“I am happy to be here with you, I also want to congratulate each one of you. I thank all the teachers and staff for their patience with us so I encourage you all to support the program and services provided by Hope of Life,” said 78-year-old Leger Decossard as he addressed the gathering at Hope of Life’s graduation ceremony on Thursday, June 28 at the Friends of Crown Heights Center at 1886 Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn.
Decossard is the oldest of the close to 100 people of mainly Haitian origin who graduated from the program, which teaches English language, literacy and numeracy. Computer literacy has since been added.
The program was started six years ago as an initiative of Globe Institute of Technology (GIT) in an effort to increase student recruitment in the Haitian community. GIT paid for two teachers initially while Porez Luxama, a student at the time and others volunteered their services, Marcus Browne who was financial director of GIT also helped spearhead the initiative, which was housed at Holy Innocent Church at East 17th Street and Beverly Road.
According to Browne, for the past two years they have been receiving $8,000 annually through the Mathew Eugene program from the City Council and they have recently met with the Brooklyn delegation and have made a request for $150,000 in funding. Browne said that his job now is to get the program legally established so that they can enjoy tax exempt status.
Two years ago, the program began at the Erasmus Hall after they could not the meet the $23,000 rent, which was increased from $11,000. Earlier this year they were able to operate at the Friends of Crown Heights building with the understanding that the funding they received from the city would go towards electricity and occupancy. The Life of Hope program received unpleasant news again when they were informed that they will have to soon find new accommodations; they are now planning to approach the New York Diocese of the Catholic Church to acquire space so that the program can continue.
Since last year, the program has been unable to pay the teachers a stipend, many of whom work with the Board of Education and have their master’s degree, some even travel from Queens and the Bronx to freely give their services. Porez Luxama who is now executive director of the program told Caribbean Life that despite the many setbacks he remains optimistic is proud of the progress they have made. “We have been blessed, look around at the faces of the graduates today; you can see that they have achieved,” he said. Luxama holds a master’s degree in physics and mathematics and teaches at Brooklyn Tech.
Juan Luxama, brother of Porez, chaired the graduation ceremony. He has also been with the program from inception but has been in Italy for the past two years studying to become a priest. Juan said that he hopes that the learners can in-turn become teachers therefore giving back to the community.
School teacher Carine Bruny told Caribbean Life that it is an honor to be involved in the program. “Although I have been living in the U.S. for about 45 years, I have recently reconnected with my Haitian roots through Porez when I moved to the Nostrand area,” she stated. Bruny has been working closely with Decossard who moved to this country 10 years ago. Decossard said that after he completed the English competency course he continued and also completed the computer literacy program.
Decossard’s advice to young people is “don’t just stop at reading and writing, learn a profession that will stay with you throughout life.” “This is a great country, it really develops people and makes you able to excel,” he further stated.