SPRING VALLEY, N.Y. -- A lot has changed - -and a lot hasn't -- since Konbit Nèg Lakay Inc ., a non-profit in Spring Valley that serves Rockland's Haitian American community, opened 12 years ago.
According to Executive Director Renold Julien, funding remains an issue -- their allocation from the county has pretty much stayed consistent over the years -- this, as more and more people rely on the center. "As a black organization, it's hard to raise funds," he said.
Still: there is an energy and spirit within the building he runs, some of what might have to do with Julien's outgoing personality and winning smile.
The father of four has a can do attitude. An engineer by trade, he started the center when he was 22 and new to the U.S. "There was nothing here to help me," he said, "So I figured, let me start something. I had no idea I'd end up being here so long."
The center --- the name of which translates to "Together for a Stronger Community" -- offers a range of services not just to Haitian Americans but to all immigrants, everything from English classes to computer labs, immigration services and certified nurses aid training.
It is also very involved with the Ramapo school district and has created after-school activities and youth soccer programs.
Last year, the center catered to approximately 4,000 people.
Konbit Nèg Lakay is also very much about helping Haiti. It create the Rockland County Haiti Relief Campaign (RCHRC) in 2008 when Haiti faced a serious food crisis and expanded its efforts after the 2010 earthquake, adopting the city of Grand- Goave.
Since then, the center has personally delivered several tons of food, clothing, medications and other essential supplies to more than 15,000 families, launched a School Colleciton Project for Haitian children, installed a free water purification system in Grand-Goave and operated an annual mobile medical clinic.
In August 2013, Konbit Nèg Lakay built a community center in Grand-Goave and Julien has hopes of opening more.
"Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere," he said, which is why fundraising is so important, not just for his home country but for the Haitian Americans and other immigrants living in Rockland County who also need assistance.
Money, stressed Julien, remains a constant problem.
For information go to www.konbitneglakay.org/ .
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