ST. PETERSBURG — Nikenson Cenatus' voice came through on the phone's speaker. "Mama?" he said, before rushing on in rapid Creole. Gabrielle Berthelot, 87, listened and announced that Nikenson was on his way.
The young man who arrived a few minutes later jumped off his bike, carried it into the house and smiled. Settling in, he spoke easily about his new life and dream of becoming an accountant and helping his impoverished family in Haiti.
"It's really a good opportunity,'' he said of being in the United States. "I think, with me, my family might have a better future.''
Nikenson, 18, can credit an odd confluence of events that brought him to this point. A year ago, he landed in the United States in severe pain, barely able to walk and speaking no English. He needed hip replacement surgery and was battling a serious infection.
"I walk now. I even go to school. I have a job,'' said Nikenson, who is learning English at the Tomlinson Adult Learning Center. "I feel great, happy.''
Much of the credit can go to Partners With Haiti, a ministry of St. Paul's Catholic Church that arranged for him to come to the United States for surgery. His host in St. Petersburg was to be fellow Haitian Micki Morency, but her two-story home wasn't an option for the teenager on crutches, so she sought her mother's help. That's how Nikenson settled in with Berthelot, who hand-fed her frail houseguest traditional Haitian foods.
"Now he walks without nothing. Oh, God is good,'' said the elderly woman Nikenson calls his second mother. She remains protective, not sleeping until Nikenson gets in from his job as a bagger at the Sweetbay Supermarket on 22nd Street S.
"I always know when he comes in,'' she said.
Nikenson should have returned to Haiti, but the earthquake that devastated his country allowed him to remain in the United States under the Temporary Protected Status program. The youngest of five children, he feels responsible for his family in Haiti. He dreams of going to college and becoming an accountant.
"If I get a job and become something, then I can help everyone, especially my mom, because I know she needs me to help,'' he said.