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A growing number of Haitians call Winter Haven home

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Posted at 5:11 AM, Sep 03, 2021

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Born in Haiti, Elysee Jean-Charles moved to Virginia Beach in 1983 before eventually relocating to Winter Haven to advance his career.

“I just knew and know what I left behind, so I pushed myself to strive to be the best that I can be,” said Elysee Jean-Charles.

Jean-Charles is the owner of the only Outback Steakhouse located in Winter Haven.

He started as a dishwasher and worked his way up the ranks.

“Became a kitchen manager, then from a kitchen manager became a front of the house manager then I saw the opportunity that I can run my own restaurant, so I took that chance and I've been a Managing Partner going on 10 years now,” Jean-Charles said.

What he’s been able to accomplish is not lost on the Haitian community.

“When they come in and they see that name upfront that door, Elysee Jean-Charles they get excited. ‘Man, I didn’t know you were an Ayisyen,' meaning I didn’t know you were a Haitian, so you get that a lot,” he said.

Many Haitians migrated to the area for a better opportunity but when they arrive, the language barrier can be a hurdle. That’s where Merilus All Purpose Services steps in.

“I help with legal document preparation. I help with employment. You know, whatever aid they need in their daily living,” explained Lisa Merilus, Owner of Merilus All Purpose Services.

She held a donation drive to send essential items to Haiti following the recent earthquake and hurricane.

“Shelter is number one. So, we have been in the process of providing some tents, but we need thousands of tents,” said Dony St. Germaine.

Pastor Dony St. Germaine leads El Shaddai Community Church in Winter Haven. The day after the earthquake, he was on a flight back to his native country to help with relief efforts. He plans to be in Haiti for as long as needed.

“It will be very difficult for them to get back on their feet if there is not someone that will come and hold their hands. And as we hold their hands, our goal is to share the gospel,” said St. Germaine.