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WILL: Culture a key to healthier immigrant communities

 By Sean Powers/Illinois Public Media /The obesity epidemic in this country is running rampant, and it’s hitting Latinos especially hard. A program at the University of Illinois seeks to address that issue by focusing on the connection between culture and health.

Sean C. Powers/Illinois Public Media/Michelle Tavárez helps Eva prepare a salad.

No easy access to food stamps for migrant workers

By Sean Powers/Illinois Public Media -- Every year, thousands of migrant workers come to Illinois to detassel corn and harvest crops. Often times they do not make enough money to feed themselves and their families. Language barriers are keeping these farm workers from getting the help they need.

Sean Powers/Illinois Public Media -- Migrant worker Aurora Garcia meets with food stamp outreach coordinator Magdalena Lopez in Urbana on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011.

State officials: Migrant workers 'most economically disadvantaged group'

Pam G. Dempsey/ —Every year, thousands of migrant workers come to harvest food for Illinois while going hungry themselves.

“You suffer a lot,” said Abel Cintora, a farm worker and a member of the Illinois Migrant Council.

Cintora was one of several people to speak recently at a hearing in Rantoul as part of a state task force to end hunger.

“One of the hardships is the fact that we never know if we are going to have a full paycheck,” he said in Spanish to a room of about two dozen people. “A lot of times your faced with the choice to pay rent or buy food.”

Pam G. Dempsey/CU-CitizenAccess/Corn grows alongside a road near Rantoul. Migrant workers who come to Illinois to harvest food are often hungry and food insecure.

Vietnamese immigrant now aids newcomers

By Jay Lee/For CU-CitizenAccess - Anh Ha Ho’s office walls are covered with photographs from all over the world.

Dan Petrella/CU-CitizenAccess - Anh Ha Ho, co-director of the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center, goes over a client's paperwork on Thursday.

Refugee Center faces budget cuts

By Julie Wurth/ News-Gazette/URBANA -- About 2,600 people each year call on Anh Ha Ho and her colleagues with questions about schools, taxes, housing, jobs, medical care you name it. And most of them don't speak much English.

The East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center functions as a mini-social services agency, helping immigrants and refugees adjust to life in Champaign County.

Housed in a small office inside the Unitarian Universalist Church, 302 S. Birch St., U, the nonprofit charity has seen its client base grow almost every year since its founding in 1982.

File photo/News-Gazette/Guadalupe Abreu, a bilingual counselor at the refugee center, helps Sonia Casco fill out an application to extend her status as a temporary resident. Her son, Tito Casco, 3, plays nearby in June 2010.

Immigrants in Champaign County struggle, often in obscurity

By Shelley Smithson — Yamani Wijesekara had just completed her morning prayers when her cell phone’s jarring ringtone broke the silence. 

“OK, friend,” she told the cab driver on the phone. “OK, thank you.” 

Pager Item Text: 
'We're the unknown'

Budget problems threaten future of refugee center

By Shelley Smithson â€”A Spanish-speaking woman calls the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center because she does not know where to turn for help. She says she was seriously injured when the balcony of her apartment collapsed and the apartment owner will not pay her hospital bills.

Robert K. O'Daniell/The News-Gazette/Guadalupe Abreu, a bilingual counselor at the refugee center, helps Sonia Casco fill out an application to extend her status as a temporary resident. Her son, Tito Casco, 3, plays nearby.

Immigrant from Sri Lanka struggles for American dream

By Shelley Smithson/When Yamani Wijesekara moved from Sri Lanka to Urbana one year ago, she believed she would find a good-paying job as a secretary or computer operator.

But life has not turned out the way she envisioned. Raised in a middle class family in Sri Lanka, Wijesekara, 29, was surprised when the only job she could find was a part-time position paying $8.45 an hour. She works an early-morning shift at Meijer and struggles to pay $400 a month for a rented room, buy food and save money for a car.

She prays everyday that her dreams will come true. If they do not, she says she will return to Sri Lanka.

The News-Gazette/ Yamani Wijesekara pushes a cart through a door at a Meijer store in Urbana in April. Wijeskara moved from Sri Lanka to Urbana in 2009 to find a good job. She makes $8.45 an hour now but is going to Parkland College to become a graphic designer.

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