Beyond the palm trees, white sand beaches, and curiously strong umbrella drinks, what truly makes our beloved tropical islands so enchanting are the islanders who call them home.
With so many incredible women living in the tropics, often going unnoticed on their little islands by the rest of the world, I wanted to take the opportunity to share their stories here. This new series, Women Who Rock Their Rock, will feature island women in all their glory, inspiring others with the work they do and how they’re making a difference on their islands.
The woman featured in this first post in the series has overcome adversity in many forms (including two major hurricanes!) and is creating change in the lives of at-risk young people on her island.
MEET JENNY HAWKES
ISLAND: St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
ORGANIZATION: My Brother’s Workshop (also known as MBW)
NOMINATED BY: Christina Luton
Jenny Hawkes moved to St. Thomas from a tiny mountain town called Red River in New Mexico with her family. They had wanted to move away from the monotony of a small town and explore the world from a different perspective. When she first arrived, Jenny continued to run her old business from St. Thomas, though she quickly developed a desire to get involved in the local community.
It was then that she met Christina Luton at her church (another amazing island woman in her own right and the one who nominated Jenny). The two immediately became fast friends. Little did she know, Christina – who was currently the Executive Director of a growing non-profit on island named My Brother’s Workshop – was working on stepping down and was searching for her replacement.
Over coffee one morning in the summer of 2014, Christina proposed to Jenny the idea of her being hired as the first paid Executive Director for My Brother’s Workshop. The position fit Jenny’s experience and her desire to get more involved in the community – it was a quick “yes” from her. Since then, Jenny has become one of the main lifelines of the organization and has transformed it into the most effective non-profit in the US Virgin Islands.
My Brother’s Workshop was created “to provide hope, faith, and purpose to at-risk and high-risk young people in the US Virgin Islands by offering mentoring, counseling, paid job training, education, and job placement. The program focuses on youth, both male and female, ages 16-24 who have dropped out of school, are marginally literate, and live in poverty or are homeless. Many of these individuals have been involved in gang or gang-related activities and/or have a juvenile criminal record.” For more on the objectives of their program, check them out here.
Since accepting her position as Executive Director, Jenny has grown the organization tenfold. It originally was comprised of two social enterprises: a workshop and a cafe in St. Thomas. Under Jenny’s leadership, My Brother’s Workshop has since expanded to the neighboring island of St. Croix, has opened an education center, and 18 young adults have received their GEDs through the My Brother’s Workshop accredited program.
In 2017, when Hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged the Virgin Islands, My Brother’s Workshop became the fastest and most effective first responder to the local community. They served over 37,353 hot meals, delivered 180 tons of relief supplies, removed 8,500 cubic yards of debris from residences, repaired more than 280 homes, and worked with over 500 volunteers to begin the process of rebuilding their island home. Through it all, Jenny never gave up. She helped lead the organization and the kids involved to not only serve the community during its most devastating days, but to also ensure that the kids didn’t lose steam and still earned their GEDs even after being knocked down by the storms.
Jenny truly rocks her rock. She’s transformed the undervalued position that she accepted in 2014 into a powerhouse of island change, making a tangible difference in the lives of young people in the Virgin Islands. Despite several devastating, life-altering issues in her personal life, the 2017 hurricanes and the separation from her children that she endured during the aftermath in order to stay and run the organization, Jenny continues to thrive and serve others even when life has tried to take her down.
Thank you, Jenny, for all you do for the islands you call home. Rock on!
– – –
Do you know of an amazing woman on your island who deserves recognition for the difference she’s making on her rock? Send us an email and nominate her for a chance to have her featured here.