There was a time when St. John Rescue was so strapped for cash, they couldn’t drive their single rescue vehicle due to an inability to purchase gas. Now, nearly 25 years after its founding in the wake of Hurricane Marilyn, the non-profit rescue organization has its own permanent home on Gifft Hill and its first hired employees, Executive Director Kris Robinson and Operations Director Jacquelyn Parsons-Browne.
“Over the years it’s been a mom and pop operation running on a shoestring budget doing the best we could,” said board president Bob Malacarne. “We were all volunteers with full-time jobs.”
St. John Rescue’s heroic efforts to locate and ensure the safety of the island’s residents after Hurricane Irma shined a national spotlight on the non-profit. Donations poured in, and St. John Rescue was suddenly a very well-funded organization. From their initial 1996 meetings under a tree in Cruz Bay to temporary meeting locations like the VITEMA building in Susannaberg and Fred’s Bar, St. John Rescue has effectively been homeless f or the duration of its existence. The organization’s records bounced around from secretary to secretary, and members stored and lugged around the heavy equipment needed during CPR and other community training programs.
The process to establish a permanent home began prior to Irma with V.I. Housing Finance Authority grant applications. An initial grant allowed for the purchase of land on Gifft Hill across the street from the Gifft Hill School upper campus. A second grant funded the building itself, which was recently completed. In addition to allowing St. John Rescue’s records and equipment to be stored under one storm-hardy roof, the building will serve as a venue for the various trainings the organization provides to the community. The new headquarters also has the distinction of being the only place on island where oxygen can be generated for medical use.
“It’s a great building,” said Malacarne. “It’s a dream come true.”
With a new permanent home and a financially stable status, the all-volunteer organization decided it was time to bring on its first ever hired employees.
“We finally realized we needed somebody who knows what they’re doing,” said Malacarne. “Kris Robinson came in for an interview and it was like, ‘Why are you here? Is this a dream? You’re the perfect person for this job but why would you take a step down?’”
Robinson came to St. John Rescue with an impressive background working with major national nonprofits in the Washington, D.C. area. Most of her experience is in the social justice realm, and she’s worked with organizations whose budgets topped $200 million. Robinson worked with Sarah Jane Brady on the passing of the Brady Bill, a campaign that garnered support from major celebrities including Robin Williams. She worked with the National Women’s Law Center, and through her career had the opportunity to work with former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
“I’ve had a great career,” said Robinson, who’s been visiting St. John for 30 years and eventually purchased two homes in Coral Bay. “I’ve been very, very fortunate. I think my expertise can help streamline things and position St. John Rescue for the growth that I know will happen here. It takes management and structure to channel that growth in a positive direction.”
With St. John Rescue’s 25th anniversary approaching in 2021, both Robinson and Malacarne said it’s a “critical point in time” for the organization. They hope to be able to open up their new home to small groups of people to show off what they have to offer. In the meantime, St. John Rescue will continue CPR and first aid training for the community, and they’re planning the launch of an Emergency Medical Responder class, something the organization’s new operations director, Jacquelyn Parsons-Browne, is particularly excited about.
“I appreciated what the VIPD’s Police Athletic League did for us growing up, so in turn I would like to give back to the kids of today,” said Parsons-Browne, an EMT with the V.I. Department of Health. “I want to start a St. John Junior Rescue where they’ll transition into being an EMR and hopefully down the road they’ll want to become EMTs. I always tell the younger folks, you could be on the basketball court and something goes wrong with your friend, it would be good if someone knew what to do until help arrives.”
Parsons-Browne is a native of St. John and Ivanna Eudora Kean graduate who said she loves her job and feels her calling is to help people. She was inspired to join EMS when her father was approaching the end of his life. Her experience as an engineering material coordinator for the Westin in the early 2000s gave her the expertise needed to help run St. John Rescue’s operations, she said.
“I’m a people person, easy to get along with, and the whole of St. John will tell you that,” said Parsons-Browne, who’s also a licensed phlebotomist and IV technician. “Ninety-nine point nine percent of the people on St. John are my family, and my love for taking care of people goes deep.”
To learn more about St. John Rescue or to donate to the organization, visit www.stjohnrescue.org or follow St. John Rescue on Facebook.