Charlie Robinson (seated) is surrounded by members of Lambda Alpha Alpha who painted and landscaped his home in Boynton Beach. Robinson has been caring for his wife as she recovers from a broken hip. Photos by Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Ron Hayes
You know about the caregivers, those noble souls who care for the sick and disabled, the elderly, the needy. But who cares for them?
Where are the caregivers’ caregivers?
As temperatures rose toward the low 90s early one recent Saturday morning, they were in Boynton Beach, painting Charlie Robinson’s house.
The previous day they had painted the house gray, the trim white. Now these 18 men were back to touch up the wrought iron security door, the window frames and front porch railing.
They are members of Lambda Alpha Alpha, the graduate chapter of Omega Psi Phi, an African American fraternity founded at Howard University in 1911. Martin Luther King Sr. was a member; Langston Hughes and Count Basie, too.
Florida Atlantic University has an undergraduate chapter, but these men, most in their 40s and 50s, are well beyond their college years.
In 2020, they initiated their Curb Appeal project to paint homes and upgrade the landscaping of seniors caring for family members in Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and Boca Raton.
“My wife broke her hip three months ago,” Charlie Robinson said, standing under the sweltering sun to marvel at all these much younger men beautifying his home without pay.
He is 80. His wife, Cheryle, is 76, and he has been caring for her as she heals. They moved into this house just off Seacrest Boulevard when they were first married, 46 years ago, and they’ve been here ever since.
“Words can’t explain this,” he said. “For a senior citizen, what more can you ask for? Volunteering their service and time? And it’s not just good for me but for the whole community.”
The project is funded by a $49,000 grant from local nonprofits Healthier Boynton Beach and Pathways to Prosperity. The money pays for the paint and the brushes, the buckets, the blowers, shovels and rakes, with the fraternity obligated to paint and repair 10 homes each spring and summer.
This year it did 12.
The caregiver’s caregivers
Tony Robinson — no relation to Charlie — is 52, living in Wellington and working in human resources for a hospital system. He graduated from Florida A&M University 31 years ago, but is still very much a frat brother.
“I support my fraternity,” he said. “Our values are Manhood, Scholarship, Perseverance and Uplift.”
He nodded toward the house. “This is the uplift.”
Dwayne Randolph (l-r), Ricky Petty and Dondre McCrary put the finishing touches on the wrought iron security door. ’I’ll probably wind up being a caregiver for my mom at some point, so this makes me happy,’ says McCrary, 29, an FAU graduate.
Dondre McCrary, 29, graduated from FAU last year and moved from Sigma Delta Delta, the university’s undergraduate chapter, to Lambda Alpha Alpha, the graduate chapter.
“This is my eighth project,” he said. “I’ll probably wind up being a caregiver for my mom at some point, so this makes me happy. Nothing makes you feel any better than working and being able to say, I did my good deed for the day.”
Most of these 18 men are wearing their signature purple Omega Psi Phi T-shirts, but one of them is different from the rest.
Lee Cohen is not African American.
He’s an attorney, 47, and white.
“No, I’m not Black,” he says with a good-natured laugh. “I had a friend who was in this fraternity, and we were at every event. I kept running into the brothers and joked that one day I was going to join.
“I became a member in November 2022, but this was never a Black/white issue. I joined because we believe in the same things.”
And what are those things?
The official motto of Omega Psi Phi is “Friendship is Essential to the Soul.”
But perhaps Charlie Robinson put it best as he braved the heat to admire what these Black brothers — and one white brother — had done for him and his wife.
“They don’t have to do this,” he said, “but they do it.”