Volunteers in the Virgins

Volunteers in the Virgins Judi Nagelberg is president of the dmc Island Meetings & Incentives in the US Virgin Islands. For the last few years, she’s organized volunteer events for a variety of budgets and groups sizes, among them a recent event I attended in June. Our group included representatives from several travel incentive companies and children from The Savan Boys Club. The youth center offers at-risk boys and girls ages 8-17 activities such as Toastmasters, Spanish lessons, computer literacy, basic mechanics, basketball and swimming.

We were here to help fix the place up and give a little back to the USVI. “Nothing you can do feels like this,” says Nagelberg. “It’s a win for not only the recipient, but the clients and participants, too.”

For our 3-hour volunteer project, we showed up on a gorgeous Caribbean morning to beautify the Jane E. Tuitt Basketball Court. We painted the walls surrounding the basketball court and playground, painted bleachers beside the court and cleaned up the perimeter and interior yard areas. Everything proceeded seamlessly due to an exceptionally well-planned program. Extensive prep work had already prepared the site with each area ready for final coats of paint, so we as volunteers could finish the job and see a finished product.

Judi says, “I bake the cake and volunteers ice it.”

First-time volunteer participant Stephanie March, proposal development manager for Maritz Travel, is hooked.

“The volunteer project at Savan Boys club was an eye-opening experience,” she says. “The ability to help the local community was exceptional and it should be incorporated into as many of our clients’ programs as possible.”

Our group identity was established at the beginning of the trip by wearing red US Virgin Island t-shirts, strengthened with the common purpose to give back to this stunning community. Due to our various levels of competency, we were all given tasks we were comfortable with, designed to provide the most impactful contribution.

The best part was sharing the experience with the local Savan Club boys, which fostered not only camaraderie with the locals, but motivated and inspired us to do our best for them, seeing firsthand how much it meant for the kids.

“Almost all of our groups are now asking for this, and if they don’t, we’re still proposing it for their consideration,” said Kerry Visser, a supervisor with ITAGroup. “Even though we only spent a few hours at the Savan Boy’s Club, it was the best few hours of my day.”

Ruth Wikoff-Jones, CSEP, a business development planner with Carlson Marketing, was equally impressed. “The opportunity to give in communities the travel industry touches is so important, especially in times such as these,” she says.

Daryl Goodwin, president of Goodwin Incentive Consultants, was the most enthusiastic. “The voluntourism concept is one of the most personally rewarding and fulfilling experiences in which I have ever participated,” he said. “The paint stains on my jeans are a like a badge of honor.”

PREMIER DESTINATION Local dmc Premier Destination Services provides its guests with creative ideas and the best of site serves, and they delivered with our evening at Villa Norbu.

Set up on the mountainside overlooking picturesque Loveland Bay, the private residence is in a word, extraordinary. Guests are instantly awed by breathtaking views from the oceanfront terrace, perfect with a glass of champagne, subtle music and light hors d’oeuvres. As the sun begins to set, a fire dancer welcomes everyone to the upper terrace for dinner under a stunning, candlelit Balinese gazebo with a handcarved natural wood table seating 14 guests.

During one culinary delight after another, we talk shop with John Gabelhausen of Dionysus wine distributors, and Shawn Lutwak, director of sales for Palmaz Vineyards in Napa. John is a certified sommelier and member of the James Beard Foundation, so he’s the right expert to educate and enthrall us on the many nuances of wine. Shawn, charming and articulate, shares stories about the Palmaz family and artful creation of the evening’s Cedar Knoll cabernet.

ST. THOMAS With 385 spacious guest rooms, generous closets and roomy and efficient bathrooms, Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort is an exceptionally comfortable tropical retreat just minutes from the city of Charlotte Amalie and many of St. Thomas’ attractions. The resort offers one beautiful vista after the next, with endless al fresco options for events, including a charming white Gazebo with an intimate manicured lawn strategically built on a bluff overlooking the ocean. There is also a long sandy beach with gently rolling waves, lush tropical gardens and several striking hotel terraces. Great meeting space, with a main ballroom over 14,000 sf and lots of breakout and meal space options.

The mid-market Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort & Spa is snuggled along the rugged north shore of St. Thomas, offering breathtaking ocean and mountain views. It offers an array of recreational activities within the expansive grotto pool complex, and the onsite marina features a wealth of watersports outfitters. The resort’s diverse meeting options include staggering outdoor and rooftop terraces overlooking the British Virgin Islands, and it’s only 10 minutes to Red Hook Harbor where ferries depart for St. John. The property offers Wyndham’s ClearAir guest rooms with the PURE air system.

ST. JOHN Considered one of the Caribbean’s pre-eminent incentive resorts, Caneel Bay lives up to its postcard promise. It melds seamlessly within St. John’s verdant topography, where wild donkeys, deer and iguanas roam freely.

We relaxed and rejuvenated in 170 lush tropical acres of amazing flora and fauna amid endless sandy beaches and sparkling turquoise waters. The 166 guestrooms are quietly hidden within the stunning landscape, where there’s rarely a spot without beautiful ocean views and cooling breezes. Each guestroom offers high ceilings with lots of natural lighting, indigenous woods and stones, and charming decor in bright, yet soothing earth tones. Wifi throughout, but no phones/TVs.

Wonderful sugarmill ruins stand tall in the center of the resort in testament to its history and provide a remarkable backdrop for festive cocktail receptions. The Equator restaurant is built upon the ruins of a Danish plantation house, serving grilled Caribbean fare in an open-air, rustic environment with spectacular resort views. And the colonial Turtle Bay Estate House features a 6,000-sf conference center set high on a hill over Turtle Bay, with an expansive lawn for events.

We arrive by ferry boat directly into the glittering crescent bay at the base of The Westin St. John Resort & Villas. The 282 rooms and suites poke out of the mountainside and grace the bright white beach on 47 flourishing tropical acres. Guestrooms reflect the Westin brand: fresh, clean and rejuvenating, and there’s a versatile 10,000-sf conference center and grand, open-air dining hall directly on the beach.

The Westin has a full-service watersports center onsite. We’d like to recommend Snuba—combining scuba and snorkeling. Groups up to 50 swim underwater while breathing through scuba regulators attached to long hoses that extend to scuba tanks in a raft floating on the water’s surface. All swimmers wear is a weight belt to keep them underwater.

“Being on top of the water and being immersed in the water are two totally different sensations,” says Frank Cummings, owner of VI Snuba. “When you have your weights right, there’s that sense of weightlessness that’s really something the first time you experience it.”