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28476: Hermantin(news)Volunteers' repair work after Wilma `a blessing' for poor in Bell (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Volunteers' repair work after Wilma `a blessing' for poor in Belle Glade area

By Chantal Abitbol
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

June 20, 2006

Belle Glade · Eight months after Hurricane Wilma, Iris Taylor still covered her roof with a blue tarp and collected leaking water in buckets because she couldn't pay to get it fixed.

Help finally arrived when a crew of volunteers turned up on her doorstep in Belle Glade early Friday.

About 440 people from Haitian communities in Palm Beach and Broward counties -- and out of state -- have swarmed into the storm-battered communities of Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay since June 12 to gut homes and replace roofs.

The legion of carpenters, electricians, nurses, plumbers, doctors and engineers represent the nonprofit Community Development Foundation.

By Thursday, the group plans to fix up about 211 homes, said foundation Director Quetel Osterval, who runs it from his cyber café, Utel, in Boynton Beach.

"This is a blessing," said Taylor, 57. "I'll sleep better at night not tossing and turning, wondering how I am going to get this damage done."

Her situation is like that of many from the low-income area living in damaged homes because they can't afford repairs.

"I thought I was in a third-world country. It doesn't look part of the United States," Osterval said, after driving through the area a few months ago.

That's when he realized something needed to be done.Many homeowners are single mothers or the elderly, he said.

"They can't really help themselves," he said.

Since November, the group has organized three missions to Mississippi and Louisiana to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

In April it sent a team of 40 to knock on residents' doors here to assess repairs and costs. The offer: If homeowners secured the materials, the group would provide the labor.

Last week, busloads of volunteers shuttled in to begin work -- but they hit a snag.

Most homeowners had failed to secure permits and materials, said Houston L. Tate, Belle Glade city manager.

That stalled work until Wednesday in Belle Glade, but some volunteers in Pahokee and South Bay were able to start earlier because the cities waived the permit requirement, Osterval said.

Jean Louis, 27, a contractor from Delray Beach who immigrated to the United States in 2000, took 10 days from work to help out. "I have to sacrifice to help people," he said, just before he laid the last shingles on Taylor's roof.

Many Haitian immigrants feel an obligation to contribute to their new homeland, Osterval said.

"Haitians cannot just stand there in the front of the immigration building and hold up a sign and say we need this," he said. "We need to be a part of the rebuilding of this country."

Chantal Abitbol can be reached at cabitbol@sun-sentinel.com or 561-272-3189.

Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel