Starting over in America after the Haiti Earthquake

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On the fifth year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Vocational Rehabilitation shares a story of how Alcinor Aurelien reinvented himself in America.

Photo of Job Coach Linda Lennox, Alcinor Aurelien, and VR Senior Counselor Frances Branch stand in front of Mister Car Wash.

Left to Right: Job Coach Linda Lennox, Alcinor Aurelien, and VR Senior Counselor Frances Branch stand in front of Mister Car Wash.

Alcinor is my best worker. He is the first one there every day and the last one to leave. Alcinor has never complained, always does an outstanding job and never misses work.

Alcinor Aurelien was home alone when suddenly the ground began to shake violently and with a thunderous sound, his house began falling in on him. It was January 12, 2010 and a 7.0 earthquake was shaking Haiti unlike anything before. As the quake subsided, Alcinor found himself buried in concrete debris, and began trying to pull himself out. The more he tried, the more he realized that his left leg below the knee was completely crushed under the concrete, and he could not get out.

When rescuers reached him, unfortunately, they also could not remove the concrete from atop his leg. Rescuers removed his leg below the knee by guillotine amputation on site and later transferred him to a makeshift hospital. It was there he learned that his mother and young daughter did not survive the quake. The quake claimed 230,000 lives and left at least 1.5 million people homeless.

Two weeks later, he was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital where surgeons performed a clean amputation due to extreme infection and also began treating his acute blood loss anemia, malnutrition, and liver damage. He barely survived as the bacterial infection became severe. Within two months, he was stable enough to transfer to a rehab facility. He was fitted with a simple prosthesis, what many have called a “peg leg.” He worked hard on his rehabilitation, and Catholic Charities helped him find temporary housing. He found out about Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) though another Haitian friend who was also working with Catholic Charities and applied in July 2012. It had taken two years to become well enough to even attempt to work.

He was assigned to Sr. VR Counselor Frances Branch at the downtown Tampa office. She helped him to get a lifelike and more functional prosthesis, and also sent him to an eye surgeon for removal of a not previously detected object lodged in his eye from the earthquake. She also provided him with eyeglasses after a vision test showed extreme myopia.

Because Alcinor had very limited English skills, Frances used the services of a Creole Interpreter in their early meetings. She referred him to the CARIBE Refugee Program where he began English as a Second Language classes. (This was his first experience with school, because he had never attended school in Haiti.) It took several months of adjustment to the prosthesis, stabilizing his health, and getting his work visas in order before he was referred to Linda Lennox, owner of Lenli of Tampa, for supported employment services. Alcinor wanted to work so badly. It was his one dream.

Linda quickly found a job for Alcinor working at Mister Car Wash. She also helped him get a Florida I.D. and an extension on his visa. The owner of the business became a wonderful mentor to Alcinor, teaching him how to do his job and also helping him with his English. Alcinor has reciprocated by teaching his supervisor Creole. Although he still struggles with English, he can now carry on a conversation and has made great strides in his two years with VR.

His supervisor, Jonye Rosebury, has become a natural support and only has good things to say about Alcinor. “Alcinor is my best worker. He is the first one there every day and the last one to leave. Alcinor has never complained, always does an outstanding job, and never misses work.” Alcinor loves his job, and is very proud to have a full time job, his first real job ever. He also has his own apartment near his workplace.

Alcinor is grateful to the United States and VR. He is overwhelmingly thankful for all that has been done for him. With his positive nature, along with his drive to survive and succeed in life, his is truly a success story.

About Vocational Rehabilitation
Florida’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a federal-state program committed to helping people with disabilities become part of America’s workforce. Our employer-focused website, http://www.FLJobConnections.com, allows businesses to search at no charge for employees who are ready to go to work, as well as to post available jobs. VR has 89 offices across Florida, and last year helped 7,214 Floridians with significant disabilities find or keep a job. For more information about VR and its services, call (800) 451-4327 or visit http://www.Rehabworks.org.

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Rachel Smith