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Norwich youths join groups working on Haiti quake relief

Norwich - A local effort to help Haitians recover from the Jan. 12 earthquake has attracted Yale University law students, a Westerly church and a new Norwich youth group.

Shirley Cherenfont, a Norwich public school tutor and translator, said she invited grief-stricken Haitian students to form a club and find a way to help their friends and families.

Two months later, about 15 youths meet weekly on Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Christ Episcopal Church at 70 Washington St. to discuss ways to help earthquake victims. The club is open to youths aged 11 to 18, said Cherenfont, its director and advisor.

Cherenfont, club resident Kevin Jules, a Norwich Free Academy student, Vice President Ruthny Augustin and Treasurer Jennifer Jules, both Kelly Middle School students, addressed the local Haitian Relief Committee Monday. They offered the club's services to help translate and distribute fliers in Creole announcing legal services clinics or fundraisers.

The group will hold its first weekly bake sale at Kelly Middle School Friday. Kevin Jules said the club wants to help Haitian children in schools and orphanages in Haiti and assist pediatricians.

Two Yale University law students, Jenny Zhao and Matt Vogel, will make themselves available to the Norwich Haitian community. The students are part of Yale's Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic and offered legal services to local Haitians.

The U.S. government is offering Temporary Protective Status to undocumented Haitians living in the United States at the time of the Jan. 12 earthquake, but few have come forward to apply.

Committee member Enock Petit-Homme said some undocumented Haitians are scared to apply, because they fear fear what might happen when it expires in 18 months.

Vogel said Temporary Protective Status often is extended for years at a time, and the U.S. government hasn't used the information "to go after people."

The Yale students will talk to Haitians at local churches and on a live, local cable public access program to explain the application process.

Dr. Jeremiah Lowney, president of the Norwich-based Haitian Health Foundation, led off Monday's meeting with a description of conditions in the southwestern coastal city of Jeremie, where the foundation hosts health centers, schools and an extensive food-distribution network.

Lowney said more than 100,000 displaced Haitians from Port-au-Prince and other cities have made the 140-mile trek to Jeremie seeking help. Because they are designated as "internally displaced refugees," they receive no aid from the United Nations, Lowney said.

The very poor Haitians in the Jeremie area have welcomed them, housed them and shared food and water. But the situation is turning desperate.

Lowney said one food truck was ransacked by looters two weeks ago. He said it was the foundation's first experience with rioting in nearly 30 years.

The foundation sent a shipment of food to Haiti Monday morning. Lowney said he told the foundation truck driver to hire off-duty, armed police officers to escort the load to Jeremie.

c.bessette@theday.com

• "The Immigrant Experience in Our Communities," Sunday, 4 p.m., Christ Episcopal Church, 7 Elm St., Westerly. Donations welcome.

• Norwich Community Cinema showing of "The Price of Sugar," a documentary on sugar plantation workers narrated by Paul Newman, on March 26, 7:30 p.m., at the Sidney Frank Center, Norwich Free Academy, 305 Broadway. Also, Norwich physician Dr. Anthony Alessi will discuss his recent trip to Haiti. Fundraiser for Diocese of Norwich Haitian Ministries.

• Haiti Earthquake Relief Documentary, March 27, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Norwich Free Academy, 305 Broadway. Computer and video presentation on local group's recent trip to Haiti. Admission free.

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