haiti-flag_web.jpgMIAMI — As Haitian officials called off rescue efforts and turned their focus to rebuilding the island nation after the devastating earthquake that killed thousands earlier this month, members of the Haitian Diaspora in South Florida forged ahead with their own plans to help their family members and loved ones who remain on the island in ways big and small.

At the Haitian American Senior Center in Miami’s Little Haiti, a row of telephones and computers with free Internet access were installed. The service will be free indefinitely, according to program director Patrick Saintilus.

“This is our small way of helping Haitians here stay connected to loved ones back home and to help them maintain communication with them as they start to build back their lives,’’ Saintilus said.

Thousands gathered on Saturday, Jan. 23 for an H20 Haiti benefit concert at the Oak Grove Park in North Miami Beach, where artists such as Sweet Micky, T-Vice Harmonik and Gabel helped raise money to provide 2 million gallons of water for the island.

Across the region, churches, grocery stores and fire stations continued to serve as drop-off points for donations.

The Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Davie, inundated with donations from members and other organizations, pleaded for volunteers to help package items.

“It’s just been unbelievable the amount of support we’ve seen from the community,’’ said Helen Roenfeldt, the church’s discipleship minister.

“Some people will come with a little bag of groceries, others with a box just because they care,’’ said Roenfeldt, who also chairs Mission Haiti, a non-profit organization formed by the church 11 years ago to do missionary work in Haiti.

“All they ask is, ‘What can I do?’ The outpouring of support is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.’’

At the Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center in Little Haiti, lines for unemployment services wrapped around the building, according to Ludnel St Preux, the center’s director of programs and operations.

Those without jobs who’d perhaps ignored the assistance while they searched for work now realized how much the additional funds could be used to aid those on the island.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in traffic here,’’ St. Preux said.

Sant La provides information and referral services for jobs, unemployment benefits, housing and legal counsel. The center has also established a Haitian Earthquake Relief Fund at Bank of America and is analyzing how best it can use its resources to help the island in the long term, St. Preux said.

Blocks away, at the Haitian American Senior Center, the 60-plus seniors who visit daily to learn arts and crafts, take English classes, and exercise have slowly recovered from the initial shock they experienced while watching news of the earthquake that fateful Tuesday evening.

“They all cried. They’ve lived a long time and never thought they would see their country in so much pain,’’ Saintilus said.

Still, there is some good to come of this devastation, Saintilus said.

“In the middle of the storm there is always a blessing. Most people didn’t care about Haiti before this but now the world is paying attention. We Haitians now have the opportunity to make the most of this second chance. Let’s do it right.’’



WHAT: Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center.

WHERE: 5000 Biscayne Blvd., Suite 110, Miami.

CONTACT: 305-573-4871
WHAT: The Haitian-American Senior Services Center

WHERE: 5080 Biscayne Boulevard Miami.

CONTACT: 305-758-3561