A group of residents using the headset translation devices.

Resident Translators Create Welcoming Community for All

This past year opened the door for new and innovative program services for residents at Mercy Housing Northwest (MHNW) communities. One such program that was introduced in early 2019 is the Language Liaison Program. In response to an organization-wide effort to ensure our affordable housing work addresses racial inequity, the Resident Services staff launched the Language Liaison Program. Debuting in early 2019, the Language Liaison (LL) Program works to create inclusive and welcoming communities through language translation access.

Lincoln Way, Language Liaison Interpretation at Health FairMHNW serves diverse residents, including immigrants and refugees, rich with resources and experience to share. In response to needing more language capacity at our properties, we work with bilingual residents, volunteers and community language resources (alongside multilingual staff) to address the need for interpretation during activities and events.

After mapping the languages spoken by MHNW residents at each of our affordable housing communities, the Resident Services team discovered more than 30 different primary languages.

There are 32 primary languages spoken at MHNW and below are the number of households who speak them.This resident initiative partners bilingual resident leaders, known as peer Language Liaisons, with staff to offer their language and translation expertise at MHNW events. At the same time, residents gain essential skills to bolster their resumes. We value their time by providing gift cards, too. “I enjoyed helping out. It’s a good program to have residents help other residents understand what’s going on and create connection,” said MHNW Resident, Davaatseren, a Language Liaison at a community event.

At MHNW’s Lincoln Way Apartments in Lynnwood, there are 14 primary languages spoken. With such a diverse community, the LL Program has benefitted programming and residents a great deal. According to Lincoln Way’s Resident Services Coordinator, Natalie Kotar, “Having resident interpreters helps me more efficiently oversee the programs.” She would usually act as the interpreter for a few individuals, which would often-times delay the program schedule. She has noticed an increase in program attendance since implementing the LL Program at her community. “There is an incentive for residents to come and help in a substantial way, and those residents who normally don’t attend because of the language barrier, are now more inclined to participate in the activities.”

A group of residents using the headset translation devices.
A group of residents using headset translation devices.

To foster a welcoming community, each MHNW property also plans to host Community Conversations, which addresses emerging needs with residents. In addition, properties will host cultural celebrations, and offer translation headset devices for use during events. The wireless acoustic transmission devices purchased for the LL Program allow simultaneous interpretation of educational programs, workshops, presentations, and other activities. Language Liaisons speak into a headset in the residents’ primary language, while the group of residents listens in their own language via a receiver and headset.

As part of the pilot launch at Lincoln Way, Language Liaisons were hired for various health and wellness and community events, including the Health Fair and Rivkin Cancer Awareness event. Most recently, the Sound Community Bank hosted a financial stability class, during which both Russian and Mongolian residents were able to participate together with the help of these translation devices.  It is exciting to see increased attendance at resident programming in the past year. As we dive into the new year, our hope is for the Language Liaison Program to expand so that we can continue to promote healthy communities and engaged residents.

Liaisons are possible with the financial support from Adrian Dominican Sisters, CHI Franciscan Foundation, Ben B. Cheney Foundation and Muckleshoot Charitable Fund.