For the last 15 years, one South Florida group has made caring for Haitian orphans its No. 1 priority.
Hollywood CARES for Haiti is a joint initiative of Temple Beth El and First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. Since its inception in 2007, the group has been dedicated to raising money to support an orphanage in Haiti.
Project Papillon in Haiti has been the main beneficiary of Hollywood CARES. Originally, the project rented houses in Port-au-Prince, in which small groups of children lived with paid staff in each residence. The children housed by the project all came from the streets or were referred by the hospital where they got their medical treatment. Most were orphaned because of HIV, AIDS, or had family who were too ill to care for them.
The original inspiration for the initiative happened back in 2006, when the Sun Sentinel published a series of articles about youth with AIDS. The acronym CARES stands for “Caribbean AIDS Relief, Education and Support.” Their focus on helping youth with AIDS started in Haiti and ended up focusing on that one country in the region. The interfaith effort has been all-volunteer ever since their inception.
Sharon Tanenhaus is president of Hollywood CARES and Temple Beth El. She is a passionate spokesperson for their mission in Haiti. Tanenhaus has been involved with their efforts to help the youth in the Caribbean nation since the beginning.
“We’ve been traveling to Haiti since 2007 and have been supporting Project Papillon ever since,” she said. “We’ve gone with both small and large groups of volunteers.
“When we originally met John Dieubon, the director of Project Papillon, he had three houses with small children affected by HIV and AIDS, who he was raising, schooling and taking care of,” Tanenhaus said. “The first thing we did was to figure out a way to support a fourth house.”
She said orphanages in Haiti are not just for those who have no family at all but also for those whose families can’t care for them either temporarily or even permanently.
“For any of these kids who had been affected by AIDS, the parents may have passed away, or they may have been too ill to take care of them,” she said. “They may even have been in the care of grandparents who couldn’t care for them, so they came to this orphanage.”
Tanenhaus said that they have done a number of ongoing support efforts to help the youth who have been staying on at Project Papillon.
“We’ve been able to help with Christmas gifts for all of the kids through toy drives,” she said. “We packed those up and sent them to Haiti. We also have done book drives to build John’s library at his school. Plus, we’ve done a number of clothing drives for the kids there as well.”
Tanenhaus said that, even after 15 years, Hollywood CARES still has an ongoing relationship with the same kids. She said that, while they have grown since 2007, some of them have been able to go back to their families, while some of them have gone out on their own.
One of the new challenges the group is facing is that the definition of an orphan has changed somewhat in Haiti. The country adopted new rules that have changed the age limit for that designation.
“John’s intention at Project Papillon was to keep the orphans supported through his program even through college,” Tanenhaus said. “But the government decided that they could not live in the orphanage past the age of 18. So John had to let some of them go. Now the Haitian government also decided that there could not be any longterm placements in orphanages, but rather just emergency placements.”
Tanenhaus said that now CARES has had to change its mission in Haiti: “We decided to coordinate better with what has occurred because of their ages, which is just to support education and training for these young adults.”
Rabbi Allan Tuffs of Temple Beth El has been the spiritual anchor for Hollywood CARES. His wife, Marilyn Faber, has also been a co-anchor in the mission. The rabbi is the former president of the organization and Faber is the former treasurer.
“My husband started Hollywood CARES, along with Sharon Tanenhaus and Pastor Kennedy McGowan from the First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood,” Faber said.
She emphasized that the whole effort is an interfaith approach to making a difference in the country. The idea is that no single religion should focus on helping out, but that the spiritual dimension should be focused on fulfilling the basic needs of the youth there.
Tuffs said he is proud of what Hollywood CARES has accomplished to date. He also is supportive of the inter-religious aspect of its mission.
“Our efforts through faith partners helped to establish a youth center, which is still going on,” Tuffs said. “More, the Presbyterian Church USA was instrumental in helping us buy a 15-seat van to drive people around in. When we first got to Haiti, they had a rickety old ambulance that was, frankly, a bit scary.”
The rabbi said that their small group has had an outsized influence in terms of recognition for their efforts.
“We won an award from the Religious Action Center in Washington, DC,” Tuffs said. “It was quite the recognition, since national organizations that were involved in international relief projects were also considered for the award. But for two local congregations to get together and to do something on an international level with all of the inherent complications, that was something!”
Tuffs said he sees their mission in Haiti as being something in which more Florida youth should get involved.
“This is such a good project for American middle class kids,” he said. “They complain about this or that, but when I have seen them go to Haiti, they are amazed how much harder some people in the world have it. They realize how wounded we are. Haiti is just about an hour from here, yet they see people who are really hurting.”
Regarding the new categorization of orphans in Haiti, along with the growing corruption in an already corrupt society, Tuffs acknowledges that CARES is having to rethink how it can help the youth there.
“Things have gotten even more difficult in Haiti,” he said. “Because of the change of age for orphans and the corruption in general, some of the kids we’ve been helping have now gone to Barbados and some have gone to the Dominican Republic, because it’s just so dangerous and unstable there. So now we’re in a different phase and we’re trying to help them with their secondary education.”
Susie Budowsky: “I work on the 5K fundraiser run in our group. I’ve been to Haiti many times. My husband’s a pediatrician and I’m a [physician assistant] in the community. Hollywood CARES has been a huge part of our family since we got involved. We found out about it through the rabbi in the temple. Doing this work has brought us closer to the temple and everything in the community. We love the fact that it was a community-wide effort and really love it.”
Luann Myers: “I am a member of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. We got really involved with it when my son Zak wanted to do his Eagle solar energy project there, so we started going in about 2015. I have been there several times since then.”
Buddy Feldman: “I was an ER physician at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. I met my present wife in Florida after my previous wife died soon after we moved here. She and her family were founding members of this synagogue since it was built. She’s the one who got me involved in Hollywood CARES. We’ve been to Haiti and we have encountered real eye-opening experiences.”
Judy Abrams: “When we went to Haiti, we brought essentials like toiletry supplies, clothes, shoes, anything we could think of, because they had nothing. We also ran a dental clinic, because we had a dental hygienist with us. The kids were able to get checkups that they hadn’t had in a long time, since the local dentist had moved away because of a family tragedy during the earthquake.”