Miami Herald: Local Employer Helps Employees Try to Find Families in Haiti

January 16th, 2010 By Jackie Larena-Lacayo


Local employer helps employees try to find family in Haiti


Inside the Douglas Gardens Jewish Home in Little Haiti, Mayra Velasco walked from building to building, pen and notepad in hand. On each floor, she asked the same question: Do you have missing family in Haiti?

The Miami Jewish Health Systems, operator of Douglas Gardens and other facilities, estimates it has 600 Haitian-American employees. For days they have come into work with the tragedy in Haiti weighing heavily on their hearts.

The health system has already provided counselors and collected donations.

On Saturday, volunteers took another step. They gathered the names, ages and addresses of the missing, then used a computer lab to upload the information to CNN’s website.

“They would start mentioning the names, then tell stories about their family and then start crying,” Velasco, 29, said after her last round of name-gathering. “I would give them a hug, tell them God’s in control and to stay positive.”

By Saturday afternoon, they had uploaded more than a dozen names. They planned to do a second round of name gathering when the next shift of employees came in.

Claravelle Piton came by the computer lab to give the names of her sister-in-law and brother-in-law in Haiti: Christa Piton and Asonel Piton of Port-au-Prince. Like so many others, she tried to call them after the earthquake and couldn’t get through.

On Monday, she will return to work in the Douglas Gardens café. She plans to bring photos and have those uploaded, too.

“Every day, when you get home, it’s sad when you see the people dying,” Piton said. “I think about my daughter, what if she had been there?”

But Piton had hope and plenty of thanks for the volunteers at Douglas Gardens.

“They could be home with their own families,” she said, “but they are here for us.”

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