Paw Kaw Ku, 14, sat with her family and friends Thursday at Church of Peace United Church of Christ in Rock Island, and ate her turkey dinner.

The native of Thailand was one of about 150 refugees and immigrants who joined together for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and a family reading night at the church, compliments of the occupational therapy students from St. Ambrose University, Davenport.

About 50 refugee families were represented at the dinner, which included plenty of turkey, dressing, green bean casserole, gravy, rolls and desserts .

Ku, who attends Edison Junior High School in Rock Island, said the hardest part of adapting to American life was the language and voice inflections and facial expressions. “It was hard to tell whether people were being nice or mean.”

The St. Ambrose students collected books to give to the children and packed sacks full of personal items for each of the families to take home.

A large part of the refugee and immigrant population in Rock Island takes English as a Second Language courses at the church through the Lights On for Learning program, said Lisa Viaene, of Black Hawk College. 

Viaene said the St. Ambrose students have devoted many hours to helping the refugees and immigrants to the area with many life skills. 

"Language was probably the biggest barrier to overcome," said Maggie Brown, 25, a first-year occupational therapy student.  

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"People run into boundaries every day that are often difficult to overcome or understand," she said. That can be even tougher for people who are new to the country and the culture.

Sengiyumva Immaculee, 27, who lives with her husband and children in Rock Island, said the transition to the U.S. has been difficult, but worthwhile.

"My home country is Burundi," Immaculee said, adding she has lived in the Quad-Cities a year. "We also lived in Congo and Tanzania."

Here, she said, she is learning language and computer skills as well as  more about American culture. Her husband works at Tyson Foods in Joslin. 

Viaene said the families at the dinner represented eight countries speaking 11 different dialects.