Clovis Baptiste may have become a success story by escaping the poverty of Haiti and becoming manager of the Big Kmart store on Lodi's Cherokee Lane, but he longs to rescue his large family in his homeland.
Baptiste's parents and 10 of his 15 siblings remain in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. His family lives on a remote island without the simple convenience of a grocery store. To shop, you have to take a boat to the main island of Haiti, and it can be a very long trip, depending on whether there's any wind to guide the boat, Baptiste said.
Baptiste's parents are farmers and live off the land, though sometimes they can trade their crops to fishermen who also live on the isolated island.
What made the impoverished conditions even worse was the devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti almost two years ago. Baptiste says Haiti isn't in any better condition now than it was when the earthquake struck.
Baptiste, now living in north Stockton, visited his homeland in February 2010, but he hasn't been able to return since. He sends money to his parents on a regular basis, and he's able to communicate with his parents and siblings by phone and text message.
Baptiste hopes to raise enough money to pay another visit to his native land in July. He wants to start a website where he can collect donations to help his family.
Baptiste was lucky enough to better himself financially by leaving Haiti with one of his brothers and two sisters in December 1991. He was 12 at the time. The Baptiste family of 17 lived in a two-bedroom house with no electricity or running water, which is why young Clovis wanted to leave the country.
A boat took Baptiste and the three siblings with him to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The following March, he was able to reach Miami.
The job market wasn't good in Florida, so Baptiste joined one of his sisters, who had relocated to San Rafael, in 1995. He drove cross-country without sleep in three days.
The sister lived in California because her boyfriend at the time, now her husband, lived in San Francisco.
Clovis Baptiste moved in with his sister and brother-in-law until he rented a home in Oakland in 1997. He attended Laney Community College in Oakland, where he learned English. French is Haiti's native language.
Baptiste then majored in theater arts at University of California, Santa Cruz, and hoped to become a "superstar" in show business, but he wasn't making any money in theater arts. He was a model for a few years in San Francisco, but he wasn't a financial success there, either.
Baptiste received greater financial security after being hired at Safeway. He moved to Stockton a few years ago because the cost of living was lower than in the Bay Area, and Safeway allowed him to transfer to a Stockton store.
In 2007, he left Safeway to become store manager at a Big Kmart store in Jackson. After eight months, he was transferred to the Lodi store to work closer to home.
"I'm honored to have this job," Baptiste said.
He lives in north Stockton with his wife, Jeannite, also from Haiti; daughter, Chloree, 9; and son, Elijah, 2.
Anyone interested in helping Baptiste visit his family in Haiti next summer may contact him at the Kmart store at 209-333-0220.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.