Bilingual and multilingual students help food stamp recipients with language barriers

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Courtesy of Remi Murrey
Tuesday, September 12, 2017 - 4:21pm

LSA senior Natalie Andrasko has worked hard to help University of Michigan students apply their unique language skills to a good cause in Washtenaw County. 

That "good cause" would be LingoMatch, a program created by three students to connect bilingual and multilingual students with an immigrant or refugee in Washtenaw County struggling to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits due to a language barrier.

Andrasko, one of the project’s team members, alongside LSA junior Jamie Yeung and LSA junior Syeda Zaynab Mahmood, wrote in an email interview she believes the program is significant because it allows students to put their language skills to work in a meaningful way, helping immigrants or refugees get their food stamps.

“It provides bilingual and multilingual students at the University of Michigan with the opportunity to volunteer in a setting that requires the practical application of their valuable language skills to work with organizations in Washtenaw County committed to a social cause,” Andrasko wrote.

In the initial planning stages, the team created a proposal to develop an app to provide its users an easier way to find nutritious foods in Washtenaw County. However, since they lacked the coding knowledge to design an app, they instead explored other options. 

Around the same time, the team started making trips to the Bryant Community Center, one of their community center partners. Here, they saw firsthand a need for something like LingoMatch. 

“It has been especially rewarding to see firsthand how excited Bryant Community Center clients are to be able to speak their native language with volunteers, which shows how meaningful language can be in connecting people and promoting an environment of inclusivity,” Andrasko wrote.

Since its launch, the program has already hosted several projects, including the most recent, which involved volunteers translating a booklet on how undocumented immigrants can best protect their families during immigration raids. Another project was assisting those who do not speak English as their first language during food distribution days at food banks.

Furthermore, the program plans to provide students with valuable volunteering and cross-cultural language experience in addition to providing clients with a safe and confidential space where they can ask any individual questions about the application process while getting personalized assistance in their native language.

Though LingoMatch is still in its initial phases, the team members are very optimistic for its potential growth.

“At the end of the day, making and seeing an actual impact is the true goal,” Andrasko wrote.

LSA junior Timberlee Whiteus believes the program is beneficial since it focuses on marginalized citizens.

“It is imperative to make refugees feel comfortable as many have come from troubled areas,” Whiteus said.

Andrasko agreed, noting the social signifiance of volunteering with the program as well. 

“We provide interpretation services for community centers that have a clear commitment to a social cause, such as working with food banks, immigration law firms or resettlement agencies,” Andrasko wrote. “We act as a bridge between the organization and the potential student volunteers at U of M.”