Some Luzerne County employees learning to speak Spanish in effort to better serve residents

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | April 19th, 2016 7:07 pm

Some Luzerne County employees will start taking Spanish classes Thursday to better assist residents who don’t speak English.

Joe Kloss, the county human service office’s system of care coordinator, said the new program stemmed from management meetings with residents who receive services.

“Their voices are heard, and we learn from them,” Kloss said of the service recipients. “Through this, we identified a huge need that some families don’t speak English very well.”

The Spanish classes will be provided through the Hazleton Integration Project, a nonprofit that provides educational and community services to low-income residents.

The integration project does not generate revenue from Spanish classes and will charge only enough to fund the instructor and class materials, said Ben Medina, the nonprofit’s executive director. Federal funding will cover the training, Kloss said.

Medina’s organization recently provided Spanish classes to a realty company and is reaching out to police departments and others public service entities that may be interested in the training, he said.

The 10-week classes, with two hours per session, are customized to address the basic needs of the students, he said. For example, the county workers will learn how to gather names and addresses of residents and identify the services they are requesting.

“Although they won’t be bilingual when they finish this class, they can at least have a short conversation to determine how a person is doing and what they need. Luzerne County is receiving a lot of Hispanic people who don’t speak English,” Medina said.

County employees will have the option of attending classes at the nonprofit’s Hazleton One Community Center or at a county building in Wilkes-Barre, Kloss said.

Around 20 employees have signed up for the training from the aging, mental health, children and youth, drug and alcohol and probation departments, he said.

More employees will have the opportunity to participate in the next session, he said.

The population of Spanish-speaking residents is highest in the Hazleton area, but the need is not isolated, he said.

“We have noticed even within Wilkes-Barre here, it’s an increasing number,” Kloss said.

His office also is encouraging outside providers that handle counseling and other services on the county’s behalf to consider Spanish classes for their employees, Kloss said.

“It was an overwhelming response from our employees who wanted to learn this so they can best service the community,” he said.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.