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Language Bank Recognition Ceremony attendees. (Pete Mikoleski/NYCHA)
NYCHA Employees Receive Honors for Volunteering Their Multi-Lingual Skills

Some of the most important words in any language – “thank you” — were spoken to 158 NYCHA employee volunteers at the New York City Housing Authority’s 17th Annual Language Bank Recognition Ceremony. The appreciation breakfast was held at District Council 37 headquarters in Lower Manhattan on Oct. 15, 2012.

These generous NYCHA employees provided translation and interpretation services, from May 1, 2010 to April 30, 2012, to ensure that NYCHA residents, applicants and Section 8 voucher holders with limited English proficiency have equal access to NYCHA information and services in compliance with federal, state and local fair housing laws. The volunteers are among more than 250 NYCHA employees in the Language Bank, which is maintained by the Language Services Unit (LSU) in NYCHA’s Department of Communications (DOC). These employees collectively speak 39 different languages, including Spanish, Russian, Mandarin and Cantonese, to name a few.

Language Bank volunteers recognized for their service by NYCHA Chairman John Rhea (center). (Pete Mikoleski/NYCHA)

During the last two years, the LSU has served the needs of NYCHA’s customers with limited English proficiency by responding to almost 17,000 requests for interpretations and over 2,000 requests for translations. Almost 4,800 of these total requests were handled by the Language Bank’s able employee.

Although employees volunteer their skill, time and service to translate and interpret for NYCHA customers, some Language Bank volunteers obtain additional training to become certified as a translator and/or interpreter by the City of New York. NYCHA’s Language Bank, the largest in the City, includes 49 volunteers among the honorees that have successfully completed special proficiency training to become NYCertified. In addition to assisting NYCHA residents, applicants and Section 8 voucher holders, these employee volunteers may also be called upon - sometimes on short notice - to assist other City agencies and the Office of the Mayor. Nonetheless, the volunteers are expected to complete their full regular job responsibilities.

In thanking the honorees, NYCHA Chairman John B. Rhea remarked, “Day after day, year after year, you have given of yourselves expecting nothing in return. You have helped improve the quality of life of many residents and have assisted your fellow NYCHA colleagues in achieving their goals of offering excellent customer service.

Chairman Rhea also took the opportunity to recognize Mirza Orriols, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Acting Regional Administrator; Jay Golden, HUD Regional Director for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity; Luigi D'Ancona, Director of the Office of Public Housing, in HUD’s New York Regional Office; and Olga Alvarez, Public Affairs Specialist in HUD’s New York Regional Office, all of whom were in attendance.

NYCHA Board Member Margarita López recalled occasions when Language Bank volunteers along with LSU’s professional interpreters, provided interpretation services at many resident meetings held in 2011 and 2012 to discuss Plan NYCHA and other resident engagement initiatives. “Each time has been a humble experience to see you making sure that residents know the important things that NYCHA is doing. You deserve to be told ‘thank you.

NYCHA Resident Board Member Victor A. Gonzalez who, like Member López, is bilingual, said, “It’s a great gift to be bilingual and in the case of many of you, multi-lingual, but beyond your language skills you are contributing many hours and demonstrating passion and commitment to what you do. We want you to know that it does not go unnoticed.

During the ceremony, NYCHA Chief Communications Officer Lynn Godfrey recognized 40 special honorees who have responded to an exceptionally high volume of requests for language assistance during the specified period. Noting the “challenges of getting NYCHA’s message out to more than 400,000 residents,” Ms. Godfrey termed the special honorees “Unsung Heroes,” as she called them forward for a group photograph.

In closing remarks, Yvette Andino, NYCHA’s Senior Manager for Resident Communications and Language Services, encouraged all Language Bank volunteers to, “keep doing the excellent jobs each of you have made the NYCHA standard, and spread the word to your co-workers to get them to join NYCHA’s Language Bank.” 

NYCHA employees who are interested in finding out how to become a Language Bank volunteer may contact NYCHA residents, applicants and Section 8 voucher holders who require interpretation or translation services should notify a NYCHA staff member.

By Howard Silver 
Oct. 16, 2012