Tonia Lovejoy, new development director of the Friends of the VI National park pictured outside the FVNIP office in Mongoose Junction. [hr gap=”1″]
“Think global, act local” is a slogan you see on bumper stickers. It describes the life work of Tonia Lovejoy, the new development director of the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park (FVNIP).
Lovejoy has spent years traveling the world, creating opportunities for students to learn about environmental issues and connect with each other through technology. Now she’s settled on St. John and is digging in to her next challenge—finding ways to raise funds to support the work of the Friends of the Park.
The Friends on St. John was established in 1988, partly in response to federal budget cuts that were reducing funding for staffing and programs. Under the direction of John Garrison and then Joe Kessler, it has sought to inspire residents and visitors to protect, preserve and enjoy the natural and cultural resources of the Park.
When she first got the job, she found herself explaining to the folks back home why organizations like the FVINP existed. “I had to explain to my father that Friends organizations exist all over the United States, and that federal funding for our national parks has been flatlined since 2005, despite the increase in cost of living. So, today our national parks do what is required by law, and Friends does what is required by conscience.”
Since starting her new job at the end of September, Lovejoy has been learning about the 26 programs funded by the FVINP, including the mooring system for commercial and pleasure boats, the summer swim program, the eco-camps at the Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station (VIERS), and programs to map, collect, and record data on indigenous species, archeological findings, and cultural resources.
Lovejoy first became acquainted with the FNVIP a few months after she and her partner, Vince Altiero, sailed into Cruz Bay in January 2015. As a holder of a 50-ton vessel master’s license, she easily found work as a captain in the charter boat industry.
Her passion for activism led her to set up a booth for the Earth Day Fair sponsored by the Friends of the Park. Soon she teamed up with Erin Lieb to form Get Trashed, which organizes volunteers to pick up trash at different locations throughout St. John. Last year she volunteered to teach a six-week course on Global Citizenship for sixth graders at the Gifft Hill School.
If there’s a gene for teaching, Lovejoy probably inherited it. Both her grandmother and mother were teachers. Lovejoy graduated from the College of Charleston with a degree in English Literature. From there she joined the U.S. Peace Corps and was stationed for 2 years in Nepal teaching English. In 2006, she joined up with Reach the World, an organization that fosters global competence and intercultural awareness through digital media storytelling. And she got to do this while circumnavigating the world on a sailing ship.
In 2010, she and and a team of sailors, educators, artists and scientists launched the Beautiful Nation Project, “a self-sustaining, free social network for educators using technology to bring global content into the classroom.” The project raised funds to support five sailing expeditions between New York and Hawaii, and it was on one of these trips that she came to the Caribbean and fell in love with St. John.
Now that she’s working for the Friends, she’s spending more time in her air-conditioned office at Mongoose Junction than out at sea. “I stepped right into one of our biggest fundraising events, the online auction, which opens November 19,” she said.
“Keeping up with the times, Friends uses an online platform called BiddingforGood to auction off gifts donated by local businesses. Many people use the auction to plan their whole vacation on St. John,” she said.
Life always involves tradeoffs. In order to take the job with the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park, Lovejoy had to give up on a plan to do a very special boat delivery.
Before she was born, Lovejoy’s father, a career Navy man, bought the hull, mast, and engine of a 36-foot sailboat. He and his wife fixed up the boat, and he sailed it to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where he was posted. The family, including baby Tonia, moved aboard.
As with most military families, the Lovejoys moved frequently, and eventually the boat was sold. Then out of the blue some months ago, Lovejoy received a Facebook message from someone who said he was the owner of a boat her father had built. When he offered to sell it to her, she had to say yes.
She was planning to sail the boat down to St. John with her father when the job came through with the Friends. (Moored in Hilton Head, South Carolina, the boat survived Hurricane Matthew with minimal damage.) As soon as Hurricane Season ends, her father and brother will bring the boat down to her. Lovejoy’s next challenge will be finding a suitable mooring.