Healthy dialogue in either language
If Sanjuana Trillo and Rich Meyer were left alone in the same room, they’d have trouble communicating.
Meyer speaks only English, while Trillo only Spanish.
Yet they serve on the same board of directors — of Maple City Health Care Center in Goshen.
Maple City has carried out a successful experiment, by its own account. Since 2005, its board of directors has become bilingual, speaking the two languages of the community it serves — English and Spanish.
An employee of the clinic translates for those present at its monthly meetings.
The experiment’s success may attest to how trivial language differences can be next to the many benefits Maple City’s board members say they’ve seen.
Not only has the clinic a better grasp of the needs of the community it serves, but conversation at board meetings has improved.
It’s refreshing to see that people of diverse backgrounds can not only make each other understood but work together for the well-being of their community.
“By conversing with people who see the community from a different place, we can get a better picture of what is happening in our community,” says Meyer, the board’s vice president.
“Our testimony is that we make better decisions by hearing more voices.”
“The interests of the community are better taken into account,” says Miguel Millan, a board member who is bilingual. “The clinic has many patients who speak only Spanish, and to be able to attend to them properly we need the point of view of those who speak only Spanish.”
When Trillo, who works in a factory, was asked to join the board nearly four years ago, she didn’t hesitate.
“My immediate response was yes, because Hispanics have little involvement (in the community),” she says.
“It has been a marvelous experience,” Trillo says. “To learn from their culture, and they from mine.”
Maple City in Goshen was launched in 1988 by a group of low-income residents, community leaders and a physician. It is housed inside a former fire station at 213 Middlebury St.
Funded in part through donations and grants, the clinic has begun accepting community service at local agencies as a form of payment from those without income. In that way, it has lived up to its founding principle that the health of the community and that of the individual are interrelated.
“For many years, we assumed that if English speakers and Spanish speakers were both going to serve on the board, the people who spoke Spanish would also have to be able to speak English,” says Don Yost, Maple City’s communications manager.
But, Yost says, “limiting the board to people who could speak English was an obstacle to closer ties with people in the Hispanic community.”
An unexpected benefit of the bilingual board meetings, Meyer says, is that translation slows down the conversation, allowing everyone to listen more carefully.
“We have time to think about what people are saying,” he explains, “and that’s an advantage we didn’t anticipate.”
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