Anya Stuart Edit

Thanksgiving this year is “double — triply thankful” for an Ohio family thanks to Family Resource Center director Anya Stuart.

By the light of the moon, David toed the water’s edge on Great Cruz Bay beach, his faithful seeing eye dog, a 120-pound German Shepherd named Seven, devotedly by his side. An entertainer and musician from Ohio, David had arrived in the Virgin Islands amidst the coronavirus pandemic with ambitions of making a career of his “name that tune” act, which had gained popularity at bars, weddings and events in his hometown of Toledo. COVID-19 restrictions quashed any opportunity he had for success in the territory, and David soon found himself homeless and hungry.

He called and texted his mother, Pat, to tell her he couldn’t take it anymore. He was done.

“I believed my son was on the verge of walking into the ocean and taking his dog with him,” said Pat, whose last name is being withheld for the family’s privacy.

Nearly 2,000 miles away, Pat, an 81-year-old widow, was desperate to save her son who she describes as typically very optimistic. She frantically searched the internet for some sort of lifeline she could extend to David.

“I was searching Catholic Charities and churches and I have no idea what made me call the Virgin Islands Daily News, but I believe personally it was divine intervention,” said Pat.

The anxious mother connected with Daily News Executive Editor Eunice Bedminster, who happened to be at her desk late that night. Bedminster reached out to an old friend and sorority sister, Clema Lewis of the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, who gave her the cell number for Family Resource Center Inc. Executive Director Anya Stuart. Bedminster called Stuart who contacted the Westin Resort, where a security guard who was patrolling Great Cruz Bay beach located David.

Because there are no temporary facilities for the homeless on St. John, and it was too late to catch a ferry to St. Thomas, David was allowed to remain where he was until the next day, when Stuart arranged for David and Seven to be picked up from the ferry and taken to an Airbnb she’d booked for him with funds from her own pocket.

“We don’t really deal with homelessness, but I’m not the type of person to turn someone away,” said Stuart. “I called one of our board members to let them know what was happening and told them it’s OK if they weren’t going to reimburse me because I knew I would sleep better knowing that David was sleeping comfortably too.” In addition to paying for his St. Thomas accommodations, Stuart helped David fill his prescriptions and at one point gave him the last $20 out of her pocket so he could buy food. Stuart also purchased a plane ticket for David and Seven to get back home to Ohio.

“When David got back home, he called me and said, ‘Mom, I’m home. Thanks for saving my life,’” said Pat. “It felt as though I’d had a ton of concrete blocks on my shoulders. If you could’ve seen me looking at him for the first time after he got back, you would have seen that my sense of relief was so palpable, you could’ve reached out and touched it. Thanksgiving this year will be doubly — triply — thankful.”

Though the Family Resource Center mainly works with domestic violence and sexual assault victims, Stuart’s kindness has extended the non-profit’s services to help more than one homeless man lately. Melvin arrived on St. Thomas from Phoenix to stay with a friend, but when that situation didn’t work out, he found himself living on the streets. With nowhere to shower or get food or water, Melvin was unable to find employment until one day, he encountered a V.I. Police Department officer on Main Street, who told him about the Family Resource Center.

“I hadn’t taken a shower in over a month,” said Melvin. “If it wasn’t for the Family Resource Center, I wouldn’t have had clothes, I wouldn’t have been able to shower. They started helping me with my resume right away. They gave me opportunity, and sometimes people need that. I was really grateful.”

The Family Resource Center paid for Melvin to get a COVID test, which he needed to get into the Catholic Charities Virgin Islands’ Bethlehem House homeless shelter, and Stuart herself drove him to take the test.

“A lot of times when you deal with programs like this, you never deal directly with the director, and they’re not going to let you get in their car,” Melvin said. “Anya wasn’t rude, and she was very honest. In my opinion, that’s how you run a program. You be professional and understanding and you get things done.”

Thanks to the leg up provided to him by the Family Resource Center, Melvin resides at the Bethlehem House today and has picked up temporary work handing out fliers. He plans to stay in the Virgin Islands and is saving up for his own place. Both Melvin and David’s family commended Stuart for her kindness and spirit of generosity, allowing the men who had fallen on hard times to feel thankful again.

“It’s just who I am,” Stuart said. “I’m empathetic, compassionate, and dedicated. I tell my staff we don’t send anyone away. Let’s at least do an intake with them and if we don’t have the resources, we’ll refer them elsewhere. We try our best right here to do whatever we can with what we have.”

Family Resource Center Inc. is a private non-profit organization incorporated in 1981 that relies on the generosity of donors to provide services to those in need in the community. They’ve recently expanded to St. John, with an office at The Marketplace.

To donate to the center, click the donate button on their website, www.usvifrc.org. Call 340-776-3966 for more information, or call the center’s hotline at 340-776-7867.