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28188: Hermantin(News)Group struggles to help peers (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <email@example.com>
Posted on Sun, Mar. 26, 2006
Group struggles to help peers
Haitian college students have united to help others navigate immigration, work
BY ESTEPHANIE RESNIK
Ralph Cheriza, president of the Haitian Students Foundation, understands
firsthand the people he hopes to help: academically motivated students trying
to navigate a time-consuming maze of immigration cases and complicated work
permit renewals while seeking higher education.
''Because my work permit was expired, I lost my job,'' said Cheriza, 34. ``I
don't work, I don't have the money to go and pay for classes, and that's the
situation for many students.''
He said he had sent the renewal application in on time, but went back and forth
with immigration for about eight months before finally receiving the new permit
Cheriza has taken courses off and on at Palm Beach Community College since 1999
and has been applying for a green card since 1997. In 2004, to assist peers
constrained by immigration-related and other financial woes, Cheriza helped
found the Haitian Students Foundation, a nonprofit organization created by
students to raise funds and distribute need-based scholarships to other
''The thing with this organization is that most of us, we've been there,''
Students with pending immigration cases and work permits can register for
classes but are ineligible to receive governmental financial aid, he explained.
''We should support those who have a desire to go to school,'' he said.
Cheriza hopes to help students who juggle working full-time and attending
school full-time and have both their education and jobs interrupted by
''At one point, they cannot take it anymore, and they just drop out,'' he said.
Cheriza works as a family advocate with Hugs for Kids, an organization that
strives to prevent child abuse, and he hopes to begin classes at Florida
International University later this year.
Haitian Students Foundation has about 15 members -- students and recent
graduates from colleges across the state, including the University of Central
Florida, University of Florida, Valencia Community College, Palm Beach
Community College, Florida Atlantic University, Broward Community College and
To help establish the fledgling foundation's credibility, members are not
allowed to apply for the scholarships and donors are mailed a financial report
detailing how funds are raised and allocated.
Despite receiving more than $2,000 in pledges for 2005, the Haitian Students
Foundation only managed to collect $1,000 to split equally between two
Cheriza said HSF is working on setting up a matching funds program with PBCC to
double the scholarship and is exploring the possibility of a matching funds
program with other colleges.
Last year's fundraising efforts did not come close to the organization's
Event coordinator Malie Moreau, a nursing student at Barry University,
attributes the shortcoming in part to interference by the tumultuous hurricane
A July fundraising dinner at the Ramada Resort in Sunny Isles Beach had to be
rescheduled because of a storm, which resulted in decreased attendance.
According to Moreau, the Haitian Students Foundation has also faced a challenge
in its initial reception by the community.
In addition to paying their dues, $20 for students and $50 for nonstudents,
members have made personal sacrifices to keep the fledgling foundation going
and establish its credibility.
''We paid out of pocket for a lot of things,'' Moreau said. Cheriza estimates
that the members spent more than $2,500 paying the organization's expenses for
the Sunny Isles dinner and another fundraising dinner held last January in Palm
Cheriza associates the challenges faced by Haitians to the challenges generally
faced by African Americans and other minority groups.
''There is not enough effort to bring in more minorities to colleges and
universities,'' Cheriza said. ``I think we need to come up with a strategy
where we ally ourselves with other minorities who have been affected by those
Micaelle Jean, the foundation's secretary and a graduate of Barry University,
hopes to see the Haitian Students Foundation serve as a role model for young
Haitian students confronting prejudice.
''We're hoping that they can feel some sense of pride for us,'' she said. ``See
what they can achieve, they can have a college education.''
Jean remembers facing discrimination at school when she moved to the United
States from Haiti as an 11-year-old. ''Whenever I'd be on the bus, kids would
push me around,'' she said. ``I used to have a very difficult time going to
school and not being able to speak the language and having kids teasing me and
calling me names, derogatory names, racial slurs.''
She believes that Haitian children may grow up ashamed of their heritage
because Haitians are often represented as poor and illiterate in the media.
''There's never any form of recognition per se of what the Haitian community
has achieved in South Florida,'' she said.
``Of us bringing our culture, our language, our music and so many other things.
There's a lot of richness in the Haitian community that society and other
groups are not aware of.''