When Samuel Prospere started elementary school, he, like many Haitian and other young immigrant children, struggled both academically and culturally.
Samuel said one of the first people to reach out and help him was Sondy Mathurin, a boy in his class who had just left his mother in Haiti to start a new life in Miami.
“Sondy was one of the first people to help me learn English,” said Samuel, 16. The two have been close since then.
Samuel is only one member of “the crew,” a close circle of friends who each say they have grown to respect and admire Sondy, who came in 2003 when he was 6 years old. Sondy calls them his support system.
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Sondy has lived with his great aunt and uncle and four cousins in North Miami since 2003, while his father, who lives nearby, comes in and out of his son’s life.
Today, Sondy is trying to graduate from North Miami Senior High. But the people closest to Sondy worry he won’t succeed in college because of his small bouts of hyperactivity and problems with retaining information. (The school system has placed Sondy in the Exceptional Student Education program.)
“With Sondy, I’m not so focused on grades,” said Shirley Plantin, the director of youth and family advocacy at Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center. “Life is about to start for him in six months. And he’s already starting to feel the responsibility.”
Plantin, who has taken care of Sondy at school and at home the last five years, said she hears people tell him in Haitian Creole, “pa bliye manman ou” or don’t forget about your mom. At 18, Sondy is expected to start taking on more responsibilities in house, but Plantin said Sondy, a natural handyman, can have a bright future in school if he has the support.
Sondy couldn’t complete the school’s dual enrollment aviation program because of grades and getting to and from the George T. Baker Aviation Technical College campus near Miami International Airport. But next fall, Sondy hopes to enroll in the aircraft maintenance program and get certified.
He thinks the school will be a good fit for him, despite his challenges.
“If you put a book in front of me, I might not understand it,” Sondy said. “I’m more of a hands-on person. I can fix anything.”
While school and extracurriculars have been difficult for Sondy, he knows it’s his only option for the future, that it’s the only thing keeping him away from trouble.
Through Sant La’s youth advocacy program, Sondy has been able to do everything from community service and tutoring to visiting Haitian-American men serving time in prison.
“If it wasn’t for the program, I could have been in jail with them,” Sondy said. “Miss Shirley changed my life.”
But Sondy is looking forward now — and for financial support to help buy a computer, printer, supplies for classes and afford tuition.
Sondy’s aunt and uncle, Espradu and Mary Blaise, have supported him this far but it might not be enough.
“It’s never been easy for us, but when your heart tells you to do something, what can you do?” Espradu said. “I hope we can find the help because Sondy is a very good kid.”
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