The Language of Hospitality

November 17, 2017

Welcoming Our Non-English Speaking Guests

Creating a welcoming space for all of our neighbors and guests involves preparation. Just as we are mindful of the way in which we literally set a place at our table for each person joining us for a meal, we also believe in removing barriers that stand in the way of community. In the past this has expressed itself in different ways—installing an elevator and automatic doors compliant with the Americans with Disability Act; preparing healthful food to accommodate a wide array of dietary needs and restrictions; eliminating eligibility criteria for case management-type services.

Throughout the past several months we have partnered with neighboring agencies and members of the community to tackle yet another obstacle for some guests: the language barrier.

Although welcoming persons of all backgrounds, creeds and languages is paramount to our mission, Philadelphia’s re-emergence as a destination city for immigration lends this mandate a special urgency. As “setting a place” matters, we feel it is important not only to say “Welcome,” but also “Bienvenidos,” “Selamat Datang,” “Không sao đâu,” or “Nnoo dalu!”—among others. We are now one step closer to that goal.
Beginning in May 2017, members of our Hospitality Collaborative staff began conducting informal interviews with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and English Language Learner (ELL) community members. Rather than task staff or volunteers with simple translations, the team thought it was important to put our money where our mouths are by hiring a consultant from the ELL community to lend more comprehensive expertise and valuable insight into the “user experience” or our signage, fliers and resource materials.

The experience provided an opportunity for us to become better acquainted with our neighbors down the street at the Aquinas Center—a community center run with the support of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Community and residents from South Philadelphia of different backgrounds and languages.

“Practicing radical hospitality means going to great lengths to help people feel welcomed, wanted, and safe,” says Bethany Welch, Aquinas’ Executive Director, who emphasizes the importance of other strategies Broad Street Ministry has employed, including pictograms and seeking out multilingual volunteers.

Through Aquinas Center we were introduced to longtime community member Mr. David Serrano, the Pastoral Outreach Assistant for Visitation Parish and Community Center, who says he was drawn to the project in part because it reflected some of his own experiences.

“As an immigrant from a Spanish-speaking country, I could totally understand the fear and confusion of those who do not speak English,” says Serrano.

The 30-year-old Serrano worked with members of Broad Street’s operations and concierge staff to develop or revisit key documents and signs to better support our Spanish-speaking guests in navigating our space and services.

“I had the challenge and responsibility of not only translating, but connecting through words the opportunities they have and meet their needs,” he says. “[I’m] thankful to Broad Street Ministry for allowing me to work and participate in this way.”

While select staff members are still available to provide one-on-one assistance, Spanish-speaking guests are now able to see–in their own familiar language–instructions, signs, appointment reminders, menus explaining our Personal Care, ID Support and 315 Threadz services as well as fliers about crucial resources for basic needs.

Meanwhile, we are already in discussions with case managers of other agencies who serve the Southeast Asian immigrant community about expanding materials to include Indonesian, Filipino and Vietnamese translations.

“A sense of belonging leads to thriving, which benefits those with limited English language proficiency and everyone who now calls Philadelphia home,” reflects Aquinas Center’s Bethany Welch.

We couldn’t agree more.

–Michael McKee

Special thanks is due to Mr. David Serrano, Britt Libby, Aquinas Center, BSM Operations Coordinator Melanie Mercado–and all of our non-English proficient guests for their ongoing patience with us!