Haitian Center a stepping stone for Trenton's immigrants
By Rob Anthes
For the thousands of Haitians who live in Trenton, the transition to life in America can be the most difficult time in their lives.
At a time when they are without jobs, money and even the ability to communicate, many Trenton-area Haitians turn to the Diocese of Trenton Haitian Center for help. While Haitians make the transition to living in the United States, the center provides support to ease that transition.
Located behind St. Francis of Assisium Church on West Front Street, the Haitian Center has been providing the necessary tools for adaptation for almost 20 years. Whether someone needs translation services, help finding a job or wants to learn English, the center provides whatever Haitians need to be su
“The language is different,” Magda Dorleans, the Haitian Center coordinator, said. “Haitians don't speak English. They speak Creole or French. The culture is different. The food is different. It's more expensive to live here then it is in Haiti. If you don't have job, it's very hard. Usually, when they first find a job, it's a low-paying job and it's hard to make ends-meet. Most of the time they have family here and family in Haiti to take care of. So, it's usually tough for them in the beginning.”
One of the main ways that area Haitians use the center is to find a job. The center publishes a list of available employment every week. This list allows Haitians to search for a job that fits their needs as well as network with other Haitians. As more and more Haitians get jobs, it opens the door to other Haitians that need work.
“If a place has a lot of Haitian people working there, it makes it easier,” Dorleans said. “They can communicate through other Haitians. If there are no oth
er Haitians working at a facility and you need to communicate to another person, you don't know what to do. Sometimes it's not easy.”
The center also provides interpreters to Haitians who need help at the doctor's office, hospital or wherever help is needed.
For Haitians who want to learn English, the center offers an English as a Second Language class. For $10, Haitians can receive English lessons from volunteer tutors. The class runs from September to May.
During the holiday season, it collects and donates clothes, food and toys to local Haitian families. If someone is in desperate need of money and have a legitimate reason, the center can provide funds as part of its emergency services.
In response to the devastation caused by the hurricanes in Haiti in late May, the center ran a fund-raiser at Rocco Park. Area families made Haitian food to sell and the center also collected food, clothes and money. All the proceeds were shipped over by boat to Haiti.
“We're Haitians,” D
orleans said. “Whatever affects Haiti, affects us. Usually, we have families back home. Whether or not it affects you personally or your own family, it is still your people. We try to do whatever we can to support them.”
The Haitian Center is also a faith-based organization. The center offers catechism classes that teach Haitians about the Catholic faith and prepare them to enter into the Church through the sacraments.
St. Francis Church hosts a Haitian mass every Sunday night at 7. The mass, presided by the Rev. Pierre-Michel Alabre, is entirely in Creole. Approximately 200 people attend the Haitian mass each week, Dorleans said.
The many services provided by the center allow Haitians to be comfortable in their new home. The center will do whatever it can to support the Haitian community in Trenton, Dorleans said. The Haitian Center exists to help acclimate Haitians to the United States and to Trenton.
“This is a stepping stone,” Dorleans said. “When they first come, they use us.
As they adjust to the society, they get out there on their own and they no longer need us. If they need help, we are always here for them.”
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