Anthony Mardenborough Jr., founder of the Community Center for the Arts and Academic of the Virgin Islands, has been working with St. Croix youth since he was one himself. At 17, he not only heads his own nonprofit, he is also about to graduate from St. Croix Educational Complex next week.
With guidance from Tralise Bracy, Anthony created a program in 2013 for children ages 5 to 14. He was only 9 years old himself at the time.
“A lot of my classmates weren’t getting the skills they needed in school,” Anthony said. “They needed help and I used to help them with their work. I thought this could really be something for the community, so I started the program.”
The Community Center programs focus on the arts, academics and trades. Volunteers go into communities on St. Croix, hosting Saturday Exposure workshops on a variety of topics, book drives and partner with the United States Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots program at Christmas.
While there were only five workshops in 2020 because of the pandemic, in 2019, they were able to host 20 events in homes and in housing communities. They hope to have a permanent home of their own by early 2023.
“We go into the communities themselves and we do programs with the students, and they see us as part of their lives,” Anthony said. “Parents are very supportive of us.”
After serious deliberation, Anthony and his team of directors decided they would hold their summer camp this year, modified to meet COVID-19 health and safety requirements. Last year’s camp was held virtually. For the first time, the organization has procured a grant, which will help pay for hand sanitizer, posters and safety equipment. Forty-five students are registered for the camp, to be held June 7 through July 30 at the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts in Frederiksted.
With approval from the Health Department, the camp will implement safety measures such as hand sanitizing every 15 minutes and hand washing every half hour.
“To be quite honest, we were scared to even run a camp in the beginning, but we’re getting to a good place, people are being vaccinated and things are progressing,” Anthony said. “We thought we’d just give it a try and see if we can do this and do it well, to help parents to get back to work and not have to stress about their children.”
“We also want to get kids back in the public domain because they’ve been home for a year and months, and now we want to get them reintroduced to the public. It’s going to be a challenge, but a good one, because I have a lot of great support.”
The camp is free, except for meals during field trips and a nominal fee for “early campers” and “late campers” who need additional supervision because a parent has to work before the camp begins, or after it ends for the day.
Lasting almost eight weeks, the camp will have 14 volunteers working with the students. The art portion of the camp will offer dance, fashion, pottery, painting and cardboard construction to build a mini city. For academics, two of the volunteers are teachers, who will come up with lesson plans that make learning fun in subjects such as math, English and social studies. There will be culinary arts lessons as well as a youth motivation conference to build morale within their own genders, Girl Power and Man Out. In the trades, the camp will focus on agriculture and mechanics.
The program’s board of directors voted last year to expand to the St. Thomas-St. John district, but plans were put on hold because of the pandemic.
College and the future
As for Anthony, he was accepted to six colleges but decided to study political science at the University of the Virgin Islands because by the age of 21, as a junior in college, he will be eligible to run for the V.I. Legislature.
“I’d be one of the youngest senators in the territory, and nonprofits can finally have someone in there like them, someone they can relate to and someone who can relate to the struggles that nonprofits have had, because my organization really struggled before we got to where we are,” he said. “Some of the things we struggle with are the financing and finishing the work with Lt. Governor’s Office. I have this bill in mind that I want to propose that help nonprofits or organizations that want to become nonprofits, to provide financial assistance and help them out until they get everything done.”
For more information, visit the Community Center for the Arts and Academic of the Virgin Islands Facebook page.