Summer 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 2 // Ideas at Work // 2IAW4

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Linking Extension with Migrant Clients


Sherie P. Corley
Transfer Center Director
Bakersfield College-California

Margaret Lewis
Extension Nutrition Specialist
Oregon State University-Corvallis

The typical Extension agent already performs a time-consuming balancing act between heeding the concerns of management directives and dealing with traditional local population needs. Because of these pressures, there may be resistance to new populations and their nontraditional needs. When a potential special population presents a variety of problems and cultural and language barriers as well, the group may be passed over when the difficulties are seen as insurmountable. The Hispanic migrants may be one such group in your area.

The United States has 450,000 migrants, concentrated in the farming areas of the West and Southeast.1 It's their very lifestyle and language that make them one of the most disadvantaged groups in the country. Poor nutrition, poverty, inadequate housing, and limited medical care are just a few of the problems they face. In spite of the barriers of culture and language, the Extension Service has the potential to adapt its existing programs to migrants. A solution to the agent's difficulties in communication may be as simple as hiring migrant paraprofessionals to work with this clientele.

Who are these paraprofessionals and how does an agent connect with them? The best place to start is with the county educational agency that works with migrants. In California, county Migrant Education offices have worked successfully to help school-age students and adults overcome the limitations that are part of the migrant lifestyle. These agency specialists have the expertise to recruit and train paraprofessionals for Extension who are bilingual and familiar with the migrant lifestyle. With training from Extension agents and other area specialists, the paraprofessional could travel to migrant communities to educate the clients on a number of crucial topics.2

Moreover, the county migrant agency could link with Extension to work on activities that go beyond finding qualified paraprofessionals. For example, the agency could adapt literature, such as nutrition information, for the Hispanic and any other migrant reader. This activity would have a direct benefit for the county. Educating families about proper nutrition could produce a healthier work force for both the workers and the employers.

To understand others, one must first walk in their shoes. It's difficult for the Extension agent to know the problems of the migrant, but linking Extension and county migrant agencies could bridge the differences to help a special population that has enormous needs. Consider this group in your priorities for the coming year.


1. Agricultural Employment Work Group, "Agricultural Labor in the 1980's: A Survey with Recommendations" (Berkeley: University of California, Division of Agricultural Sciences, 1982).

2. The authors thank Dr. Fred Montoya, regional director of Migrant Education in Merced County, California, for his assistance.