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Lost in translation

Imagine you speak limited English, but not enough to access public transportation, help your child at school or go to the doctor. Where do you turn? How do you get the help you need?

Sang*, a 21-year-old refugee from Bhutan, was resettled with his family in Pittsburgh last year. He had secured a stable job at a local Nepali restaurant, and while he could speak and understand limited English, he was taking classes to become fluent and proficient. Earlier this year, he and his young siblings found themselves in crisis after their parents were in a serious car accident. Both of Sang’s parents were unconscious following the accident and remained in comas at a local hospital for several weeks. Sang didn’t understand the complicated medical terms or hospital paperwork, he was easily confused by the fast-talking doctors and nurses and had difficulty communicating with them. He was also unsure of the cultural expectations of him and his siblings.
He reached out to members of the Bhutanese community for advice and support, and was referred to ISAC (Immigrant Services and Connections). In just a few days following the accident, Sang was enrolled in the program and assigned a service coordinator, who connected him to translation and interpretation services, as well as helped him formulate a plan for addressing the medical, financial and legal needs of his family–and connected him to appropriate providers and resources.
Over the course of several months, ISAC helped Sang’s family access a multitude of services through JF&CS and other community and social service agencies, including establishing guardianship for Sang’s father, linking the family to rehabilitation services and assisting them in applying for disability benefits.
Additionally, after hearing how Sang and his family were helped by ISAC, a hospital administrator reached out to Sang’s service coordinator to set up trainings for hospital employees to address language and cultural barriers and provide better care for refugees and immigrants. 
With the assistance of ISAC’s service coordination, Sang became an informed, confident advocate for his parents and felt prepared to handle the challenges to come. Sang’s mother returned home and continues to improve. His father resides in a care facility close to the family home. Sang periodically sends family updates and photos to his service coordinator to express his gratitude for her help.

For many refugees and immigrants in our region, trying to utilize and access services without a firm grasp of the English language or cultural understanding can sometimes leave Pittsburgh’s newest arrivals lost in translation.

At Jewish Family & Children’s Service, we’re changing not only how refugees and immigrants are able to get connected to services, programs and benefits, but also how providers approach the unique needs of new populations and new people.

Through ISAC, a multi-agency partnership funded by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS), six agencies provide culturally and linguistically appropriate service coordination and referrals to refugees and immigrants living in Allegheny County. JF&CS, the lead agency, partners with Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Latino Family Center, Casa San Jose, the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, Northern Area Multi Service Center, and South Hill Interfaith Ministries to improve and expand access to human and social services in our region for refugees and immigrants. ISAC also provides education and cultural competency training for healthcare organizations, schools, human service providers and others who work with refugee and immigrant populations.

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In its first full year of operation, ISAC helped more than 1,650 Pittsburgh-area immigrants and refugees connect to necessary services and providers. ISAC staff made 1,430 referrals to more 140 different providers in the region, ensuring refugees and immigrants were directly connected to the services they needed to achieve and/or maintain self-sufficiency and fully acclimate to our region.

ISAC helps refugees and immigrants from countries all over the world, including Bhutan, Guatemala, Iraq, Somalia, Syria and more. Additionally, ISAC clients speak 43 different languages, including Nepali, Spanish, French, Arabic, Swahili and more, and ISAC staff help to coordinate translation and interpretation services for clients and providers.

ISAC is crucial to ensuring all refugees and legal immigrants in Pittsburgh are fully supported to establish new lives in our community, and that service providers are able to fully address their needs. To volunteer or to find more ways you can help support refugees and immigrants in our community, please contact Leslie Aizenman at laizenman@jfcspgh.org or call 412-422-7200.