TARRYTOWN – While there are several community outreach groups that help overcome language barriers and assist Westchester’s Latino population, nothing similar existed to assist the approximately 18,000 Haitians in the county. But thanks to the hard work of Judeson Saintil, a community relations representative for Hudson Health Plan in Westchester and Rockland counties, the Haitian Resource Center at the Thomas H. Slater Center opened this year. What’s remarkable is that it took Saintil, who is only 29, just weeks to turn his idea into a reality.
In recognition of his achievement, the Business Council of Westchester has named Saintil a "Rising Star" and one of Westchester’s 40 Under Forty for 2013. The distinction is given to 40 individuals under the age of 40 who exemplify leadership, foresight, and a vision for the future of Westchester.
"I expect to see many great things in the future from this capable young man," says Georganne Chapin, President and CEO of Hudson. "Although Judeson is only 29, he has the poise and maturity of someone much older. He is both patient and diligent, and can manage challenges that might overwhelm others his age."
Saintil explains: "I am honored to be considered a Rising Star. I have to credit Hudson Health Plan, and its outstanding reputation in the community, for giving me an opportunity to develop relationships with community-based organizations, and to learn how to overcome barriers and really help people."
Since Saintil joined Hudson in 2005, he has earned the respect of dozens of community-based organizations helping underserved populations. He has given generously of his time, organizing health fairs, bagging groceries at food pantries, and playing Santa for children living in public housing. His ability to educate individuals about access to public health insurance is legendary. But most importantly, he is there to help community organizations support as many people as they can.
So when Heather Miller, the executive director of the Slater Center, did not have staff to assist a Haitian client, she called Saintil. He and Miller conceived the idea to start the Haitian Resource Center at the Slater Center. In a month’s time, Saintil did a needs assessment of the Haitian community, organized an advisory board, enlisted work-study students from Berkeley College to staff the center, and set up a training program for nearly 20 volunteers. The center officially opened on March 16, 2013, with Saintil as chairman of the advisory board.
A Haitian native who came to the United States when he was eight, Saintil says: "I personally know what the Haitian immigrant experience is like. Schools have English as a Second Language programs for students who speak Spanish, but Haitians speak Creole. Young Haitian immigrants may not understand their teachers, and Haitian parents can find it difficult to communicate with school officials. There’s a language barrier, not just at school but in the community, and it prevents people from accessing resources."
Saintil explains that the Haitian Resource Center provides English classes for Creole- or French-speaking adults, as well as Creole classes for young Haitians who want to preserve their ethnic roots. Students receive after-school homework help, and Creole-speaking volunteers assist parents in advocating for their children in school. Haitian natives get answers to common questions about immigration status, or help with tax preparation and other official paperwork.
Although the Haitian Resource Center might be Saintil’s most notable achievement, he has been active in other organizations: he is a board member of WESTCOP (Westchester Community Opportunity Program, Inc.), and previously served on the board of the White Plains Community Action Program. Saintil is a trustee with Bethel Baptist Church in White Plains, and active with the vibrant Haitian community organization in Spring Valley, NY. When the earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, he traveled to Haiti with medical personnel, bringing much-needed medical supplies, and raised funds for earthquake relief.
A resident of White Plains for 20 years, Saintil earned a BA in Psychology from SUNY-Old Westbury, and an AA in Social Science from SUNY-Morrisville. He sees himself at Hudson for many years to come. As he explains: "I will continue to help people at Hudson because the problems of the underserved will always need to be addressed."