlin, operations director for the Love for Love City Foundation, clear brush at Oppenheimer.

Jeff Quinlin, operations director for the Love for Love City Foundation, clears brush in White Bay. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Lighting up Cruz Bay - Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Lighting up Cruz Bay – Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

students enjoying books on st john

Students at Christian Academy enjoying their new books. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Students at Christian Academy enjoying their new books. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Three students at Julius Sprauve check out their new books. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Volunteers help load cats and dogs before their journey to the States. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Volunteers help load cats and dogs before their journey to the States. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

stormy before heading to st louis

Stormy looks pretty happy to be headed to the Stray Rescue of St. Louis. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

It’s all pretty amazing if you ask me.

Many people may be wondering who exactly the Love for Love City team is here on St. John. Well they’re your bartenders, boat captains, cooks and chefs. They’re photographers and former business owners. They’re simply people who want to help. They’re some of our island’s heroes if you ask me.

Four months have passed since Hurricane Irma hit, and our progress has been remarkable. But we still have a long road ahead. So if you would like to and are able to help with our recovery, I encourage you to support the Love for Love City Foundation.

The Spirit of St. John

Maho and Francis bays - Jan. 14, 2018

Maho and Francis bays – Jan. 14, 2018

I came across the following article yesterday, and it truly brought a smile to my face. It’s short and sweet, but it really speaks to the spirit of St. John. I can tell you all day long that the island is ready for visitors, but it’s also nice to add another voice to our story. Please take a minute to read the following article written by Hannah J. Farrow and published by Alive Tampa Bay.

The Spirit and Beauty of St. John Beckons
By Hannah J. Farrow, AliveTampaBay Correspondent

The hurricanes took away a lot of things—roofs of houses, car windows, taxi drivers’ passengers. It didn’t, however, take away from the beauty of the island or its people.

St. John, the US Virgin Islands has been a vacation destination for my family since before my birth, a home-away-from-home if you will. We rent a pick-up truck with bench seats in the bed, pile in the beach chairs and cooler, and take off one the left side of the road, through the mountainous, lush, tropical botany, with a “road beer” in hand.

We were anxious this year, gambling on the state of the island and questioning if vacationers were even wanted. I imagined locals rolling their eyes and shaking their fists as tourists with their money vacation on their destroyed land. We were even told time and time again by our travel agent not to expect the island to be how it used to be. My biggest fear was that everything I loved about St. John was gone.

To my pleasant surprise, I found that my family and I were welcomed with smiles and laughter as we reserved a table for 18 at various restaurants. What’s usually a pain to any waitress with a full section, with restaurant wait times over an hour long, was now a blessing to fill the empty seats.

We took a break from the relaxation of the pristine beaches and ventured on a hike called Ram’s Head Trail; only this hike was on the side of the island that took the hurricanes head on. I saw photos of stripped palm trees and heard stories of mudslides, leaving only my imagination to picture the state.

The beginning of the trail started off rocky, literally, and only indicated a similar three miles to go.

I was wrong.

The rough start turned into a calm bay where the water lightly lapped at the sandy beach. It continued on through the rocky waterside edge, up through cacti ridden bush, to what felt like the edge of the world. The clearest water rolled in waves, one after the other, crashing into the rocks below. The sun smiled down at us, and as I looked around, all of my fears of the island vanished.

I’ve always had respect for the island and its people, I’ve always felt welcomed, and I’ve always wanted to return. The houses are in repair and BBC electric works tirelessly to bring shining new wires to the island. I was devastated to hear how bad St. John was hit, but beyond relieved to see that its spirit wasn’t.

And on Day 127, News of St. John Gets Internet!!

nanobeam

Connected to the internet! That’s my beautiful new nanobeam in the background. :)

Honestly folks, I feel like I hit the lottery yesterday. One hundred and twenty seven days after Hurricane Irma hit St. John and wiped out all of our communications, I once again have internet here at News of St. John headquarters (which is a fancy way of saying my apartment) … I could not be more ecstatic! And you know what, I owe it all to a group of residents whose sole purpose these days is to reconnect the island. They’re not a big corporation or even an internet service provider. They’re simply a group of residents who decided to fix things. There’s a lot of that that’s been happening here over the past four months, and it’s pretty darn cool.

But before I get into what transpired yesterday, you may be wondering how I’ve been able to keep up with the News without internet. The short answer: it hasn’t been easy. Here’s the long answer…

In the days following Irma, I was able to post with the help of my father up in Connecticut. I would type up a story on my computer, Airdrop it to my cellphone, walk over to the “cell tower” at Ronnie’s Pizza and wait patiently for a connection before texting it to my dad. He would then post it to the newsofstjohn.com.

After I returned to St. John following Hurricane Maria, I did whatever I could to get internet. Sometimes I used the same method of writing a story on my laptop, Airdropping it to my phone and then searching for a bit of signal so I could upload it to the internet. Sometimes I would get lucky and would be able to connect to the free wifi here on island. Other days when AT&T was working well, I’d be able to tether my computer to my phone and work that way. I was very lucky in that the owner of Ardisia read about my troubles back in November and offered me the use of his amazing villa, which has satellite internet. And yesterday, I camped out over at Grande Bay and was able to use their internet.

I was sitting at the Lime Inn yesterday afternoon when I received the text that would end my communication woes. Love City Community Network was on its way over to install my nanobeam (which is a fancy little device that connects homes and businesses to the island’s new network). I literally jumped up and ran home to let them in! (True story, and thank you to Annie of the Soggy Dollar Bar for picking up my tab. :) )

Love City Community Network is a not-for-profit organization that’s been working since September 7 to reconnect St. John. And what they’ve accomplished since is nothing short of extraordinary. They’re the group that was responsible for setting up the first hot spot over at Ronnie’s Pizza, a spot that became a lifeline for those of us looking to connect with loved ones in the States, and all of the subsequent wifi hotspots around the island. They’ve connected numerous businesses over the past four months, so they can reopen and accept credit cards among other things. The Love City Community Network is even responsible for getting wifi out to Coral Bay. Like I said, it’s all pretty amazing.

Matt Gyuraki is one of the founders of LCCN. Here he installs equipment on Christmas morning.

Matt Gyuraki is one of the founders of LCCN. Here he installs equipment on Christmas morning.

So how are they doing all of this? Well it’s taking a lot of hard work and donations. This is where I hope some of you may be able to help.

Because the Love City Community Network is a not-for-profit, they rely solely on donations. As you all know, connectivity is huge, especially on this tiny little island in the Caribbean. It allows all of you to communicate with villa owners, car rental agencies, restaurants, shops, boat charters and your favorite blog here on island. It allows residents to work and it gives us a sense of normalcy. This network is so strong that I am able to stream television at my house, something I couldn’t do pre-storm. And as many of you may know, the island hasn’t had cable since Irma. So it’s pretty amazing to be able to watch what’s happening in the world once again.

So if you would like to help St. John continue to build its new network and help connect more businesses and residents, please consider making a monetary donation. You can do so by visiting Love City Community Network’s website at lccn.vi and click the Donate button on the right-hand side. That will bring you to a secure PayPal donation page.

If you prefer to help boost the network by purchasing much-needed equipment, you can do that too. The Love City Community Network has created an Amazon Wish List that you can view online. Items needed range in price from $9.99 – a network cable connector – to $3,000 – a radio that can link locations more than a mile apart. This radio would help them upgrade their network to Bordeaux Mountain which would then bring better connectivity to Coral Bay. Please click here to view their Amazon Wish List. 

This group truly deserves so much praise. They have been able to do what our local internet companies have not. They’ve reconnected St. John and for that, I am forever grateful. So if you can, please help this group out. It will in turn help all of us.

Thanks everyone and happy Friday!

St. John’s New (??) Ducks

duck

The very friendly duck was at Cinnamon Bay Wednesday afternoon.

Hello everyone and happy Thursday! I’m sorry that we were not able to write yesterday. Cell phone and internet connectivity was not working in our favor yesterday. We see people working on this daily, so hopefully all will be fixed very soon. Fingers crossed!

I had dinner with Dave Thomeczek and Julie Hoy at Ocean 362 the other evening, and they mentioned that a new family of ducks has taken up residence outside of Coconut Coast Villas, a vacation rental complex that they manage. (Dave and Julie also manage Casa Mare and Hali Lani, and they even appeared on HGTV’s House Hunters International last year. Gosh they’re busy!) Dave said that this new family had appeared after the hurricanes and that they had been here ever since. Hmmm….

So the following day, I was out and about conducting a News of St. John Island Tour and I noticed these ducks out by Frank Bay. And then yesterday, I saw one on the beach at Cinnamon. That particular duck (pictured above) was super friendly, and even walked along the beach with me for a bit.

The ducks appear to be somewhat domesticated. We’ve heard that they may have been someone’s pets in Tortola or Jost Van Dyke, and that the hurricanes may have inadvertently brought them over here.

So we’re curious, do any of you know what type of duck this is? How it got to St. John? And what their backstories are? I would love to know!

Thanks everyone and have a great day!!

(PS: A HUGE thank you to Grande Bay for allowing me to use their internet this morning!!!) 

What You’ve Been Waiting For: Volunteer Opportunities

national park sign january 6 2018For the past four months, I have received countless emails and messages asking about volunteer opportunities here on island. First off, I would like to thank all of you for wanting to help us. That truly means a lot. I’d also like to thank the St. John Community Foundation for all the work they have done on behalf of our community. Yesterday, they published the following volunteer opportunities. If you are able to help with one of the listed opportunities, please contact the business directly. Thank you everyone!

1. Dana’s Carolina Corral in Coral Bay
Website: http://horsesstjohn.com Email: info@horsesstjohn.com
Help reconstructing fences, awnings and water tanks.

2. Gifft Hill School: 340-776-6595 or 340-776-1730
Website: http://giffthillschool.org
Help with clean-up projects and repairs to the upper campus.

3. St. John School of the Arts: 340-779-4322
Website: http://stjohnschoolofthearts.org
Email: info@stjohnschoolofthearts.org
Help with the concert series and more.

4. Animal Care Center of St. John: 340-774-1625 Website: stjohnanimalcarecenter.com Email: stjacc@islands.vi
Help walk dogs, clean the cat area, and special projects.

5. Friends of Virgin Islands National Park: 340-774-0375
Website: friendsvinp.org Email: volunteer@friendsvinp.org
Help with beach clean-up, trail maintenance, restoring cultural sites, and much more.

6. American Red Cross of the Virgin Islands on St. Thomas: 340-774-0375

Upcoming public events that volunteers may be interested in while on St. John:

1. St John Rescue Town Hall Meeting: 3 p.m. Wednesday, January 10, 2018 at the Cleone H. Creque Legislative Conference Room at the St. John Legislature Annex in Cruz Bay
The public is invited to a reveal on the conceptual design of the new headquarters and operation base.

2. Get Trashed St. John public clean-up event: 10 a.m. Saturday, January 13, 2018 at the National Park Visitors Center Pavilion to clean up downtown Cruz Bay. Trash bags and gloves are provided. Please bring water and a hat. Details are at January Get Trashed!

3. Friends of Virgin Islands National Park Annual Meeting: 2 p.m. Sunday, January 21, 2018 at Trunk Bay. Shuttle service provided. Details are at Annual Meeting. Learn about accomplishments, plans, and hear talks given by the President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

An Update On Our Currently Closed Restaurants

Cruz Bay overlook - January 6, 2018

Hello everyone and happy Monday! We’ve been telling you a lot about the restaurants that are open, so today we’d like to give you a quick update about some the restaurants that are currently closed.

Joe’s Rum Hut – The owner of the Rum Hut had to tear down the main bar due to damage sustained during Hurricane Irma. That, coupled with the ongoing repairs happening at Wharfside Village, has prohibited the bar from reopening thus far. We have great news though! The new bar (or perhaps bars … stay tuned!) will be rebuilt soon, and the Rum Hut will reopen by March 1st. Hello Happy Hour!!

The Beach Bar – The Beach Bar was essentially “power washed” by Irma, according to its owners, so there is also still some work that needs to happen over there. We spoke to the owners recently who said that they hope to reopen sooner than March 1st (the estimated reopening date of their next door neighbor, the Rum Hut). Great news because I’m sure many of you are missing their delicious Bushwackers!

Waterfront Bistro – There are still two sailboats onshore directly in front of Waterfront Bistro. The two vessels appear to be abandoned, as their owners were never located. It is unclear when the vessels will be removed or what the future of this space holds.

High Tide – High Tide was unable to reopen initially due to the fact that the parcel did not have electricity or water. Both fortunately have been restored, paving the way for a reopening. We’ve seen staff over there working at the place, however a reopening date has yet to be announced. But we believe it will be within the next month or so… And we can’t wait!

The Longboard – Great news for fans of The Longboard… They’re reopening this Friday! As you may know, The Longboard worked with the Red Cross (and Cruz Bay Landing) to provide free meals for residents and relief workers following hurricanes Irma and Maria. They closed down in November for some much-needed rest. Since then, the place has undergone some renovations which we are eager to see. The Longboard will unveil a new menu and some new decor this Friday, and we are excited to check it out.

UMAMI – The future of UMAMI remains uncertain, according to its owners. We will have more on this soon…

Jake’s – Sadly, Jake’s is closed for good. :( The restaurant did not sustain too much damage, but the Lumberyard complex did as a whole. The owners of Jake’s desperately wanted to keep the restaurant open, but the owners of the Lumberyard complex deemed all of the buildings a loss. The owners of Jake’s have since left island, and we are all very saddened about that.

Barefoot Cowboy – Barefoot Cowboy sustained an extreme amount of damage, losing its roof during the first few hours of Irma. While the owners wanted to rebuild and keep it alive, the Lumberyard owners, again, deemed it all a loss. Therefore we do not believe that Barefoot will be reopening again. :(

Morgan’s Mango – Morgan’s Mango was heavily damaged during Irma, however they’ve been working tirelessly to reopen ever since. The owners are hoping to reopen by February 1, which makes us very happy!

The Tamarind – The Tamarind sustained a great deal of damage during Irma. Work has been happening on the property, and we are certain it will reopen as soon as they can.

ZoZo’s – Located at Caneel Bay, ZoZo’s is closed for the foreseeable future. The owner has sold a good deal of its kitchen equipment to local restaurants, signaling that it has no interest in currently opening elsewhere. My guess is that ZoZo’s will reopen when Caneel does, although that it’s simply a guess.

Knox & Ollie’s – Located at the Westin, Knox & Ollie’s is closed at least through January 2019 when the Westin reopens.

Asolare – Asolare was destroyed during Irma, and from what we can can see, no work has been done toward a rebuild since. The future of Asolare remains unclear.

Aqua Bistro – Great news for fans of Aqua Bistro… we hear that it’s reopening in the next few weeks!

Shipwreck Landing – Sadly, Shipwreck was also destroyed during Hurricane Irma. We’ve heard that the restaurant will rebuild, but that it will not be Shipwreck sadly. We reached out to the owners, but haven’t heard back yet.

Miss Lucy’s – The building itself appears to have survived, although we can see some visible damage. We have also seen people on property working to spruce the place up. We haven’t heard anything definitive, but we believe it will reopen this season.