MIAMI — In keeping with its mission to promote informed communities, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation this week injected $600,000 into five Miami non-profit organizations.

The foundation seeks through the grants to educate and assist South Florida Haitians with basic needs, U.S. Census activities and legal aid.
The grants come after months of Knight Foundation meetings with several of the grant recipients. Their leaders told the foundation that South Florida Haitian-Americans need assistance with basic provisions, like clothing.

The announcement of the grants came April 7 at the Sant La/Haitian Neighborhood Center, followed by a panel presentation by the recipients. They explained how they planned to use the funds to help the local Haitian community.

Sant La Executive Director Gepsie Metellus, whose organization received $250,000 from the foundation, said her agency has been fielding calls for all types of assistance since the devastating earthquake in Haiti on Jan. 12.

Pressing needs include an accurate count of the Haitian community in South Florida, so that neighborhoods can benefit from resources that could be extended from the federal government.

“Some homes have many more people now, especially after the earthquake,” Metellus said.

It is for that reason Metellus said her organization needs to participate in assisting Haitians with the Census.

Even though the U.S. Census Bureau has its own canvassing program to count everyone, the Haitian-American community has challenges that need more attention, said Dennis Scholl, Miami program director for the Knight Foundation.

As a result of the $250,000 grant to Sant La for instance, Haitians will receive assistance in filling out the Census. This is important because so many people in the Haitian community mistrust anything originating with government—especially if they arrived in the U.S. under questionable circumstances.

The Sant La grant also aims to encourage Haitians who are permanent residents in the U.S. to apply for citizenship.

“We have done the research, and we know that this community is reached via radio, the pulpit and face-to-face,” Scholl said. “So we know that when a Haitian looks out when there is a knock at the door, he can say ‘Oh, that’s one of my people.”

Another initiative is helping Haitian-Americans to apply for Temporary Protective Status.

The $100,000 that the foundation is giving to the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, and another $100,000 to the Catholic Legal Services, will help educate Haitian-Americans on how to change their status so they can stay in the United States for up to 18 months. The deadline for applications is July 18.

On Jan. 15, the Obama Administration enacted TPS for Haiti, which allows Haitians already in the United States to get work permits and driver’s licenses. The Department of Homeland Security has suspended the deportation of Haitians.

But Cheryl Little, executive director of the immigration advocacy center, said that while TPS is a victory for now, she does not believe that the Obama administration plans to extend its benefits past July 18. Little’s organization will help Haitians fill out the complex forms and apply for fee waivers. TPS fees can be as much as $975.

“We have a gun to our heads here in terms of the deadline,” Little said.

Here are the recipients of the Knight Foundation’s initiative for Haitian-Americans:

• Sant La/The Haitian Neighborhood Center ($250,000) for Census reporting, naturalization campaign and counseling for earthquake victims.

• United Way of Miami-Dade ($100,000 matching grant) to help local agencies provide basic needs for Haitians who came to South Florida after the earthquake.

• Florida Immigration Advocacy Centers ($100,000) to help Haitian-Americans apply for Temporary Protective Status and train pro bono lawyers.

• Catholic Charities Legal Services ($100,000) to help Haitian-Americans apply for Temporary Protective Status and train pro bono lawyers.

• Haitian Women of Miami ($50,000) to provide immediate counseling and assistance to families and victims of the recent earthquake.