Neighbors: Meet Max Abandja and Lester Berrio
The fourth story in our Neighbors series focuses on Max Abandja and Lester Berrio, a married couple from Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park in Champaign, Illinois. See below for the transcription of their interview, which includes voice overs from WILLconnect.org producer Crystal Kang, a senior in the College of Media at the University of Illinois. Production help by University of Illinois graduate student, Azra Halilović.
"My name is Lester Berrio. I'm from Colombia, South America. My name is Max. Last name is Abandja. I'm originally from Africa. The country of Gabon. Although I was born in France, but since my parents are from Africa. So I will say I'm from Africa."
When husband and wife Max and Lester moved to Shadow Wood in 2004, the neighborhood's racial and ethnic makeup was considerably more diverse. About half the families were Latino. Today, about 90 percent of the residents are Hispanic. Max describes the community as tight-knit.
"What I like about the neighborhood is the fact that, since it's very small, people know each other. And then they look out for each other. If someone notices anyone who doesn't belong to this neighborhood wandering around we automatically, or something suspicious, we will alert the other person."
Max and Lester have a small business cleaning houses. At the end of the work day, they're happy to lend a hand to neighbors who face challenges applying for jobs, understanding legal matters and dealing with medical issues because they're not native English speakers. They also share their faith by leading Bible studies.
"We help a lot of our neighbors because they need to make doctors' appointments. Sometimes, they don't know what the results of the hospital are. And so they come. They knock. Sometimes, they are pregnant and they have a pain somewhere in the tummy. So they want us to call the hospital to see if there is something they can do at home or they have to go over to the hospital."
The couple says residents would benefit from a community center and a storm shelter. Another concern? The rent keeps rising.
"You know we don't blame the front office because they're just working for the owners. But the owners should be also injecting money to improving the look of the neighborhood. And so far we don't see that."
"Yes, I agree that we really need a community salon or something. A community center. So that we can have gatherings here. And also, one thing is that this place is too dark at night. The neighbors don't have any front porch light and the city doesn't have any either."
While the crime rate has decreased in recent years, neighborhood safety is a concern for Shadow Wood residents. Most of the criminal activity comes from nearby, but outside the mobile home park.
Despite their concerns, Max says they're making the most of their living situation in hopes of a better tomorrow.
Living in a mobile home is not something that I would dream. Or something that we would do for the rest of our lives. In fact, we made the decision to move here because it was cheaper. And then so we can save and eventually move to a home but more like Florida. So we need to get something cheaper to make that happen. And also to get project done in South America. Help the families overseas: her family, my family. So that's the reason why we moved here.
Max Abandja and Lester Berrio of Champaign, Illinois.
For Illinois Public Media, I'm Crystal Kang.