Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Advocate sees helpline need filled

Translator service lets United Way better assist Hispanics

By Karen Gutierrez,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        An advocate for Cincinnati's Hispanic community said Tuesday that he has achieved his main goal: the identification of a helpline for Spanish speakers in need of social services.

        The line has been available through the United Way for the last year, but few Hispanics seem aware of it, said Peter Deane, a Cincinnati firefighter and amateur poet known for his long, outspoken e-mails to government officials, journalists and Hispanic leaders.

        He says he's going to ease out of the advocacy business now that Hispanics are discovering the phone number.

        Mr. Deane took up the cause of Hispanic immigrants after encountering them as victims of robberies and assaults in Over-the-Rhine. For the last year, he has been calling for the city and Su Casa, a Catholic ministry for Hispanics, to come up with a centralized, 24-hour service that immigrants can call for referrals to various agencies.

        Then he learned of an alternative — the 721-7900 number that is staffed 24 hours a day by United Way.

        If the caller is obviously a Spanish speaker, the agency asks that person to wait and then requests assistance from AT&T's translation service. The service provides an interpreter who gets on the line with the social worker and the caller, United Way spokeswoman Carol Aquino said.

        Since last August, 16 Spanish-speaking people have called the line and needed an interpreter, Ms. Aquino said. They generally sought the same kinds of help as others, she said, and most requests involve assistance with housing, furniture, counseling or rent and utilities payments.

        Stories publicizing the number have appeared in The Spanish Journal, a bi-weekly, Spanish-language newspaper based in Cincinnati. The United Way also has created wallet-sized, Spanish-language cards that explain the calling process, Ms. Aquino said.

        Yanille Diaz, volunteer coordinator at Su Casa, said she was happy to hear about United Way's service.

        But at the same time, she's uncertain whether callers will be able to get past its English orientation.


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