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Friday, September 23, 2011

UCC To Mark 34 Years Serving Cambodian Community

By Stephanie Minasian
From helping residents receive groceries to providing English as a Second Language classes to those in need, the United Cambodian Community (UCC) has spent 34 years assisting people from all over Long Beach. The anniversary will be celebrated on Sept. 28.

With one of the largest Cambodian populations outside of Cambodia, more than 300,000 people migrated to this area in the 1970s to escape the persecution of the Khmer Rouge. About 1.5 million Cambodian people, who were killed, starved or held captive in labor camps during the Khmer Rouge’s reign.

In 1977, UCC was formed in Long Beach.

“Refugees came here, and they are sometimes bitter towards the government because of what happened to them in Cambodia,” said UCC executive director Sara Pol-Lim, M.S. “When they immigrate here, the number one barrier is the language and the inability to access health care.”

She added that many of these Cambodians go without health treatment, and many times, their conditions become chronic and deadly. This is where UCC steps in, said Pol-Lim.

“If you don’t ask for help or get treatment until the condition becomes chronic, then you can die,” she said. “We are now an organization that mobilizes and shows people what is good for them.”

UCC has received a grant from the California Community Foundation for subsidized food to give to families in need. UCC was able to give $50 gift certificates to 700 families to use at grocery stores in the area. One woman who received the $50 was able to provide food for her husband’s funeral, Pol-Lim said.

“We hand out food twice a month for those who are in critical need,” she said. “Those who benefitted from the $50 for food were able to buy some extra things for their families.

The grant also helps the organization train residents on issues in public policy and how to advocate for social services in their community. UCC also has worked with the California Health Endowment’s Healthy Communities Initiative in Long Beach.

“What’s healthy for the mainstream may not be healthy for ethnic groups,” she said. “We are now an organization that mobilizes and shows people what’s good for them… It’s either you can stay in a poverty-stricken neighborhood because you didn’t stand up for something better, or you can change these beliefs of the ethnic communities.”

Some of the additional programs the organization provides are a women’s focus group, youth services, English as a Second Language classes, monthly community meetings, citizenship education and more.

When seniors or young people arrive on their first day at UCC, they pledge a commitment to the community — whether it be to volunteer or just be a good citizen. Each of them writes their pledge on a colorful square fabric to place on the wall.

“It’s really a cool piece here,” said UCC project coordinator Chad Sammeth about the quilt. “All of the people on this quilt range from ages 13 up to 75 years old.”

To commemorate its 34 years of service, UCC is hosting a seven-course dinner to honor and celebrate Supervisor Don Knabe and Dr. Christina Lee, for their dedication to the Cambodian community, Pol-Lim said.

The dinner will begin with registration at 6 p.m. next Wednesday, Sept. 28, at Hak Heang Restaurant; 2041 E. Anaheim St. Tickets are $50 per person, or $60 at the door.

“We are so grateful that for more than 30 years, we have sustained,” Pol-Lim said.

UCC is at 2201 E. Anaheim St., Suite 200. For more information, call 433-2490.

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