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South County Chamber committed to overcoming barriers

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By MELODY JAMESON
mj@observernews.net

   RUSKIN – Aiming to bridge language barriers and embrace cultural differences, the Ruskin-SouthShore Chamber of Commerce here is instituting programs spotlighting Spanish-speakers and Latino-owned businesses.
   “There is no Hispanic chamber in the South Hillsborough region to serve Latino interests specifically,” Melanie Morrison, the chamber’s executive director, noted this week. Consequently, the organization has recognized “it’s up to us to encourage the cross connections” that can benefit both Caucasian and Latino populations, she added.
   Those cross connections are taking several forms – basic language instruction for non-Spanish speakers, educational assistance for Latino youngsters, material contributions when specific needs arise, and translation of important information into Spanish.
   One example of the latter occurs tonight (Thursday, June 10) when a program on hurricane preparedness will be conducted entirely in Spanish. The 90-minute program, a joint Hillsborough County-chamber effort, begins at 6:30 PM in the second floor conference room on the Hillsborough Community College SouthShore campus, immediately east of Lennard High School. The program was presented in English on the preceding evening at the same location.
   A similar effort to ensure that information useful to residents whose first language is Spanish was undertaken a few weeks ago when HARTline announced its new flex bus services in the South County, Morrison said. “We asked that schedules and other important information also be made available in Spanish,” she added. HARTline officials quickly agreed and complied, she said.
   Another recent example of the chamber’s Latino-consciousness transpired May 6 when Morrison was able to present a $1,000 scholarship to 17-year-old Jorge Vasquez at the Hillsborough County Migrant Education Program banquet. Vasquez, a Lennard High School graduate who has grown up in a family migrating to work in crop harvests but still maintaining a high grade point average, plans to enroll at HCC SouthShore on his way to a college degree, Morrison said. The scholarship was funded by chamber members and the business group wants to continue the award practice, she added.
   Looking ahead, Morrison said the chamber plans to partner with the county’s Back-to-School Coalition in connection with the annual getting-ready event scheduled for August 14 at HCC SouthShore and will be conducting a shoe drive in the fall designed to collect new shoes for youngsters needing them as they begin the 2010-11 school year. Most of those youngsters will be Hispanic, Morrison indicated.
   Yet another Latino-flavored chamber undertaking in 2010 is to be familiarizing English speaking members with basic Spanish. “What does a Hispanic business owner do when the AC breaks down?,” Morrison asked rhetorically. Similarly, what does a Latino family do when help is needed with a home repair, she added. “We’ve learned they often will not contact an English-speaking business owner even though that businessman may be able to provide the best service at the best price. It shouldn’t be that way. We need to help the Latino community become comfortable with making that first contact.”
   Consequently, Morrison said instruction in basic Spanish sufficient to help English speakers and Spanish speakers over the initial contact hurdle will be offered chamber members before year’s end. The chamber executive said she, personally, carries an English-Spanish translation dictionary and asks Spanish speakers to talk in that language with her, encouraging her to become more fluent in the second language.
   And, in the same vein, she said it’s become clear that Spanish speakers obtain much of their information from Spanish language radio. With that factor in mind, she added, appropriate public information issued by the chamber soon is going to be translated into Spanish and routinely provided to the area radio stations broadcasting in that language.
   As for those who might assert that newcomers to the United States who do not speak English need not be accommodated by Americans trying to speak their language, the chamber executive responded “that’s old thinking.” It’s in the best interests of everyone to help non-English speakers become integrated into the larger community, she said, adding. “at one time or another we all came here from different worlds.”
Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson
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