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9701: Center point for Haitians (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
By Madeline Baró Diaz
November 18, 2001
MIAMI · The newly opened Haitian Neighborhood Center is one-stop shopping
Known simply as Sant La, "The Center," in Creole, it opened this fall with
hopes of being an all-in-one resource center for the Haitian community.
One of Sant La's goals is to be a referral point for Haitians, assessing
their needs and sending them to the right agencies or community groups for
help. Some of those agencies, like the Department of Children and Families,
will have staff members with offices at Sant La.
The creation of the Haitian Neighborhood Center, which was in the works for
more than a year, came from efforts to improve understanding of the
Department of Children and Families in the Haitian community.
For many Haitians, only the negative aspects of the agency are known, like
child removal cases, said Sant La Executive Director Gepsie Metellus, a
longtime Haitian community activist. Language is another barrier.
Now, DCF has a Creole-speaking Haitian community liaison who works out of
Sant La four days a week and is seeing about four to five families a day.
The liaison meets with people and then makes referrals, sending them to the
appropriate DCF center where they can obtain food stamps, financial aid,
mental health resources and other services.
"It's basically a position which links potential clients to our services,"
said DCF spokesman Miguel Milanes. "He is sort of the gatekeeper."
Milanes hopes DCF's presence at Sant La will improve relations with the
"Our department is committed to building stronger linkages with the Haitian
community, and we feel that by having this relationship our services will be
more accessible, better understood by the Haitian community," he said.
The center is financed by private donations and grants from local, state and
federal authorities, Metellus said. Each government agency at the center
pays for its own staff.
Things are slow now at Sant La, which is on the second floor of a Little
Haiti career center at 6660 Biscayne Blvd. Milanes said he expects the pace
to pick up, as Sant La is a less-threatening environment for people to seek
Eventually, the center plans to move into a $3 million, permanent facility.
"The center is just very much in its infancy," he said. "We anticipate when
it's fully operational we're going to get lots of people."
One day Sant La will also be a resource for data and research on the Haitian
community, Metellus said. Leonie Hermantin, who was previously executive
director of the Haitian American Foundation, is overseeing the center's
research and data collection.
As its first research effort, Sant La is assisting the Miami-Dade County
Juvenile Assessment Center on a project looking at juvenile offenders. Sant
La is handling the Haitian juvenile component.
"We bring expertise and experience and knowledge of the community," Metellus
Helping the development of community-based organizations is another of Sant
La's goals. Metellus says some community-based organizations don't do well
because people who start them don't always have the training and support
they need to keep them running.
Sant La will host ongoing training workshops for those organizations, some
through partnerships with local colleges and universities.
Although Sant La will also serve as an advocate for the Haitian community,
the organization does not want to duplicate services other community
organizations are providing, but wants to help those community organizations
out, Metellus said.
"We want to be the center for solutions," she said.
Madeline Baró Diaz can be reached at email@example.com or 305-810-5007.
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