Inducted into the prestigious Marquis Who’s Who Biographical Registry in 2020, Teri Helenese is currently the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Director of State-Federal Relations and Washington, D.C. Representative, reporting directly to Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. In that capacity, she devotes significant time, talent, and energy to economic stimulus and development, technology adoption, and public policy.
In 2020, Teri Helenese supported the Bryan Administration’s efforts in Washington, D.C. to secure funding through the bipartisan CARES Act, including a provision that recognized the challenges for “mirror code” jurisdictions such as the Territory. The bill required the U.S. Department of the Treasury to make payments directly to the Territory to offset payments made to individuals. The U.S. Treasury Department reimbursed the Territory for the $20 million in tax credits annually made available pursuant to the earned income tax credit that helps the working poor in the Territory. The Territory captured all potential financial assistance under the legislation and received $547 million in funds allocated by formula, including approximately $520 million in direct aid under the Coronavirus State Fiscal Relief Fund, $20 million under the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Relief Fund, and another $17 million in Coronavirus Capital Project Funds.
Ms. Helenese also assisted the Bryan Administration to successfully secure a federal Port Infrastructure Development (PID) grant of more than $20 million from the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) for the modernization of the economically critical Crown Bay Terminal on St. Thomas.
In 2021, working with Governor Bryan’s Washington Team, Ms. Helenese supported the successful effort to secure cancellation of the Territory’s $300 million Community Disaster Loan repayment obligations as part of the Continuing Resolution funding the federal government through February of 2022 and successfully worked to extend the current Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) as part of that legislation.
Rounding out 2021, she continued to help generate political support on Capitol Hill to encourage the Treasury Department to make a real commitment to removing the Territory from the European Union’s Blacklist and she copyrighted the Official Madras of the United States Virgin Islands and received Certificate of Registration/Copyright, VA-2-260-615.
Among her key achievements, in 2019 she spearheaded the effort and raised private sector funds to bring D.C. United, Washington’s premier professional men’s soccer team, to St. Croix for an exhibition game against the Bermuda Men’s team—an all-time first. The game was broadcasted live in Washington, D.C. This was the first time in history that a National championship winning team visited and played in the Virgin Islands. One hundred season ticket holders also visited the island for the game which sold out every hotel and Airbnb on St. Croix. The Bryan administration made certain the entry fee was free for every student accompanied by their parent or guardian. The soccer teams’ visit made a positive impact in the lives of the youth and gave a much-needed boost to the region’s economy in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Their visit which included a health and fitness expo, boosted the morale of Virgin Islanders, and served as a springboard for health and fitness education—especially important given the high rates of diabetes and hypertension seen among the population.
Ms. Helenese pioneered NASA in the Virgin Islands and connected Virgin Islands students and NASA to inspire the next generation of explorers who learned about the space agency’s Mission and STEM literacy. Continuing on the technology front, Ms. Helenese took the lead in fostering a joint initiative between Google and the USVI Government designed to help Internet users find accurate and locally relevant information about COVID-19 from trusted sources, without compromising personal information. Simply put, the Google-USVI collaboration was about harnessing the best of what technology has to offer on behalf of Virgin Islanders’ health and safety.
In all of Ms. Helenese’ past and present endeavors, she has demonstrated a commitment to excellence, giving her all to her employers, her native community in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and her adopted community in Loudoun County, Virginia. Along the way, she has gained expertise in information technology, human resources, strategic communications, organizational change, and applied politics leveraging her area of specialization at the George Washington University School of Political Management, where she earned a Master of Arts degree with concentrations in statistics and communications.
A History of “Firsts” in the Private Sector
A former IT consultant, Ms. Helenese spent 20 years counseling Fortune 500 clients, government agencies, and NGOs, shepherding them through periods of large-scale organizational transformation. She started out as a strategy and technology consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, helping to pioneer an early version of electronic health records (EHRs). Subsequently, she consulted with Deloitte, where she played a key role in the development of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks. This initiative was designed to bolster the security of U.S. ports. Ms. Helenese served as “TWIC Ambassador,” traveling to 37 states to brief employers, unions, Coast Guard officials, and other stakeholders on the new credentialing process and enrolling 2 million workers. Today, TWIC has nearly 15 million enrollees. Also at Deloitte, Ms. Helenese played a leading role in integrating the company's information infrastructure at the birth of a new U.S. government entity: The Department of Homeland Security.
In 2008, Ms. Helenese was relocated to St. Croix to join the USVI’s “Reverse the Brain Drain” program. She was the first Virgin Islander to be hired for a senior management position—Human Resources Director—at Diageo’s Captain Morgan Rum Distillery, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of rum. By the end of her tenure there, 97% of the workforce were fellow Virgin Islanders. Later, she served on the leadership team for the design and construction of the company-sponsored state-of-the-art Captain Morgan Visitors Center on St. Croix.
As Director of People Services and Human Resources Transformation at International SOS, the world’s largest medical and travel security services firm, Ms. Helenese helped set the company’s global HR agenda, completed a complex payroll conversion to a new platform for five merger and acquisition companies, and shepherded the organization through its own successful merger. She was subsequently chosen to travel to Bangkok to set the global HR agenda with the company’s C-Suite leaders. At a General Dynamics conglomerate, capping her achievements in the field, she was given responsibility for HR operations in twenty countries across Europe and Asia.
Early Promise, Early Recognition
Ms. Helenese attended Florida Memorial College—a Historically Black College and home to the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing!”—where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science.
At college, Helenese distinguished herself in a series of leadership roles, starting in her freshman year as Class Senator. She was subsequently elected Sophomore Class Treasurer, Junior Class Vice President, President of the Catholic Students Association, and she is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Association—the oldest Black sorority with a long history of distinguished members, including Rosa Parks, Vice President Kamala Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, Maya Angelou, and Coretta Scott King, among many others. But soon, another natural disaster struck. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew wreaked destruction across South Florida. Ms. Helenese volunteered to help with recovery efforts in Homestead, Florida, a community that was especially hard hit. Having lived through Hurricane Hugo on St. Croix in 1989 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992, volunteering and community service soon became a way of life for her.
After returning to school, Ms. Helenese was elected Miss Florida Memorial College. Representing the entire student body, she traveled the state, speaking about the importance of volunteerism and mentoring high school students. She joined forces with the 5000 Role Models of Excellence program, led by Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, which aims to empower and lift up minority youth. For her efforts and volunteerism in the state, Florida's Governor Lawton Chiles recognized her contributions, and Mayor Robert Ingram of Opa Locka proclaimed “Teri Helenese Day” in her honor on November 13, 1993.
After graduation from the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, Ms. Helenese was appointed to the position of USVI Governor Roy Schneider’s Representative in Washington, D.C. and later as Director of the USVI Legislature's Office of Public Affairs. At 23, she was the youngest member of the Schneider administration.
Family and Community
Consistent with Ebony magazine’s inclusion of Ms. Helenese on its list of the Top 25 Accomplished Women in 1997 and Cosmopolitan magazine’s designation a year later as a Leader to Watch, she has since amassed significant achievements that positioned her for her role as a member of Governor Ralph Northam’s African American Advisory Board. The board was established to strengthen the relationship between the African American community and the state government through effective policymaking and community participation. In this position, she aimed to improve diversity and inclusion in Virginia’s public schools and to boost curriculum development in African American history.
Teri Helenese is married to Alexander DeAbreu, and they have two children, Gabrielle, and Crystal DeAbreu. Growing up in a three-bedroom home in Frangipani on St. Croix amongst other working class homes built in the early 1970’s to mainly house Hess Oil, Martin Marietta (Lockheed Martin), and Government of the Virgin Islands employees and their families.
Teri was inspired by her dad, Arnold Helenese, who came to St. Croix from Trinidad as a young man to work at Hess Oil until he opened Le Baron in Sunny Isle Shopping Center 40 years ago, her aunt Eastlyn, who worked at Scotiabank in Sunny Isle for 30 years, but still cooked family dinner every single evening, and her mom, Carol who was one of the first Black stewardesses at TWA working her way off the plane and into management as a director at TWA—ideally, inspired by parents embraced by the U.S. Virgin Islands, who worked hard to ensure better opportunities for their daughter born and raised on St. Croix. In tracing the roots of her own success, Teri cites a high-quality education, supportive family, loving village, and excellent mentorship at every step of the way.