“I see trains!” exclaimed six-year old Solanio, staring at the engines 500 metres below us. I picked my way through the crowd to the place where he lay, splayed out like a giant starfish, on the glass floor of the CN Tower. Some of the kids in our group weren’t too keen on standing in this adrenaline-spiking spot, but Solanio was fearless. I peered between my feet through the glass. The entire city of Toronto lay below us, just waiting to be explored.

The story of our Canadian adventure begins several months ago, when the Rotary Club of St. Catharines, Ontario, invited the Player Development SXM team to visit them in Canada. The Player Development Program is a Little League team that doubles as a free after-school mentoring and tutoring program. Lezlie Murch, a member of the Rotary Club of St. Catharines, was on St. Maarten when she met Tom and Lisa Burnett, who run the Player Development Program. Inspired by the spirit of the youth, she decided to ask her Rotary Club and two other Rotary Clubs in District 7090 to sponsor a team trip to Canada. They agreed, and with the help of Rotary Clubs of SXM, Windward Islands Bank, Xerox, Deskount, The Daily Herald, 721 News, Grand Jewelers, and several private donors, the dream became a reality.

That is how I, along with three other chaperones, three parents, and ten kids came to be standing almost half a kilometre above the city of Toronto. As we rode the glass elevator back to street level, enthusiastic conversation turned to the things we had already seen and the things still to come. The kids discussed what they would write about in their journals that night. Each evening, the kids had to write a page or two about their experiences that day. In fact, the journals turned out so well that I’ll let their words do the storytelling.

Niagara Falls

“I woke up at 6:00am. I was so excited to go to Niagara Falls. We waited to get on the boat for hours [editor’s note: 45 minutes]. We went under the fall. We all loved it and got wet a lot. When I took off my coat, only my sleeve was wet.” –Julius King, 14.

“I stood in the front [of the boat] for a better view and to get wet from the waterfall. The Niagara Falls was beautiful in person. I also learned a lot about the Niagara Falls. ” -Theodore Wilson, 14.

“I got close. It was beautiful.” –Solanio Cornett, 6.

Bird Kingdom

“We walked to Bird Kingdom, where we saw birds, snakes, turtles, fishes, spiders and skunks.” –Tre Cosaque, 15.

“We saw and learned a lot of the birds.” –Theodore Wilson, 14.

“We a saw a lot of birds. They showed their wings.” –Julian King, 11.

Halton Railway Museum

“We all got ready and set on the road. Coach Lisa drove us to the Halton County Radial Railway. When we arrived at the place, we went on a train. An old street car. It was kinda slow. Then we went into the train museum and saw some old trains. They were really big.” –Tre Cosaque, 14.

“At the train museum, we took a 20-minute drive on the train. I enjoyed the scenery. Then we went on a tour and learned a lot about their trains. We also learned a lot about the history of the trains and their origins.” –Theodore Wilson, 14.

“After a long and interesting tour from Brianna from Canada, we had ice cream.” –Julius King, 14.

“We saw lots of different trains. Even got to ride some of them. We had a lot of fun.” –Triston Arthur, 9.

“Today we went on a train. It was fun.” –Solanio Cornett, 6.

Science Centre of Ontario.

“Today we went to Ontario Science Centre. We went everywhere in the Science Center even to the bottom of the Science Center. We saw a T-Rex like from Jurassic World, Bumble Bee, camel made of so many things, Dr. Frankenstein [Einstein?] made of bread, shrunken heads. Then there was a ‘grab the jewel.’ The jewel was a hologram. After that, we watched an I-Max movie called ‘Beautiful Planet.’ It was about an astronaut in space watching earth. Watching it at night and morning.” Adonis Sprott, 12.

“The first thing that caught my eye was the dinosaur.” –Julius King, 14.

“I liked the tall man.” –Solanio Cornett, 6.

“Me and Tristen got shocked.” -Skijlaar, 12.

Harriet Tubman’s Church and School

“Hi my name is Triston and I’m a baseball player. I’m 9 years old. I’m in Canada with my team for pleasure and learning. I visited the Harriet Tubman school statue. I also saw the Underground Railroad and St. Catherines Heritage Church. The statue is located in the Harriet Tubman School. It is her in a chair. My team and I surrounded the statue and took a picture. To escape slavery, she followed the North Star. She was a courageous woman. The men dressed as women and the women dressed as men to escape slavery. At the church, there are readings about how she escaped slavery. One of them shows where and when she was born. She was born in Maryland in 1820. She died in 1913. Peg Leg Joe taught them the song ‘Follow the Drinking Gourd’. The song explained where the Big Dipper and the North Star was. They jumped from trees to trees and lakes to lakes. The reason they jumped to trees to trees is because there were tracks on them. They swam because the dogs they sent can’t sniff in water. At night, they followed the North Star. Harriet Tubman helped slavery end.” –Triston Arthur, 9.

Welland Canal Locks

“We went to the Welland Canal. We went to the museum. Then we saw a boat and the water drained.” –Lewis, 14.

“We went to the canal. We saw the boat come in, and then they locked the gate and lower the water.” –Skijlaar, 11.

“The ships moved to different water levels. It takes 45 minutes to move [a boat] up and down and it’s really amazing to see it up close.” –Tre Cosaque, 15.

Little League Game

When a Little League team from Sint Maarten visits Canada, what do they do? They play hard, of course. I’m so proud of our team, The Daily Herald. They consisted of five 14- or 15-year-olds, five 9- to 11-year-olds, and a six-year old. They faced a team of 14- and 15-year-olds without a single qualm, and they dominated on the field. Someday, you might see some of these guys in the major leagues! Here’s Little King, one of our 10-year-olds, reporting on the game.

“Today we went to a baseball game, The Daily Herald vs. Blue Jays of St. Catherines. 1st batter: Triston. Walk. 2nd batter, Little King, walked. 3rd batter Tre hit a single. 4th batter Big King hit the two runs batted in. When we got three outs, Triston was the starting pitcher. Little King was the catcher. The ball one could have passed, but I blocked it. A boy hit the ball. Herald made an error. He ran to second base after the next batter came to bat. The boy on second, he stole 3rd. I got the ball and I threw one time. We win over St. Catherines Blue Jays 11-7. SXM proud.” –Julian King, 11.

Yes, these boys certainly did make SXM proud! Way to represent your country, team! It’s not so much that they won – it’s the hard work they put in and the courage it takes to go up against bigger kids. It’s the good sportsmanship, the encouragement, and the confidence. This team makes me proud all the time!

Downtown Toronto-CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, and Blue Jays Game

“We went on a train. The train’s name is Go Transit. We went to Toronto.” -Julian King, 10.

“We went to the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium, and a Blue Jay’s game. The CN Tower was really cool. The elevator ride was a little long. When we reached the top, you could see everything on Toronto. Next was the glass floor. It was scary at first, but when I stepped on it; it was amazing. You’re basically standing to your death. Next was the game. My favourite team, the Blue Jays, played a little off and gave up a lead-off home run. Blue Jays lose 9-2.” –Tre Cosaque, 15.

“We all like the view of the CN Tower.” –Triston Arthur, 9.

“In the sea aquarium, we saw sharks, seahorse, and jellyfish ... It was my first baseball game. I loved watching the players play.” –Julius King, 14.

 Meeting an Author at Niagara Academy of Tennis

In Miriam Laundry’s book I Can Believe in Myself, Molly believes she can’t speak in public. As she goes through the day, she realizes that many of her classmates say “I can’t” about things Molly knows they can do. She comes up with an idea: everyone should write down what they think they can’t do, shred the paper, and then go for it. During the workshop, each one of us shredded an “I Can’t” statement. Theodore later wrote in his journal: “Coach Tom told us about Miriam Laundry. We then went to the Tennis Academy and met Miriam and we had a workshop with her. We also went through one of her books. We also got to help her choose her next book cover.”

The day after the workshop, we visited a park with a ropes course. Theo said, “Oh, I can’t do that. That’s way too high.” So he stayed behind. After a few minutes, he changed his mind. He told us that he had thought about what Miriam said, and decided to give it a try. Not only did he go all the way up, he had a lot of fun doing it!

Safari Niagara

“We went to Safari Niagara which is a zoo. First we saw a bird show that had owls, hawks and falcons. A lady showed us different species of birds. And then I saw more animals. I saw tigers, bears, lions, parrots, macaws, foxes, tapirs and camels. When we reached, we took a train and saw flamingos. I think at first we couldn’t look at one bird because a skunk went inside the cage. By the rhino’s exhibit, I rode a buggy whilst watching emus. Then we ate hot dogs and hamburgers and I climbed a huge jungle gym.” –Theodore Wilson, 14.

“We saw everything from emus to tigers. I went on a giant jungle gym with others from the group.” –Zack Brook, 15.

“The apes were very excited to see us. They were running up and down in their cages.” –Julius King 14.

Magic Show and Fireworks

“We went to a magic show with Mr. Greg Frewin. He did lot of magic tricks. He did levitation, he made stuff disappear; he made a tiger with a trick. Then we walked to the Ferris Wheel and we went to Niagara Falls to see it light up. And we watched the fireworks. Then we walked back to the cars and we went.” –Skijlaar, 11.

“Mr. Frewin magically appeared in a car … whooOOoo … birds came from nowhere.” –Adonis Sprott, 12.

“The best one I like, the man disappeared and appeared somewhere else.” –Julian King, 10.

Camping

“The trip was almost over. We went to a campsite [Camp Wetaskiwin]. It’s very nice. We played ‘Capture the Flag’ in the wild bush! It was really fun until I bruised my side. I got so many cuts as well, but it was worth it. After, we dove into the pool to cool off, which was nice from all that running. When we cooled enough, we had dinner on the fire. Tin foil dinner, where we put chicken, onion, potatoes, and vegetables in the tin, wrapped it up and put it into the fire. It turned out to be delicious. I would surely do it again.” –Tre Cosaque, 15.

“No one was left unscathed.” –Theo, 14.

Marineland

“A hot summer day in Canada, and the parking lots at Marineland are relatively empty. Going in, it looks like a big amusement park at first glance, but after walking around for a day, you can see how much there really is to do. Within the first few hours, we had seen belugas playing in their tanks, and even spoken with a lady whose job was to watch mother belugas and their babies swim around, and jot down everything they do in her books. Feeding the belugas is quite an experience; they swim up and put their heads on the edge of their pool, mouths agape, waiting for you to throw in a small fish. After feeding time came the show. Watching the dolphins and seals do their acts, and hearing that certain behaviours take weeks or even months to learn, it’s kind of crazy to think about. For me, the most memorable ride was the sky screamer, which shoots you up into the air, giving you amazing views of the landscape, and then leaves you weightless on the way down. Lines were so short, you could get off a ride, and get in line again to be on the very next run. From feeding jelly to dolphins, and feeding popcorn to bears, Marineland was quite an experience to be remembered.” –Zack Brook, 15.

Blue Jay’s Game

We ended our trip with another day at the Roger’s Center to watch the Blue Jays play. Packed into a stadium with almost as many people as the entire population of Sint Maarten, we cheered and danced and hollered with the masses as the Jays began to take the lead. Finally, a huge cheer went up from the crowd as the Jays scored their winning run! To top it off, the kids got to run the bases after the game. Who knows? Maybe someday, they’ll be back on those bases as players for the Toronto Blue Jays. For now, they’re taking what they learned in Canada about marine life, science, history, and believing in themselves and are applying it to their lives right here in Sint Maarten. Thanks to all that helped make this trip happen, especially the Rotary Clubs of St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Grimsby.

Contributed by Breana Johnson, 3rd Culture Wife Blog

~ Colorado’s “Race to the Clouds” celebrates 100 years ~

Colorado Springs--Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC) – otherwise known as “Race to the Clouds” – is a big deal in the world of racing. The annual invitational, always held the last Sunday in June, is considered one of racing’s most dangerous courses. Calling it a “hill climb” is a superb example of cowboy understatement.

The winner’s purse is not particularly inspiring, but the prestige value and bragging rights to the title “King of the Mountain” for the fastest time are incalculable. This year’s 100th birthday celebration drew contenders from 13 nations and territories – and also me, the mother of competitor #38. I was there as “support crew” for my son Tony Brakohiapa. I have attended many racing events over Tony’s extensive professional driving career, but absolutely nothing matched this cliff-hanger, literally and figuratively.

Second oldest race in America

In 1915, Rocky Mountain entrepreneur and venture capitalist Spencer Penrose bankrolled the construction of the then-called “Pikes Peak Highway” at a cost of $500,000. The far-sighted Penrose saw it as a tourist attraction. It soon became – and has remained – one of the state’s most visited tourist attractions, at 5.9 million guests annually. Pike’s Peak or Bust was the slogan of the 19th-century Colorado gold rush, and today’s tourists have the same enthusiasm for what is now a National Park.

At the first race in 1916, the winning time for the Penrose Trophy was over 20 minutes on the gravel track. The track is now completely paved, and faster surfaces mean faster times: 2016’s winner clocked 08:51.445, the second fastest time ever. Excitement is guaranteed. One 2012 spectator counted “eight red flags, three life-flight helicopter trips, five ambulance trips, over a dozen driver visits to the hospital, and at least one injured spectator.” (Check PPIHC at Youtube.com for exciting videos of 2016 and previous years’ more sobering footage.)

More about uniqueness

This is not racing around an oval track, fighting other drivers for position. This race is against the mountain, the clock, and Mother Nature. Contenders are released one at a time from the start at 9,390 ft. They finish at the peak’s 14,115-ft summit, 12.42 miles later, after 156 turns with 10% incline-grades (up and down). The course is truly death-defying. Another exciting feature of the race is the diversity of cars and motorcycles allowed, even including quad bikes. Motorcycles are especially vulnerable because of deep run-off trenches on the course’s mountain side and on the other side, only “wild blue yonder.”

How it works

Competitors are divided into three groups for three practice days on three (obvious) sections: bottom, middle and summit. What does surprise is that there is no opportunity to do the entire course in one attempt. Time trial results are posted and determine race day line-up. This year’s numbers one and two from practice times turned out to finish first and second in the final race.

Practice starts incredibly early because race officials and teams must be off the mountain by 9:00am when the park’s public toll gates open. The only exception is race day. Tony and I leave our motel at 2:45am to make our way in the pickup truck through a strange, dark city of Colorado Springs to rendezvous with the four crew members at the race shop.

They load the Mustang into the trailer and attach trailer to pickup. Thirty minutes later, we arrive at the Park entrance and join the slow-moving queue to our assigned spot at “Devil’s Playground.” Aptly named, it is the final staging area for runs up the last third of the course.

As we ascend, Tony starts quickly reciting in a low voice the entire course, naming every curve, its camber angles, whether it is inside or outside, etc. It was all painted in his mind. For months, he had studied at home on a driving simulator. Mother is very impressed.

A pause for a poetic moment

There was an unexpected benefit that practice day near the summit – sunrise. What an experience to be at this altitude and watch the sun come up as the moon still hangs on, reluctant to give way. Pike’s Peak is not in a range of mountains, so its silhouette stands out majestically as it gradually reveals itself. The air is crisp and cold enough to show our breathes on exhalation. No wonder the mountain inspired Katharine Lee Bates in 1893 to write the poem “Pikes Peak” which became the lyrics to the famous patriotic song “America, the Beautiful.”

Are we having fun yet?

Once out of the trailer, the mustang puts on what I called its “booties;” these are the tire warmers. New to me, I find these red blankets very cute. Their job, in about two hours, is to get the tires to 160 °F, which vastly improves their gripping power on the cold asphalt. Folks are dressed in down-filled parkas and stamp their feet to keep warm. Voices are subdued and tired. Some teams worked through the night in the garage.

Since the cars go up one at a time, all divers must wait at the summit before returning to Devil’s Playground for another run. If one competitor stalls or can’t move, all others lose precious practice time. We were lucky and got to make about five runs before we had to get off the mountain and back to the garage for the usual debrief on car performance – and, for the first time that day, some food. The remainder of the afternoon was spent examining under the hood, under the chassis, and under elsewhere. Ain’t international racing glamorous?

Altitude takes its toll

Both drivers and their gas-guzzlers need oxygen for combustion to take place. At the summit, the partial pressure of oxygen is only about 60% of that at sea level. This seriously affects mechanical and physiological performances. Some drivers actually use oxygen masks. I found my own internal combustion engine huffing and puffing as I made my way around “Devil’s Playground” to take pictures.

Enter electric vehicles, which don’t need oxygen. PPIHC organizers boast they “recognize the future of electric technology in the automotive industry and Pikes Peak as the ultimate proving ground to test and display its capabilities.” Thus, they recently introduced a new electronic car division with prompt positive results. Last year’s “King” title went to the electric car division, which this year took second place. (And yes, there was even a solar-powered vehicle!)

Fantastic local involvement

The race not only requires drivers who are still breathing after five minutes, but crews and fans must also be hardy. PPIHC fans are devoted and a breed apart. International or not, the race is definitely owned by locals, who give the event a charming “down-home” flavour. Colorado Springs residents have years of Pike’s Peak race experience and are involved at every level, from race officials to shop mechanics. Local garages provide services, housing and well-informed advice – often unsolicited, but always well-meaning.

Fans have their favourite position on the mountain and get there very early on race day or even the night before. Many bring a tent, sleeping bags and barbecue to camp overnight with family and friends. This adds to a home-grown atmosphere, with plenty of “insider-information” trading. Once in position at a designated viewing area, fans can only descend the mountain when the entire race is over. This also means crews, fans and mothers are not at the finish line. Since the track is cleared from the summit down. It can be a very long day.

There is no national live coverage, as spectacular as that would be from a helicopter. Not surprisingly, there is now an “app for that” to be purchased for live race results, but cell phone coverage is limited.

Surprise, surprise

Did I mention Mother Nature’s performance: snow storms in July? When a blizzard struck suddenly last year, only the lower half was raced. This year, snow was only at the summit. When the race was over and the whole parade came down the mountain in mid-afternoon, there were exuberant snow ball fights in the parking lots, with people scooping plenty of the white slush from race car fenders and wheel wells. It was comic relief.

France wins 2016

The French may have sold Pike’s Peak to the US in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, but the French owned the mountain that Sunday morning.

This year’s “King of the Mountain” was 38-year-old Frenchman Romain Dumas, who also won in 2014. Dumas’ luck almost ran out during the second practice when his 2016 Norma M20 RD Limited failed. His team shared a garage with Tony and we knew they had worked for 30 hours straight and missed final practice runs.

It was an incredible effort by the French team coming only seven days after Dumas won France’s famous 24 Hours of Le Mans race (also for the second time). What’s next for Dumas? “Right now, I just want to go home to my family,” he told an interviewer.

As for Tony, after spectacular intervals at over 125mph, #38 overheated from the effort, and slowed to 40mph to finish 33rd with a very respectable time of 11:02.379 – intact and ready to do it again next year. Mom is definitely onboard for that!

Contributed by Suzanne Nielsen

Sun rises at 5:56am

Sun sets at 6:35pm

Moon phase: Third Quarter, Waning Gibbous

Moon rises at 8:29pm

Moon sets at 7:57am

 

Daytime Moon

The moon is up during the daylight hours half the time. It has to be, since it orbits around the whole Earth once a month. The crescent moon (first quarter and last quarter) can be hard to see because it’s so near the bright sun. This weekend is a good time to see the moon during the daytime. It’s in its third quarter phase, currently rising in the east a little later each night; and each night it gets skinnier until it “disappears” on August 31. All that means you can catch a glimpse of the moon during the daytime this weekend, just look above the western horizon after sunrise. You can also view the moon during the night time hours: look in your eastern sky in the evening hours, after 8:30.

 

Mars and Saturn

Over these past months, the planets Mars and Saturn – along with the star Antares in the constellation Scorpius – have made a prominent triangle on our sky’s dome. But Mars is on the move now, shifting rapidly eastward. It’ll pass in between Saturn and Antares next Tuesday and Wednesday, August 23 and 24, so that the three objects appear in a straight line in our sky.

 

Keep watching in the coming nights, to notice Mars’ movement in front of the starry background. By the end of next week, Mars will have passed between Saturn and Antares. The triangle of bright stars we have been watching all year is inverting itself! Fascinating geometry of the heavens! On Wednesday night, Mars and Saturn will get close together in our sky, what astronomers call a conjunction. Be sure to keep an eye on this trio of objects as darkness falls each night. Mars will travel farther and farther east of Saturn and Antares.

 

Mars and Saturn are planets, while Antares is a star. Contrast them, and you’ll see that Mars and Saturn shine steadily, while Antares lives up to its reputation for being a fierce twinkler. Right now, Mars is about seven light-minutes from Earth (79 million miles, or 127 million km). Saturn is about 82 light-minutes (914 million miles, or 1,470 million km). Antares – being a star and not an object in our own solar system – is vastly farther away at about 550 light-years.

 

By the way, three other planets – Jupiter, Mercury and Venus – are also up after sunset. If you locate them, you’ll be seeing all five planets visible to the unaided eye from Earth. Look soon, though, because Mercury will soon disappear, especially as seen from Northern Hemisphere skies (it’ll stay visible a few more weeks from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere).

 

Neptune rising

Sounds like a sci-fi novel, but the fact is that Neptune, the fourth-largest planet in our solar system, is staging its best appearance in late August and early September. Unfortunately, Neptune is so far away that you need a telescope to see it. However, if you have a scope, get it out because Neptune won’t get any clearer than it is now and in the next few weeks.

 

Cassiopeia

The Queen of the nights at this time of the year is always Cassiopeia. She sits upon her throne in the northern sky, looking like a giant W on its side, and whirls around the north star, Polaris, making one circular trip every 24 hours. This is an easy constellation to learn, and is visible anywhere in the northern hemisphere.

 

Thank you for keeping up with the Night Sky articles. If you are out later on in the week, each star rises about four minutes earlier each day than written here, and the moon rises 50 minutes later. Night Sky is researched and compiled by Lisa Davis-Burnett. Questions or comments? Email lisa@thedailyherald.com

Sun rises at 5:57am.

Sun sets at 6:30pm.

Moon phase: Fourth Quarter, Waning Crescent

Moon rises at 1:29am

Moon sets at 1:52pm

 

Early evening

Its conjunction time this weekend! Look to the west after sunset to admire the brightest of the bright snuggling up close together, conjoining like twins as it were – it’s Jupiter and Venus separated by only a fifteenth of a degree! So these two brilliant worlds will easily fit within the same binocular or telescopic field of view. Best viewing will be from about 6:50 to 7:25pm. The pair will set on Saturday about 7:40pm and even earlier on Sunday, at about 7:35.

After the conjunction has dipped below the horizon, turn to the right to catch sight of the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. Looking north, you will see the Big Dipper setting on the left and Cassiopeia (the sideways W we learned last weekend) rising on the right. These are not high up in the sky so you may have to get a location with a clear view to the north, but we are not so far south that we lose sight of the North Star, Polaris, which sits at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle. Polaris is the only star in the sky that   doesn’t shift its position; it marks the celestial “hub” around which the whole sky spins – once every 24 hours.

 

Meanwhile

In the southern skies, the three brightest lights continue to be the star Antares and the planets Saturn and Mars, but now something has changed about that triangle we have come to recognize. Night after night since early spring, they have held their position steadily, but Mars is on the move. Relative to the others, Mars is shifting eastward and thus inverting the triangle, so it’s still there. But watch as night after night, it stretches out, elongating until in mid September, the triangle is no more.

 

Late night

By 1:00am the eastern horizon will have seen the rising of Orion, Taurus and the Pleiades which are some of the most loved constellations, bright with shapes that are easy to recognize and allow for stories about how the hunter (Orion) is hunting the bull (Taurus) while the seven sisters (the Pleiades) look on from a distant hillside. By 3:00am on Sunday, the constellation Gemini, or the twins, will rise in the east-northeast with the crescent moon between them, like a play-toy that they share.

 

Let’s hope the clouds abate and give us a clear view of the starry, starry nights this weekend.

Thank you for keeping up with the Night Sky articles. If you are out later on in the week, each star rises about four minutes earlier each day than written here, and the moon rises 50 minutes later. Night Sky is researched and compiled by Lisa Davis-Burnett. Questions or comments? Email lisa@thedailyherald.com

Established in 1996, St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation (SMHDF) has progressed towards a positive image providing housing. Gearing particularly towards that group of citizens in need of housing of suitable quality, SMHDF kept to that high perspective as the main goal.

The population bracket initially concerned involved those to benefit from lower income housing, also known as Social Housing. Proper housing is a legitimate right adopted from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It entails insuring the provision of adequate living standards as deemed by the government. This right is acknowledged in Country Sint Maarten under our laws. For example, 1,591 families are currently awaiting suitable and affordable housing on Sint Maarten of which 190 persons are in dire need. SMHDF is incurring new projects with the goal of providing housing within a logical timeframe for this group.

Importantly, SMHDF relies mainly on assistance and intervention of the government and private donations of land. Without these, the organization would not be able to meet the social housing demand. Generous donations of land have recently been made by government and by private individuals. Therefore, both sectors are upholding this important human rights aspect: “The basic quality standard of living.”

The very energetic Helen G. Salomons-Brown, who joined the organization in 1999, is the General Director of SMHDF (for more on Helen, see the corresponding Helen G. Salomons-Brown article).

SMHD is proud to emphasize the quality of life for all residents and to uphold the high living standards of the island. In order to embrace this change, SMHF insists on holding regular town hall meetings to keep these communities informed at all times.

Tackling big hurdles, such as the progressive maintenance of social housing and its growth, has inspired new thought processes expanding creative ideas for revenue. Simply imagine what the effort and upkeep of these existing housing facilities and surrounding infrastructure entail. This alone requires a consistent and regular flow of income.

Dealing with the constant natural factor of wear and tear on the aging buildings and homes involves monetary spending on a regular basis and grand scale. Salomons-Brown insists her innovative ideas demanded some constructive rethinking resulting in a fresh approach, based mainly on how to tackle the problem of the progressive dynamics for the organization. In commemoration of its 20th anniversary, SMHDF has rebranded itself with a registered trademark signifying the pride of bringing the old into the new. Hence the new slogan: “Opportunities Imagined” was incorporated with a fresh new logo.

This approach manifested itself into the SMHDF strategic plan, start of an elaborate five-year plan scaling from 2016 to 2021. The concept hopes to address the demand of a larger more versatile group of inhabitants on the island in need of housing. After much brain storming, assessing how the housing situation has changed since 1996, the conclusion was found. All socioeconomic levels are to be kept in mind: low income but also housing for the middle and higher levels of income. These revenues will enable progress and maintenance in the Social Housing sector.

One such targeted segment is that of returning students. This is a young, freshly educated group, ready to tackle the challenge of life back home, however, with a limited budget. Termed corporate rentals, this will enable returning students to emerge into society independently and avoid having to move in with relatives. The Plantz Building has already been constructed for the corporate rentals branch and consists of four single bedroom units. This pilot program will eventually expand to sixteen corporate rentals which will be strategically located on the border area of French and Dutch St. Maarten, in Belvedere, called “The Border Residences.” These corporate rentals are beautifully designed, making a fine showcase for those future constructions, and are limited to a five-year rent contract, although with the option of an ownership financed program, if interested to buy.

The Upper Princess Quarter Residences consists of 24 units for sale. On July 8, Angel Meyers, Minister of VROMI, made history by transferring this unique gem to SMHDF. This attractive new development will consist of modern semi-attached condominiums created with families of middle- to upper-income in mind. Close to Philipsburg, its tranquillity and views offer a perfect community environment.

Allamanda Estates at Foga, located on Pond Island, was also transferred on that same day. This parcel of land is the largest government land yet to be developed by SMHDF. The designs consist of 32 apartment sales units containing two- and three-bedroom floor plans. These will be up for lease or outright sale, with an attractive finance program that will eventually allow renters to own the apartment.

The Cotton Tree Villas on the Greenland, St. Rose Lane and Blue Mountain are all marketed in the sales category. Cotton Tree Villas are six stand-alone 3BR-2BA homes, all of which have already been sold; the sales were open to any ambitious legal resident. Their construction started in April. As for the St. Rose Lane, this development has 14 duplex buildings containing two and three bedrooms. It is the first Model Smart Community, gated with a pool. Solar panels, modular sewage system and recycling stations are its signature design; therefore, they are obviously high in demand. Lastly, Blue Mountain, situated next to Rice Hill, is developed in the same manner as St. Rose Lane as a Smart Community. It offers 12 stand-alone homes attached to their respective garages.

The St. Peters Property’s emphasis is on social housing and rental. The first 10 apartments will be financed without funding by SMHDF possible through the revenue projects. This project is vitally important due to the needed for renovations in Belvedere.

The Independent Living Residences are the 24 social senior home condos. These affordable units are built in several districts through the years of which one is Hope Estate. The integration of these citizens has gone remarkably well, considering initial opposition to social housing in an established community.

SMHDF is well aware that the stigma of social housing is somewhat negative, having been confronted many a time by citizens who don’t want their community integrated with the social housing aspect. The arguments are quite logical: fear of losing the value of property, more traffic and the need to preserve the character of the surroundings, amongst others. However, it is clear from studies done by SMHDF that such initial fears generally do not materialize. When affordable housing is well designed and managed, these assumptions have proven to be obsolete.

The demand of affordable housing has been recognized by many residents. Through the last six years, construction of villas, for instance, has been rapidly increasing in the Belvedere area, thus changing the make-up of the island to the true character of versatility that already defines Country Sint Maarten. As a good corporate citizen, SMHDF participates in wider segments of our society through many civic activities and has had an active part in 2016 through its acts of the “Kindness Program” in commemoration of its 20th anniversary.

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