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9701: Center point for Haitians (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

By Madeline Baró Diaz
Miami Bureau

November 18, 2001

MIAMI · The newly opened Haitian Neighborhood Center is one-stop shopping 
for services.

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 
Haitian community.

"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 mbaro@sun-sentinel.com or 305-810-5007.

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