Emmanuella Perez-Cassius has always loved working with children. She has four of her own, and she will tell anyone that being a mother has defined her calling to help young people. “You know I started really early in motherhood, and at first I didn’t embrace it, but once I embraced motherhood, it gave me that same feeling for all children,” says Perez-Cassius. “And then you want that same desire of happiness and health… you know, the energy to feel hope inside of a world that sometimes feels a little dim,” continues Perez-Cassius.
Through her work with the Caribbean Centers for Boys and Girls of the V.I., formerly the Boys and Girls Club of the V.I., she interacts with students from elementary school all the way up to senior high school. “For me, I get excited about just giving them experiences and opportunities that help them to like, see their best self or learn something new or meet somebody that they would have probably never had the opportunity to meet.”
Perez-Cassius is the unit director for the Frederiksted Caribbean Centers for Boys and Girls. She has developed and worked with others to create several initiatives to help prepare the V.I. Territory’s youth for life. “I’ve done conferences around building sisterhood, called the NEFF conference and I do that one in honor of course of my friend Nefertiti O’Bryan, but I also do FYRE is LIT, and FYRE stands for Fueling Youth Reading and LIT are Leaders in Training,” Perez-Cassius says. “So we take our teenage population and turn them into mentors for second graders to help to increase literacy skills. The Department of Education uses third grade as the milestone grade to test literacy in the Virgin Islands. So, our hope was to use other young people, teens, to help to inspire reading at second grade because then when the time they’re ready to get tested that’s it. And then we also do the LIT program by itself where we mentor teenagers and expose them to as many opportunities and curriculums and careers that they have in the world so that they can make sound choices when it’s time for them to step into the world,” adds Perez-Cassius.
Emmanuella says that today’s world is a lot different than when she grew up, and everything she does, is with helping to build a sound foundation for the next generation. “Our children are just as smart and just as brilliant as anybody else’s child, but they don’t have the same opportunities. We have to invest in them on a level that’s meaningful not just that’s an experience for them. We need to impact them in a meaningful way that they take that to the future,” concludes Perez-Cassius.