An Immigrant-Focused CBO Connects Health Plans to Illinois’ Ethnic Communities

Marta Pereyra has an affinity for helping minority communities and a passion for help­ing older immigrants and refugees in particular, but she also has a head for business and a talent for persisting until things get done to her satisfaction. Pereyra, who is an immi­grant from Poland, is executive director of Illinois’ Coalition of Limited English Speaking Elderly (CLESE;, and has served in that capacity for the past 10 years.

When the concept of managed care reached Illinois, Pereyra realized that it was a unique chance to bring ethnic communities and health plans closer together, and let them get to know each other. She proposed to partner with managed care health plans and referred CLESE’s non­profit’s interpretation and translation services to healthcare plans, developing innovative partner­ships with multiple entities. CLESE’s entire focus is to ensure that limited English-speaking older adults have equal access to the community-based services they need.

Among many health education programs led by CLESE that focused on ethnic elders, it operated an Alzheimer’s Demonstration Project that linked elders having memory issues to services and medical exams, and helped families via education and support. Currently, CLESE, in collaboration with minor­ity communities and providers, conducts Savvy Caregiver classes for ethnic caregivers to expand their knowledge and support them in that role. Other CLESE programs, projects and activities include: con­ceiving of and running the Bright Ideas project, which provides English literacy instruction for low-lit­erate older adults; assisting older refugees with opportunities for socialization and information through the Illinois Refugee Social Services Cultural Adjustment Project; creating and running an urban farm for newly arrived refugees, who often know how to farm, but don’t how to navigate the system; advocating for equal access to services through contracts with the Illinois Department on Aging and collaborations mentioned below; implementing an elder abuse, neglect and self-neglect intervention program in ethnic communities through the Chicago Department on Aging; offering verbal and written translation ser­vices for immigrants; and providing mentoring and technical assistance to ethnic providers of home- and community-based services.

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