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Mar 1, 2017 5:34 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Pastor Says He Will Bring 600 Haitian Immigrant Children To Southampton If He Can't Provide Aid

The Southampton Full Gospel Church operates a school in Haiti that facilitates 600 students. COURTESY OF JAMES BOYD
Mar 7, 2017 1:35 PM

In 1982, the Reverend Donald Havrilla of the Southampton Full Gospel Church said he had a calling to go to Léogâne, Haiti. It was his first exposure to the difficult conditions there. He saw poverty and a desperate need for education.Over the next few years, he worked to change the lives of children in Haiti. He started with a small food program that fed somewhere between 20 and 30 children. Then he started providing an education to kindergarten-age children.

Rev. Havrilla said he did not have a “grand plan” but saw that more education was needed, and his church gradually began offering classes to children in kindergarten through ninth grade, over the course of five to six years. The school became so successful that nearly 1,300 children were enrolled at one time.

But in 2010, everything changed.

A 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on January 12 that year, with its epicenter just outside Léogâne. In the days following the massive quake, Léogâne and the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince, experienced strong aftershocks. The school he helped start, Rev. Havrilla said, experienced a big blow: Buildings were damaged, and enrollment dropped to 600 students.

On top of that, the school also suffered damage in 2016, when Hurricane Matthew slammed into Hispaniola, the island that Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic.

The 2010 earthquake brought aid to Haiti from groups all over the world. But Rev. Havrilla said it’s been a difficult time for the Southampton Full Gospel Church’s Mission Reach Out Haiti.

Rev. Havrilla and his deacon, James Boyd, have reached out to the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, to help provide rice and beans to the students, but he said they have not been successful. Mr. Boyd and Rev. Havrilla also said they have reached out to U.S Representative Lee Zeldin, but they say that effort has been stonewalled.

In a desperate attempt to gain the attention of Mr. Zeldin, Rev. Havrilla and Mr. Boyd have suggested an alternative plan to providing aid to the students in Haiti. Instead, they say they will bring all 600 of their students to Southampton via the U.S. border with Mexico, if that is what it takes to provide aid to them.

“Since there’s no help from them in Haiti, why not just bring them over here?” Rev. Havrilla said this week. “It can be done.”

After reports of thousands of undocumented children living in warehouses under harsh conditions on this side of the American-Mexico border in 2014, Rev. Havrilla said, the Southampton Full Gospel Church offered a local solution to the immigration crisis. At the time, he offered the church’s 5,000-square-foot facility off County Road 39 as a space to house some of the children.

They also suggested that dormitory space on the Stony Brook Southampton campus in Shinnecock Hills might be used for the same purpose. Mr. Boyd said they received resistance from local politicians, who said the Stony Brook Southampton campus was still active. But he said he went there with reporters and found an entire wing of dorms that had been unused for years, full of cobwebs and peeling paint.

He blamed the reaction instead on “not-in-our-backyard syndrome.”

“We’re trying to avoid that by helping [the students in Haiti],” Mr. Boyd said. “If there was that feeling of ‘oh no,’ you would think there would be more willingness to help a mission.”

When Rev. Havrilla started the mission in Haiti, he enlisted the help of the locals to build the facilities. Once they were up and running, he continued to hire locals to fill positions such as cooks, janitors, office personnel and security. “We had 100 people and called ourselves the ‘General Motors of Léogâne,’” he said.

Now, every morning before school opens, children congregate outside the six-building complex on 3.5 acres, until the gates open, when they pour in. The mission has even grown to include adult education by offering computer classes.

The complex has running water for flushable toilets, as well as electricity provided by diesel-powered generators—basic elements that are not always a given in developments in Haiti. The generators allow the church to offer computer classes, and to run security cameras to keep watch over the facilities and the food.

When 1,300 students attended the school, the cost to operate it was close to $5,000 per month, Rev. Havrilla said, but with the decline in enrollment, it is closer to $2,000 per month. The money is raised through a sponsorship program; Rev. Havrilla and Mr. Boyd have reached out to community members to sponsor a child for $20 per month.

“We try to get enough out of that, but, there again, we haven’t gotten the sponsors that we should,” Mr. Havrilla said. “We’re low on manpower. Usually, when that happens, we’ve been able to go to USAID … to get some rice and beans and to help the kids.

“We’re down there trying to provide people with jobs, food and education, and can’t get any help,” he added.

Their efforts have not fallen on deaf ears. Mr. Zeldin’s communications director, Jennifer DiSiena, said this week that the congressman and his staff have been trying to work with the church since 2015 to secure funding—but, she said, Rev. Havrilla and Mr. Boyd have refused to fill out the necessary paperwork for USAID help.

Ms. DiSiena added that Mr. Zeldin’s staff has notified the church on at least three separate occasions over the past two years that the grant application has to be completed and submitted to get the aid.

This week, Mr. Boyd confirmed what Ms. DiSiena said, noting that the application is very long and complicated. He also complained that even if the church does fill out the application, he is under the impression that the acceptance rate is less than 5 percent.

Even so, Ms. DiSiena said Mr. Zeldin has offered to submit a letter of support for the grant once the application is submitted, and will help push it through. The key is completing the application.

Mr. Boyd’s hesitation with filling out the application, he claimed, was that USAID wasted so much money over the past few years.

A USAID official said this week that the United States is the single-largest donor of humanitarian aid to Haiti. After Hurricane Matthew, the United States provided nearly $87 million to support recovery efforts, and with that money, the United States provided 752 metric tons of commodities, including food assistance, hygiene kits, emergency shelter and water purification tablets, according to the USAID official.

Ms. DiSiena said Mr. Zeldin has helped “lead the fight in Congress to secure Haiti funding.” In the 114th Congress, he voted to secure $32.9 billion per year in foreign assistance, which included up to $191 million in funding for Haiti.

Mr. Boyd said he plans to complete the application this year, which is due on May 29, but it could take months until he hears anything back on the application’s approval.

In the past, Mr. Boyd said former U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, Mr. Zeldin’s predecessor, helped the church without the requirement of a lengthy application. But Ms. DiSiena said Mr. Zeldin’s office has not been able to track down any funding approved by the former congressman.

“Whenever we ask for this information from the church, they say they do not have it,” Ms. DiSiena said. “We also tried to track this info down ourselves, checking with other congressional offices and government agencies, but there is no record of this funding.”

Mr. Boyd stood by his claim that USAID helped in the past, even crediting the agency with building one of the six buildings, a preschool building with six classrooms.

“The only time you can get something out of USAID is if you get some political person up here, somebody with power, that makes life a little more miserable for them down there by requesting reports or threatening a hearing,” Rev. Havrilla said. “Then you get something. Outside of that, they just stonewall you.”

In this time of need, Rev. Havrilla is looking at his options to be able to help the children, whether here or down there.

Rev. Havrilla said it is no wonder that people are leaving their country to come to the United States, pointing out that not everyone wants to leave, especially if they have a chance of getting a meal and a job, which his organization is trying to provide.

If they have to, Rev. Havrilla said he would try to raise enough money to get the 600 Haitian students to Mexico, where they can then enter the United States across what he described as a “porous border.”

“If we can’t help them there, bring them over,” Rev. Havrilla said. “If we put the push on to raise the money to get them from Haiti to Mexico … it’s a doable thing.”

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Threatens? To bring children!? My god, I have never so badly wanted to read a locked article lol
By Brandon Quinn (191), Hampton Bays on Mar 6, 17 3:57 PM
Here come the Haitians! Here come the Haitians! Show the USAID form to the reporter who didn't bother to call Tim Bishop for comment. I'm sure it's easy enough to fill out. If that doesn't work, just be sure to enroll the kids in Southampton or Westhampton, Hampton Bays has its hands full trying to staff Spanish speaking teachers,. French Creole would be a fun additional group of youngsters but let's share the good fortune with our neighbors.
By dfree (818), hampton bays on Mar 6, 17 4:23 PM
Wasn't there millions of dollars raised through charities for the recovery in Haiti? I thin I went to at least 3 fundraisers "back in the day". Wasn't there concerts and telethons? Once again, I question where does all the money go? Apparently not to help the people that need help.
By HB Proud (889), Hampton Bays on Mar 6, 17 4:40 PM
2 members liked this comment
Take this guys tax free status away. When you threaten to break laws you are out.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Mar 6, 17 5:08 PM
If the reverend had a real calling, he would help the people of his country... Vets, homeless, poor or other people in need here in OUR country...
We send millions to other countries and do not take care of our own. Fed spends billions to make friends, pay farmers not to plant and other give aways... Spend it in the the good ol USA...
By knitter (1941), Southampton on Mar 6, 17 5:57 PM
Who are the Hatians? Typo or slur or the Man Hatians?
. agree w BQ, the use of the word "threatens" is very strange
By dave h (193), calverton on Mar 6, 17 7:26 PM
And what will this solve? Can they live in un-affordable housing? Maybe liver in one of the empty mansions that were built with no one living in them possibly, then get a job as a seasonal worker.
By rvs (106), sag harbor on Mar 6, 17 9:00 PM
So this clown claims he's gotten no help from Lee but when you dig through the nonsense it is because he won't fill out the form? If the guy can't fill out a simple form...how can he possibly take care of 600 kids after he somehow manages to sneak them across the border and haul them all the way up to Southampton? Does he actually think it will be cheaper to take care of the kids here? No he is counting on taxpayers to bail him out, dumping 600 kids into the school district. I think I'll be ...more
By Preliator Lives (437), Obamavillie on Mar 7, 17 6:43 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Preliator Lives (437), Obamavillie on Mar 7, 17 6:43 AM
What kid of reverend does that?
By SlimeAlive (1181), Southampton on Mar 7, 17 8:19 AM
didn't the Clinton Foundation send millions of dollars in aid to Haiti?
By fishy (92), East Hampton on Mar 7, 17 8:40 AM
1 member liked this comment
They sent it somewhere, and it was for the children.
By Mr. Snerdley (397), Southampton on Mar 7, 17 9:39 AM
1 member liked this comment
By Sturgis (611), Southampton on Mar 7, 17 11:11 AM
Who is he "threatening?"
By Infoseeker (280), Hampton Bays on Mar 7, 17 3:45 PM
Sounds like the rev and boyd do not like paper work. Figure with their positions they are competent enough to fill out forms...
By knitter (1941), Southampton on Mar 7, 17 5:03 PM
File out form with a 5% chance of getting aid, and while children suffer with little food until Oct to get an answer. More red tape by our government and elected officials Luke Lee.
By Jr (7), Sag Harbor on Mar 9, 17 5:30 PM
This could easily be a scam -- the "paperwork" is to protect taxpayers from fraud. Has anyone else really verified any of this? Don't recall seeing former Congressman Bishop weighing in on any of the claims this pastor is making.
By dfree (818), hampton bays on Mar 10, 17 8:23 AM
1 member liked this comment
Rev, help our vets, our homeless and poor...
By knitter (1941), Southampton on Mar 10, 17 10:53 AM
1 member liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By allenfein (72), Southampton on Mar 11, 17 4:09 PM
A member of that congregation owes you money? Any other churches or just that one?
By SlimeAlive (1181), Southampton on Mar 12, 17 10:02 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By allenfein (72), Southampton on Mar 12, 17 11:35 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By allenfein (72), Southampton on Mar 12, 17 11:35 AM
The Pastor thinks that he can bring 600 Haitian children across the border illegally. Nice. Very nice.

This sounds like blackmail; "Come up with the money or I'll flood the Southampton public schools with more illegal immigrants!".
By JohnSmith (25), Johnson City, Tennessee on Mar 12, 17 11:27 PM
2 members liked this comment
It's pretty amazing they can feed and educate 1,200 children for $60,000 a year. You could finance the school for five years for just what we paid to Farina...
By ads02129 (14), Charlestown on Mar 16, 17 4:48 PM
1 member liked this comment
Maybe I didn't read carefully enough, but do these kids have parents? Where are their parents? and are they ready to give up their children to this guy?
By beachplum (6), southampton on Mar 17, 17 10:10 AM
1 member liked this comment