Organ transplant program supporters hold 'Family Affair'
Published: October 29, 2012
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ST. CROIX - More than 200 residents were on the road before daybreak Saturday to be a part of the 10th annual Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program event, known as "It's a Family Affair."
The event started shortly before sunrise at St. Croix Education Complex, and participants trekked the 2.5 mile walk along Queen May Highway to Sunny Isle Shopping Center. There, a singspiration was held in hopes of strengthening the ties that bring family members together and underscoring love, peace and respect as foundations for rebuilding a more resilient community and lowering crime.
Along the way, Deloris Harrison walked with her 10-year-old son, Sherman, and encouraged him along the way. She said she and her children have been doing the walk for at least the last six years, and she uses it as a way to start a family day for them.
"My other kids are off to college now, but we usually start the day with the walk, enjoy the breakfast and them go to the beach," she said.
She said later in the evening they will go to dinner.
"It's a great way to break from the normal activity and spend quality time together," she said.
Once the participants made it to the amphitheater at the shopping center, various gospel groups performed dynamic singing and musical selections.
Pastor Jefferson Niles gave an inspirational message, encouraging those in attendance to take time out to enjoy each other's company every day because our time on earth is uncertain, and it is too late after someone dies to show how much you appreciate them.
He said special prayers for law enforcement officers, political candidates and the family and friends of the four victims of the plane that crashed Oct. 13, praying that they will be strengthened and encouraged even as they mourn and the lone survivor, Valerie Jackson Thompson, recovers.
The event ended with an elegant breakfast at Teddy's that was donated by various businesses, and breakfast was taken to on-duty V.I. Police officers who could not attend the event.
USVI Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program Director Lillian Sutherland said that during the last 14 years the organization has worked in the community as a helping hand and point of support for residents, primarily those who experience end-stage renal failure and related complications.
"People sometimes feel intimidated speaking with doctors, and we have access to resources of all types, so we can patch in and get answers for them," she said.
The program is a point of contact for organ donations in the territory and also provides the necessary contacts to transplant centers.
Na-Coya Johnson, 13, was one of the first cases handled by the program. She received a liver transplant before she was even 2 years old and said that because of the assistance, she is now living a healthy life.
"I've been living a good life," she said.
Na-Coya said she encourages residents to see the work that MOTTEP does and support them however they can.
The Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program "is a great organization, and more people should join in and support them," she said.
Sutherland agreed, saying that with the closing of HOVENSA and the downturn in the economy, the organization, like many other non-profits, has been suffering. The program has seen a significant reduction in the amount of support it routinely gets and specifically for the Family Month Activity, she said.
Currently, the organization is in desperate need of funding to replace some of its signs that have been posted around the community promoting organ donations 24 hours per day, according to Sutherland.
"Our signs and the T-shirts we usually get for the walk are billboards that speak volumes for the organization without imposing on a person's privacy," she said. "This year we did not have a sponsor for the shirts, and we will lose that additional visibility."
Sutherland said she is deeply grateful to the businesses that continue to support the group, despite the rough economy, and she encouraged more people to step in to help fill the void a little at a time.
"We need the community's support to continue doing this," she said. "St. Croix Foundation acts as a fiduciary for us, and we encourage support through their office."
She said some families have also asked for donations to the organization in lieu of flowers or gifts at parties or funerals.
"People have become very creative in how they help, and we appreciate everything," she said.
To donate to the Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program, contact email@example.com or 642-2623 or the St. Croix Foundation at 773-9898.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.