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a509: Little Haiti service agencies now have `super umbrella' (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Little Haiti service agencies now have `super umbrella'

Gepsie Metellus couldn't believe the news when she heard it. Of the 12
Haitian community-based organizations that applied to Miami-Dade County for
federal funding last year, only one received it.

So like any well-schooled former county commission aide, Metellus swung into
action. Metellus, now executive director of the new agency Sant La Haitian
Neighborhood Center, did something unusual in Miami's Haitian community.

``I called all of the groups and invited them to a meeting,'' Metellus said.

In a matter of days, Metellus devised a plan, which in the end not only
brought $1.5 million in badly needed dollars back into Miami-Dade's
poverty-stricken Haitian community, but also, in the words of one agency
director, ``brought tears to my eyes.''

Sant La, the new collective voice that is making itself heard in Miami-Dade
commission chambers and boardrooms, is a one-stop community center in Little
Haiti whose mission is to help immigrants with social, educational and
immigration issues.


Unlike other organizations in the community, Metellus said, Sant La's goal
isn't to provide direct service. By referring Haitian Americans to the
hodgepodge of agencies within the community that provide everything from
rent subsidies to food to family counseling, Sant La -- The Center -- hopes
to serve as a ``super umbrella'' or coordinating group among the various


The center at 6660 Biscayne Blvd. also houses the Little Haiti offices of
the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Juvenile Assessment
Center, Children's Psychological Center and a staff person from the county's
Department of Human Services -- along with people who speak Creole,
understand Haitian culture and know where to send people for help.

Metellus is a former Miami-Dade County Public Schools employee and aide to
Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler, who left county government last fall
after five years. Assisting her is Leonie Hermantin, former head of the
Haitian American Foundation who is now director of research and development
for the center.

Together, the two are putting their heads and experience together to figure
out how to best meet the needs of Miami-Dade's Haitian community. They're
aided by Sant La's multiethnic board, a Who's Who of South Floridians headed
by Miami immigration advocate Cheryl Little and newly appointed County Judge
Fred Seraphin.

Berta Blecke, a longtime child advocate, served as the catalyst for creating
the center.

Under the umbrella of Kristi House, the child advocacy center she chairs,
Blecke initiated a meeting among community members and several government
agencies, including the Department of Juvenile Justice and DCF.

Her impetus, Blecke said, was the story of ``Little Hope,'' a 13-year-old
Haitian girl who said she was beaten, raped and worked as a slave inside a
$400,000 Pembroke Pines home. It made her realize, she said, that the
community didn't know where to turn.


``Through Kristi House, I thought we might be able to help the Haitian
community find solutions,'' Blecke said.

Many say Sant La is accomplishing its goals.

``I have been working with the Haitian community for 25 years, and this is
the first time I have seen the Haitian organizations come in with one
voice,'' said Micheline Ducena, who runs the Haitian Organization of Women
in Homestead. ``It was really beautiful, really amazing.''

But some remain cautious about its role.

``The original idea is to have a place where families could go and have
one-stop service delivery. If they stay true to that, it will be
fantastic,'' said Ludnel St-Preux, executive director of the Haitian
American Community Association of Dade County.

But if the agency decides to compete for an already limited pot of dollars
to provide services directly to clients, then it's a problem, he said.

``As soon as you are out there looking for money, it becomes a competitive
process,'' he said. ``If that is it, then you can't expect agencies to trust
you with their information.''

St-Preux concedes that one of the things that excites him most about the
center is its willingness to provide training and management to other
agencies in the community and to become a data ``repository.''


Sant La supporters acknowledge that the management training is a sensitive
issue, but in a community where more than one agency has fallen by the
wayside because of mismanagement, it's something that is needed, they say.

``When a funder comes in to monitor what you are doing with their money,
they want to see you are keeping records. They want to see how you maintain
canceled checks and what kinds of administrative procedures you have in
place,'' Metellus said.

Nancy Allen, who assists small businesses through her Women's Business
Development Center and provides training to not-for-profit boards, said
running an agency isn't easy and that directors need to know how to stay
afloat even while they are waiting for dollars. She concedes that Sant La
has a huge challenge.

``It wants to be everything,'' Allen said, ``while at the same time it wants
to leave the autonomy of the other Haitian organizations intact.''

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