“We will work with anyone, regardless of their beliefs, if it will benefit the community,” says Frantz A. Louizia, Executive Director of Massachusetts Community Health Services, Inc., (MCHS). It’s this philosophy that is likely at the root of the Brockton-based organization’s success.
Last month, the organization celebrated its eleventh year of providing health education services to the Haitian community of Brockton and the surrounding areas. This is pleasantly surprising considering how MCHS came into existence.
The organization began in the basement of Louizia’s Malden home. Back then, he helped newly-arrived Haitians with basic needs such as English classes and translating of documents. In 1998, Louizia moved to Randolph and tried to assist Brockton’s Haitian community. However, in order to qualify for grants, he had to actually move the organization to that city. Ironically, its first grant came from the Department of Public Health to educate Cambridge’s Haitian community about tuberculosis. These days, its funders include Sista to Sista, the Haymarket Fund, The Susan Komen Foundation and others to educate the community on various health issues.
Louizia says, “We always start with a needs assessment to determine how we can help the community.”
MCHS provides workshops on hypertension and cholesterol, risk factors for coronary disease. They also educate the community about diabetes, teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and breast cancer. Furthermore, the organization provides workshops to prevent domestic abuse. Workshops targeting the youth are provided in English; while those for the older members of the community are taught in French, English and Creole, depending on the language needs of the participants. MCHS also serves some members of the Cape Verdean community who speak Spanish or Portuguese. In addition to the workshop participants, MCHS educates a large number of Haitians via its outreach.
Through Brockton Access Television, Tele Limye and Radyo Liberte, MCHS informs the community about many health issues that are common among us.
“We know the outreach works because we always meet our target numbers at our workshops,” Louizia said.
It wasn’t always easy for the organization to do its work. Louizia remembers when Haitian restaurant and store owners were not happy when he dropped off flyers with information to prevent HIV/AIDS. They were even less pleased when he placed free condoms in their bathrooms. Now they actually ask for some because their patrons request them.
The organization believes in providing “culturally-appropriate services.” This is accomplished partly through its alliances with churches of all denominations. Louizia and his staff work with pastors and priests, including vodou priests, to educate them on health issues such as domestic violence that affect the Haitian community. These individuals then communicate this information to their congregations. Many Haitians are responding positively to the outreach and workshops.
Liliane Louis, who has participated in a number of MCHS workshops, lavishly praises the organization for its work in the community.
“MCHS has workshops for the whole family. My kids attend workshops about teen violence to learn how to stay safe. My late husband attended workshops on prostate cancer, and I’ve learned so much myself about breast cancer. The organization welcomes not just those Haitians living in Brockton but also those who live in nearby towns such as Randolph. It works really hard to serve the Haitian community.”
After participants attend the workshops, they receive a stipend and a certificate of participation that they use to get jobs or for their schools. Since its existence, eleven men have graduated from the breast cancer training. Moreover, 300 women have graduated and then found jobs through their certificates. If a Brockton High School student attends a workshop, the school gives him credit so he doesn’t have to take a health class.
It was with these accomplishments in mind that MCHS celebrated its eleventh year of community service on May 16th with music, dance, beautiful Haitian paintings, and, of course, food. The dance group, Arc-en-Ciel, with Jeffrey and Company wowed the crowd.
The racially diverse current and former students of Deane College gave a great performance.
Louizia says he’s grateful to his staff for their commitment to the organization. Dilita Rene, a part-time employee of MCHS who’s leaving it to work elsewhere, received an award for her dedication. “Dilita is untiring when it comes to supporting the organization. While she’s supposed to work part-time, she often works fulltime, day or night, and covers for me in my absence,” Louizia says. Louizia was especially thankful to Dr. Claude Joseph, Ivy St. John, Marcia Szymanski, DJ Fleurissaint and the rest of the planning committee whose work contributed to the success of the event. He also thanked Liliane Louis for her excellent cooking for the event.