Wilmington partners with UNC and eight other cities to improve language access

This content is provided by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Building Integrated Communities program.

On January 27, 2023, Building Integrated Communites (BIC) launched its inaugural class of the Language Access Collaborative, bringing together teams of North Carolina local governments and community-based organizations to build bridges of communication. Nine local governments partnered with community-based organizations to form teams of Collaborative participants across the state. The City of Wilmington was selected to be a member of the Collaborative.

Joe Conway, Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer for the City of Wilmington remarks, “In our ongoing commitment to honor the rich diversity of our residents, the City of Wilmington is pleased to be in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and our community partner, Coastal Horizons, to launch the Language Access Collaborative. This initiative aims to bridge language barriers, ensuring equitable access to city resources and enabling effective participation in civic matters for all residents, regardless of their primary language.”

Through a combination of virtual workshop exchanges, in-person summits, and technical assistance, teams are participating in a hybrid, interactive Language Access Collaborative course designed to build capacity for NC local governments to communicate with residents in community languages. Community organizations are part of the teams and provide expertise and guidance to cities, towns, and counties.

As part of the Collaborative, teams will:

  • Learn about promising practices from immigrant and language access leaders and practitioners,
  • Conduct internal assessments and collect community data,
  • Design a language access plan for local government, and
  • Initiate implementation of recommendations from that plan.

The Language Access Collaborative, which is funded by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, is part of BIC at the Institute for the Study of the Americas (ISA) at UNC-Chapel Hill, one of the oldest centers in the nation for the study of La􀆟n America.

“Here at ISA, we view language access as an important first step towards civic engagement, representative leadership, and public understanding of North Carolina’s Latin American history and heritage,” said Dr. Hannah Gill, Associate Director of ISA. “Shifting patterns of migration have direct implications on the daily life of communities across North Carolina, and the Language Access Collaborative strengthens our efforts to build capacity, develop expertise and experience, and inform public policy.”

“We can already see the practical benefits of creating this opportunity for cities and counties to collaborate with community-based agencies and each other through an exchange of ideas, experiences, and models of language access,” Gill added.

Team members point to the benefits of deeper relationships formed through language access as a way to promote equity and justice.

Clinica Lantina of Coastal Horizons graciously agreed to partner with the City of Wilmington for the Collaborative project. Maria Van De Bovenkamp of Clinica Latina states, we are “very excited to be the Community Partner with the City of Wilmington in this endeavor. The Language Access Collaborative will foster a stronger sense of inclusion and encourage greater participation from the Latinx community by providing information and resources in Spanish. By making this information accessible, we hope to empower and engage individuals, enabling them to take advantage of the available resources and become more involved.”

By working with community agencies to create language access plans, polices, and procedures, local governments in the Collaborative are providing meaningful language access, hiring bilingual staff, and ensuring quality interpretation/translation services for residents who speak languages other than English.

This year-long course will culminate in January 2024 with a public presentation of the 9 teams’ language access plans. City of Wilmington Equity and Inclusion Specialist Amy Schlag is “eager to have a plan in place that will allow us to better connect with the vibrant communities in Wilmington who speak languages other than English, and who work to make vital contributions to Wilmington’s success every day.”

This year-long Language Access course will culminate in January 2024 with a public presentation of the 9 teams’ language access plans. To learn more about the Language Access Collaborative, visit: htps://migration.unc.edu/language-access-collaborative/ or contact Susan Clifford, Language Access Coordinator, at Susan.Clifford@unc.edu.

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