During the 1960s-1970s, the DeKalb County Migrant Ministry (DCMM) helped thousands of Latino migrants to settle into the area and create a community that is still part of DeKalb County. From assisting with education to providing vital healthcare, the DCMM made a significant impact on the lives of DeKalb County migrants.
In the early 1960s, DeKalb County saw an increase in the number of migrant workers. Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and Cubans came into the area seasonally to pick crops such as tomatoes, apples, and cucumbers. The migrants were employed on farms throughout the county from DeKalb, Kirkland, and Sandwich. Others worked in local canning factories, such as the Sycamore Preserve Works.
In 1963, the DCMM was established to assist migrants working and living in the area. Since many of the migrant workers lived on farms, DCMM contacted local farmers to connect their migrant workers with DCMM’s resources. They also assisted migrants in the “settling out” process, the transition to becoming permanent residents.
DCMM’s mission focused on four primary areas: education, health care, finance, and faith.
Education – Migrant children often fell behind in school because they moved many times throughout the year. The Migrant Learning Center (later called the Children’s Learning Center) is one example of how DCMM assisted students who struggled academically. In 1972, Children’s Learning Center transitioned to Community Coordinated Child Care (also known as 4C) and it continues to advocate for children and families today.
Health care – DCMM also provided traveling nurses to provide health care resources to both migrant workers and their families. This work often focused on children and expectant mothers.
Finance – DCMM played an important role in helping migrants find permanent housing. To assist with this process, they provided financial aid to cover school fees, utilities, and other payments. This was key to create a more stable Latino community in DeKalb County.
Faith – Finally, DCMM established ties to multiple churches in the county and incorporated faith as part of the Family Night activities. Family Nights, a social event held at various farms, was designed as an opportunity for migrants and their children to relax with activities, food, and even movies.
By 1968, DCMM transitioned to helping migrant workers to settle out (permanently living in the area). Within two years, the DCMM helped twenty-eight families find housing in DeKalb County, reflecting the program’s initial progress. DCMM dissolved in 1981, with parts of the program transitioning into 4C. Overall, DCMM helping upwards of eighty families to settle into and become a part of DeKalb County.
*Original copy is not in good condition. Transcript available upon request.