Disaster has struck for millions of inhabitants south of the U.S., and one Cornell coach is trying to make a difference.
With the U.S. Virgin Islands, among many parts of the Caribbean sea, ever-so-slowly recovering from the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Cornell men’s track and field and cross country head coach Adrian Durant has spearheaded a hurricane relief fundraiser in his home country of the U.S. Virgin Islands to help affected families get back on their feet.
Rather than fundraising for general relief efforts, Durant has decided to target his campaign specifically toward restoring electricity to the Virgin Islands. Projections had initially pinned December as a target date for the reestablishment of full power, and six weeks removed from the two storms, locals are still struggling with basic electricity needs.
“People have been going without power for some time now, and [that] has affected everything [from] SNAP benefits [to] water [access],” Durant said. “[Projections] said that electricity would be back by Christmas-time, but that [increasingly] doesn’t seem like the case.”
Recognizing that the need for electricity was a priority, Durant has now partnered with United Way of Tompkins County in a fundraiser to donate power generators to families. Contributors will be able to select one of several donation options, ranging from $319 for a 3500W generator to $1009 for a 10,000W one.
“I just wanted to try to restore some normalcy to people’s lives so they can get on and start rebuilding,” Durant said.
In order to motivate more students to participate, Durant has decided to introduce a small twist by presenting the fundraiser as a challenge. Contributors will be able to identify the student who convinced them to contribute to the cause by inputting his or her NetID on the donation page. At the end of the challenge, the top five student fundraisers will be given the opportunity to travel to the Virgin Islands and meet the people they helped.
“I wanted to find a way to get students to get behind it a bit more than a simple fundraiser, so I set it up as a challenge,” Durant said. “This way, more people are getting behind the challenge … and there’s an amazing opportunity to meet some of the people whose lives are being directly helped with their donations.”
Durant’s initial motivations to start a fundraiser came with his close ties to the Virgin Islands. The coach was born in St. Croix, and competed as a sprinter on the U.S. Virgin Islands’ National Team during the 2000s before serving as the head coach for the country’s track and field team at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
“I’ve spent many years running for the national team and I really care about the program, the people and what happens to it,” he said.
While Durant has spent the past few years coaching for American universities, much of his family still resides in the Virgin Islands, and he immediately went down to visit his family in St. Croix in the aftermath of the storms.
“I was there for five days with a curfew where you had to be home by 7,” because there were no lights and it was pitch black, Durant said “The conditions were terrible — there’s a lot of mosquitoes because of the water sitting around from the storm, it’s extremely hot and you can’t turn on the fan, you can’t wash clothes, and you can’t refrigerate food.”
Of course, as a U.S. Virgin Islands native, Durant is no stranger to extreme weather himself. In fact, he was living in St. Croix when the Category 5 Hurricane Hugo hit the island back in 1989.
“It was devastating — houses knocked down and no water — and I just remember going through the entire experience,” he said.
A final push to start the fundraiser came when Durant noticed a lack of media coverage on the hurricanes’ aftermath in the Virgin Islands, as well as a lack of opportunities in aiding the disaster relief in the Virgin Islands.
“While the Virgin Islands are a U.S. territory, [people] didn’t hear about [the damage] as much on the news and even in comparison to Puerto Rico,” he said. “And the people who did hear about the Virgin Islands were coming up to me and saying they couldn’t find any fundraising sites for the cause, so I told them to give me a couple of weeks so I could work something out.”
All said and done, Durant’s fundraiser has garnered quite the buzz in just over a week since its inception. The coach estimates that over 20 generators have been donated in that short time frame.
“According to some of the emails and response we’re getting, I think we’re doing pretty well,” Durant said. “I just hope we can keep it going … and bring people together with something positive.”