Rock Island refugee families invited to early Thanksgiving feast

ROCK ISLAND, Illinois -- About a dozen families who recently arrived in the United States, many of them refugees, gathered on Thursday for an early Thanksgiving feast in Rock Island.

Volunteers and staff from a local mission group called Spring Forward and St. Ambrose University served turkey, stuffing, and all the fixings to adult students in the family literacy program at the Church of Peace. They were invited to bring along their families.

Like a lot of first generation Americans, high school senior Pint Lay speaks English a lot more confidently than her mother. She sat at her table with a plate loaded with food and surrounded by her mother's teacher, her mother, her aunt and her favorite cousin.

"Me, I'm thankful for my family," she said.

Most of the families at Thursday's dinner were Karen people -- refugees from the Thailand-Burma border. Like the first pilgrims, they came to America fleeing religious persecution.

"We've been spending the last couple of weeks in class talking about our families and talking about traditions," said Stephanie Hasakis, Spring Forward's director of communications and family programming. "About what traditions you bring from your own country to the United States."

Spring Forward said it's mission is to provide free educational opportunities and help the community's newest members adjust to life in the Quad Cities.