BROOKLYN — On a chilly Tuesday evening in September, Evelyne Thelamond sat at a small school desk inside the offices of Haitian-Americans United for Progress in Flatbush, practicing writing sentences in English. As other students trickled in, she looked up from her notebook.
A home health aide originally from Saint-Marc, Haiti, Thelamond has been coming to the non-profit group’s office along Nostrand Avenue in central Brooklyn for about one year.
“Because I’m learning English, HAUP helped me with the paperwork when I applied for a job,” said Thelamond, 40. “Now, I’m training to be a certified nursing assistant and they help me with that too.”
Founded nearly half a century ago, HAUP has helped tens of thousands of Haitian residents like Thelamond acclimate to life in New York City. At any one time, HAUP provides 10 to 12 programs that address the needs of mostly newcomers and those that arise unexpectedly each year.
“The values we uphold daily are to be our brother’s keeper and to be the first people to respond to our own kind,” Saint-Louis said. “We have programs from birth to grave. We create some of these programs with no resources, because the need is acutely there and we are called to respond.”
However, funding to operate these programs, about $5 million, is not enough to fully meet the needs of a community ever in crisis, said Elsie Saint-Louis, the service organization’s executive director.
In 2021 alone, for example, several events in quick succession left thousands of Haitian communities reeling. The arrival of 15,000 Haitians at the US-Mexico border from Central and South America, for one, impacted many families and organizations alike when asylum seekers allowed in made their way to cities such as New York.
HAUP was among those organizations left to help the asylum seekers, providing similar support as it’s given since it first started.
From refugee crisis, group grows as needs evolve
Established in 1975, HAUP — based in Hollis, Queens — initially focused on immigration services for Haitian refugees being resettled in New York, many of them after arriving in Florida by boat. Made up of a few clergy members, advocates and volunteers at the time, HAUP primarily focused on providing clothing, food, shelter and employment in southeast Queens. Throughout the years, the organization has stuck to its original mission, while adding staff and programs to support the community’s assimilation.
These days, when individuals first walk through HAUP’s doors, they receive what Saint-Louis refers to as a “holistic assessment” to determine which programs might match their needs. She said the programs are tailored to help the needs of the community HAUP serves, as these needs continually evolve with the population.
According to HAUP, the organization has provided services to 120 special needs individuals, 18 UPK students and 233 women in the maternal health infant program, as well as distributing hundreds of thousands of personal preventive equipment to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Its one-year COVID-19 testing and vaccination program reached more than 500 people through its Queens and Brooklyn locations.
Their COVID programs reached a total of 34,725 people in 2022, with the organization distributing 20,259 masks, 283 at-home tests, 290 vaccines and 278 boosters. For these programs, they worked alongside 17 organizations, referred 300 people weekly, canvassed a total of 248 hours, published 120 social media posts and held 21 educational sessions.
They also distributed over $25,000 in cash assistance to clients.
The programs connect people from all backgrounds, immigrants as well as citizens, to the resources they need in order to have a better quality of life.
“HAUP has helped me with everything,” said Daphnee Pierre-Louis, a 38-year-old Flatbush resident who has been going to HAUP for seven months. “I’m learning English here, and they also offer advice about immigration and insurance.”
HAUP’s current major programs include a maternal infant health program, adult education, domestic violence awareness, COVID-19 prevention, universal pre-kindergarten and support for people with developmental disabilities.
Their Maternal Infant Health Program (MIH) provided support to 44 pregnant women who gave birth to 49 babies, while their Compass Youth Program at P.S. 241 hosted 150 students. Their other educational initiative, the Sonic Youth Program at P.S. 189, helped 130 students.
The adult education and ESL programs to help immigrants speak, write and read in English are among the most popular, with about 120 people currently enrolled, Saint-Louis said.
Raphael Joseph, a 61-year-old mechanic and Flatbush resident, is one of the students.
“I’ve come to HAUP to receive immigration services and attend their English classes at night,” said Joseph, speaking slowly in English. “It’s helped me with learning to write, as well as talking to people in English.”
Alongside its mainstay programs, HAUP has also provided immigration counseling and case management through its Migrant Enrichment Services Initiative (MESI) to 774 migrants created after last year’s Del Rio refugee crisis.Their immigration program served a total of 964 clients in 2022.
“There are always more immigrants that we can serve,” Saint-Louis said. “With the Del Rio crisis, New York definitely didn’t respond adequately or quickly enough.”
Its domestic violence program works to raise awareness and provide resources for survivors. Programs for special needs individuals help them acquire new skills to find employment while the UPK helps prepare young children to acclimate to an educational environment. Through COVID-19 prevention initiatives, HAUP educates the public about the risks of COVID-19, and offers testing, tracing and vaccination.
Saint-Louis, a Long Island resident, started working at HAUP as a volunteer 22 years ago.
“We have taken our role of being the eyes, ears and trust of the community very seriously,” she said. “That was always our vision and mission, that we are going to be the best for the community we serve.”
Part 2 looks at the “constant challenge” of funding HAUP faces to meet needs as they arise.