PHOENIXVILLE — Between the pain, fear and urgency of the situation, anyone having a medical emergency finds themselves in a stressful situation.
Imagine the frustration and dread a language barrier would add if it were mixed into the situation, as is the case for many in the Phoenixville area.
With the population of Latinos increasing greatly, two community organizations have launched an effort to create a team of interpreters to help Spanish-speakers better seek healthcare and other services with less frustration in the borough and its surrounding area.
The Phoenixville Community Health Foundation and the Maternal and Child Health Consortium are partnering for the Language Access Project, an initiative which is hoped to recruit and train between 25 and 30 bilingual, English and Spanish-speakers to be official interpreters.
“My vision is that we in the Phoenixville-area will eventually have a corps of stipend-paid trained ‘volunteers’ who will be on-call 24/7 to do interpretations for those whop speak Spanish but no English,” said Lou Beccaria, president and CEO of the Community Health Foundation. “With our quickly-growing Latino population in the Phoenixville area, this project is much-needed for those seeking health and human services.”
In Phoenixville proper, according to the 2010 census, there are 1,220 people of Latino origin, an increase of 182 percent since the 2000 census, when there were 432 people fitting that description in the borough.
1,220 people is a little more than 7 percent of the borough’s population the second-highest minority group in the borough to black or African-Americans, who number 1,415, the 2010 census said.
Although that growth in population may not constitute only Spanish-speakers, it’s significant enough that Beccaria’s group sent a grant to the Maternal and Child Consortium to conduct the training.
“It’s part of our foundation’s overall mission to open up healthcare and human services to people who are un-served or under-served,” Beccaria said. “The Latino population in Phoenixville is growing quickly and there are a lot of people who experience the language barrier (when) getting services.”
Nelly Jimenez-Arevalo, director of the family center and community relations at the Maternal and Child Health Consortium, is leading the interpretor training efforts.
“I think we have a commitment to help (non-English-speakers) meet the basic needs they have in medical and education needs,” Jimenez-Arevalo said.
Jimenez-Arevalo is an immigrant herself who was born and raised in Venezuela. She came to the United States about 17 years ago.
Although she’d made visits to as a young child, she said she certainly experienced a language barrier when she permanently moved to the U.S.
“I knew some words, basic stuff, but when you learn English in Venezuela and people talk to you here, you’re like, ‘What?’” she said. “I think that’s probably why I’m so passionate.”
It takes approximately seven years to “master” a language, according to Jimenez-Arevalo, who said the Consortium has done similar interpreter trainings many times before. She said there are several factors that may add or subtract from that time, including education-level, exposure to the language already and time available to devote to study.
Interpreters are necessary during that process, though, before English is learned. That’s why Jimenez-Arevalo and the Consortium are involved.
“The training is very intense,” she said.
Untrained interpreters can make situations worse and frustrate the individuals who need help, according to Jimenez-Arevalo. As such, those who volunteer for the training will be screened to make sure they are fluent in the language and learn the code of ethics.
“Not everyone who is bilingual can be an interpreter,” she said. “That is important.”
Interpreters are planned to be made available not only to hospitals and other socia healthcare and social services settings, but to police for situations where a witness may need to tell their story, Beccaria said.
“We are currently in the recruiting phase,” he said.
Two different meeting dates have been set up for those interested: July 24 and Aug. 12, between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. at the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation at 821 Gay St. in Phoenixville.
The Consortium’s plans for the program don’t only include training interpreters.
Jimenez-Arevalo said one step is to reach out tot the higher-ups and administrators of local organizations and service-providers, “those who can create protocols,” to help change the way agencies deal with those who can’t speak English.
Another step is to train some of the front-end, on-the-ground people in those agencies in ways to work with interpreters when the situations arise.
It’s all a part of the greater goal of making services more available to those that need them.
“I’m a very proud American citizen and this is my contribution to make sure everybody has an equal standing,” said Jimenez-Arevalo.
Those interested who have questions may contact Jimenez-Arevalo at 610-350-7660 or the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation at 610-917-9890.