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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Joye Brown: 2 church leaders ready to help families in Haiti

A women and her injured baby are seen

A women and her injured baby are seen at a makeshift field hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Jan. 13, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

The little church on Lawn Street in Greenlawn sat empty yesterday, a chain still wrapped through the rusting fence gate.

Here is where the Rev. François Pierre, the first pastor of Bethesda Wesleyan Church, would be leading the church community's effort to help their native Haiti. Here is where Marie Armand, one of the church founders, would be praying for family she can't reach, family who live in the epicenter of the earthquake.

>>PHOTOS: Frantic rescue effort in Haiti | Deadliest recent earthquakes

It has been almost a year since Pierre was photographed outside the church, which was padlocked after a split in the congregation led to a court fight over who owns the church. The congregation lost one court battle and wants to appeal.

Had the church been open, it would have been a place of fellowship and comfort. A place where members could face the tragedy together.

But Wednesday, after a fear-fueled night turned to a hard day, Pierre worked to help his native Haiti from his Huntington Station home, while Armand continued, in vain, to get through to her ailing father and other family members by telephone.

Pierre and Armand were separated - physically, but never emotionally - from their homeland and from the little church in Greenlawn.

"I am calling people individually to see how we can help our country," said Pierre, who recently turned 80 years old, and who, despite frail health, stands strong and ready to do whatever he can.

"I have no congregation," said Pierre, who said he has no family left in Haiti, "But that does not mean I cannot reach out to help."

Armand was thinking about ways to help, too. But she had to balance that need with other pressing matters.

She has yet to hear from her father, Arnold Gradis, who lives in Delmas, along with a niece, Marilyn Clerje, who is as close as a daughter to Armand and cares for Gradis. Delmas is only a few miles from Port-au-Prince, which sustained heavy damage in the quake.

She has yet to find out what's happened to another niece, Geraldine, and her nephews, Gerardo, Oswaldo and Jimmy, all surnamed Gradis, who live in Mahotière, which is 25 miles away from the nation's capital city.

"I am calling," Armand said Wednesday afternoon, with CNN on the television of her Huntington home. "My relatives in Maryland and Phoenix are calling. We usually can talk to family all of the time. Today, we are hearing nothing."

She said she last talked to family in Haiti on Tuesday morning, when they called to check on Armand's husband, Gerald, who has been in the hospital since June. A few hours later, as she sat beside her husband's bedside, she heard about the earthquake. "I rushed back to my house," she said. "And I could reach no one."

Armand has faith that she will reach her family. And she would love the U.S. government's help in helping her help them to recover. "I would like the government to give visas so I could bring my family here for a time," she said, "and then they could go home."

Wednesday, as Pierre, who said he wants to help aid efforts, began reaching out to friends, Armand, who now worships in another church in Huntington, was preparing to bring her husband back home from the hospital.

As much as Armand would love to be able to pray at the little church in Greenlawn - "You don't need a church to pray," she pointed out, "God is everywhere, although it's good that you don't have the sound of a telephone to disturb your prayers in church." - she is content to leave all things in God's hands.

"I feel like there is so much going on, with the church, my husband's illness, my family in Haiti," she said, noting that she had heard repeatedly during CNN's coverage how poor her homeland is.

"Yes, and poor people are strong," Armand said.

"With the help of God," she said, "poor people can withstand anything."

>> PHOTOS: Frantic rescue effort in Haiti | Deadliest recent earthquakes

>> VIDEOS: Latest videos from Haiti and on LI

>> MORE: Read more about LIers grieving and LI's efforts to help | Latest news from Haiti


* You can help immediately by texting "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be charged to your cell phone bill and given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts.

* Wyclef Jean, a rapper and hip-hop artist from Haiti, urged people to text "Yele" to 501501 to donate $5 toward earthquake relief. Yéle Haiti is a grassroots movement inspiring change in Haiti through programs in education, sports, the arts and environment, according to its Web site.

* The State Department Operations Center has set up the following number for Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747. The Red Cross has also set up a Web site to help family members find and contact relatives.

* You can also go online to organizations such as the Red Cross and MercyCorps to make a contribution to the disaster relief efforts.

Other Web sites accepting donations include:

-Haitian Health Foundation
-Hope for Haiti
-International Medical Corps
-Beyond Borders

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