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Family's journey gets boost from United Way agency.

Byline: MARK BAKER The Register-Guard

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the seventh in a series of stories about programs funded by United Way of Lane County during the agency's annual fund-raising campaign.

It began in the Mexican state of Nayarit. It moved through Los Angeles and eventually found its way to Eugene.

Where it ends, this journey of Wilibaldo Jasso and Elia Ramirez, no one knows for sure, but it seems to be headed in the right direction, with many thanks to Centro LatinoAmericano.

"Centro helped us pay for the deposit on our apartment and facilitated us with parent classes," Ramirez said through a translator Wednesday as she sat in a playroom at the agency that has been helping Latino families get established in the community since 1972.

The young couple, who have two children, Jennifer, 5, and Jaqueline, 1, received help from Centro's Los Ninos Program when they arrived in Eugene in 1999. The program helps families with children age 6 and under.

They came to Oregon after trying to make it in Los Angeles. They had heard there is a higher quality of living here, that Eugene is a good place to raise a family. And Ramirez had an aunt living here.

"We saw that they were basically in a situation where they would be homeless except for this aunt," said Dora Diaz, a case worker in the Los Ninos program. "We just basically helped them with anything they needed."

In Los Angeles, work was hard to come by for Jasso, who today works as a deliveryman in Eugene after working briefly for a recycling company and as a cook at a Mexican restaurant. "There wasn't any work for him there," Ramirez said. "We were struggling. We couldn't pay our rent."

The American dream was fading for the newlyweds. But, certainly, there was more hope north of California than there was back home in Mexico.

"There isn't very much work in Mexico; not very much money," said Ramirez, who stays at home with her children, wants very badly to learn English and is planning to take classes soon in a new program at Centro in west Eugene.

"There is less opportunity," Jasso said of Mexico. "That's why we came to the states."

Today, the couple has an apart- ment in Santa Clara and they are self-sufficient.

Jennifer just started kindergarten at Howard Elementary School and she likes it in America, where the best part is "playing."

If not for Centro LatinoAmericano, Jennifer might not have opened any presents the past two Christmases.

But donations the agency receives are turned into Christmas presents for the children of clients every year during a Christmas bash known as Fiesta de Los Ninos.

This year, although Jasso and Ramirez have the money to buy their children presents, they will still be there for the party, to be held at Jefferson Middle School on Dec. 21.

They want to be a part of the celebration and they will mingle, undoubtedly, with families who are grateful for presents this year, and for Christmases past.

As Ramirez put it, "We give a lot of thanks to the United Way to be able to fund Centro LatinoAmericano and everybody along the way who has been able to help us."

2002 UNITED WAY CAMPAIGN

Update: No figures available this week.

Where it goes: Money raised during the annual campaign supports 64 programs at 41 agencies.

Contact: For more information, call 741-6000 or go online at www.unitedwaylane.org

CAPTION(S):

One-year-old Jaqueline and her sister, Jennifer, 5, sit with their father, Wilibaldo Jasso, and their mother, Elia Ramirez (left), in a playroom at Centro LatinoAmericano.
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Title Annotation:General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 16, 2002
Words:607
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