2009-07-19 Holland Sentinel "Ottawa employees connect in Spanish"

Ottawa employees connect in Spanish
The Holland Sentinel

Ottawa County, MI —

After weeks of teaching the new conversational Spanish class customized for Ottawa County employees, Sarah Salguera began hearing the stories she hoped for.

The workers were applying what they learned to customer interactions.

“‘I understand what they were saying and I was really excited,’” she said was the typical story employees shared with her. “A lot of that has to do with breaking down that fear of using words they know.”

Salguera, program director for Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, led the inaugural group of Ottawa County employees this March who completed a basic Spanish course.

By the summer’s end, 60 employees will have finished the training, said Laura Mousseau, training coordinator for Ottawa County.

More introductory classes are scheduled this fall because of a large waiting list for employees, she said. Advanced sections also will be offered.

“They are coming from all of our different departments,” Mousseau said. “It’s been great. It’s been a need for a while.”

When she began as training coordinator, Mousseau was charged with discovering what type of training employees found relevant.

“There was a needs assessment,” she said. “(Employees) really wanted to be able to assist all of the customers and clients more effectively.”

That’s where LEDA, the Holland-based nonprofit, came in.

The group offers a six-week course that includes customized vocabulary for specific departments such as health and courts. Employees meet once a week for a few hours.

“We started with basic pronunciation, some basic nouns, adjectives and greetings, which are really important,” Salguera said. “We will just keep on moving forward (in section two) from where we left off.”

She said other groups have contacted LEDA about doing the same thing for them, which is the organization’s goal.

“This is something new we are starting, offering customized courses to businesses and organizations,” Salguera said. “We are hoping to expand our offerings.”