COVENTRY TWP. Several students from Saint Croix, which is on the U.S. Virgin Islands, had an opportunity to spend some time on the Portage Lakes.
The students came as a part of Project Promise, a 501c3 non-profit organization founded by Resa O’Reilly in 2014.
She said the last five years since starting the non-profit have been the most amazing for her. Starting out, she said she wanted to create a comprehensive program to help students. She said while there are many single-focused programs in Saint Croix, she wanted one to focus on several different areas.
Project Promise’s vision is to give at-risk youth the tools and support they need to live healthier lives, enhance their decision-making and conflict resolution skills, enable them to discover their vocational interests and ultimately integrate them into society and the economy.
O’Reilly said the goal is to give students the tools they need to live the best life.
O’Reilly said they partnered with a local elementary to select seven fifth-grade students who had a C to D average and had little to no behavior problems. The students who are now going into the eighth grade will continue to be followed until they graduate high school.
“They are like my children now,” O’Reilly said.
There are four girls and three boys in the program.
She said she intends to keep tabs on them far into the future to make sure they succeed.
The focus of the program is not only on academics but social skills too. O’Reilly said the program is located on a school campus and is an after school program and she sees the students in the program daily. She also sees them at least once over the weekend and most of the summer too.
During the summer, students in the program take part in the Caterpillar Camp, which is a six-week program.
This year O’Reilly planned a large trip, which included several stops in big cities where students would perform mission work along with having some fun.
Before the trip, students spent four weeks preparing and working on their social skills. They also had to fundraise for the trip and have an 80 percent average O’Reilly said. She said the four girls met the criteria and the boys didn’t.
The trip began Aug. 1 in New York as they spent three nights there before traveling to Pittsburgh and then the Portages Lakes before heading to Columbus.
Stopping in the Portage Lakes was not a part of their original plan, but former Coventry School board member Dave Andrews asked them to consider a stop where he could take them out on the lakes, go tubbing and enjoy some food.
Andrews and O’Reilly connected three years ago when Andrews traveled to Saint Croix to do some training for Fatal Vision, regarding impaired driving. Andrews visited Saint Croix again earlier this year and learned of the upcoming trip O’Reilly was planning and suggested the stop in Portage Lakes.
O’Reilly said this trip features many firsts for her along with the girls
Following their stop in Columbus, the group headed west to Chicago, St. Louis, Oklahoma City and eventually to California, just to name a few of the stops.
“We are not going on vacation,” O’Reilly said. “This is a service trip.”
She said traveling has been a great experience and the girls have never been to the states they are visiting.
“It is important they see the world,” O’Reilly said. “It opens their eyes and it opens doors.”
Andrews said the stop in Portage Lakes is great for the kids to have a day of fun and to relax.
“This is a blessing for these kids,” Andrews said. “What she is doing is amazing.”
Andrews, who formerly was a DARE officer for the Summit County Sheriff, said he wishes he could be a DARE officer in Saint Croix.
O’Reilly said the results of working with the students is already showing as their lowest-performing student is now the highest performing student. One of the students also published a book in the sixth grade.
Her hope next year when the students reach their halfway point is to bring in a new set of students and allow the older students to be mentors.
“We are too blessed to be stressed,” O’Reilly said.
She said Project Promise’s Summer of Service is sponsored by Virgin Islands Lottery, Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, Spirit Airlines, Banco Popular, Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, Island Toyota, Island Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, VI Industrial Services, Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority and TEAM Consultants.
More information about Project Promise can be found at projectpromisevi.com.