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Boston-area agencies band together to lend immigrants a helping hand

Immigrants entering the United States through Boston will soon find services available to them that New York's Ellis Island arrivals of generations ago could only dream of. They will be offered the help of interpreters, and they will also have special assistance in job training. There will be day care for those who may need it.

These programs are part of a newly established project, called the Refugee Training and Interpreter Services Initiative, financed by $600,000 in startup funds from six corporate and nonprofit donors. The initiative aims to help refugees, many of them from Haiti, Vietnam, Cambodia, Central America, and other third-world countries, cope with life in the US.

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``Our long-range goal is to get a major national foundation to fund an overall program...,'' says Joan Diver, director of the Hyams Foundation, one of two agencies launching the project.

``Refugees need housing, mental-health services, understanding of immigration laws, and bilingual help as they seek to adjust to a new culture in America,'' says Anna Faith Jones, director of the Boston Foundation, which is collaborating with the Hyams Foundation in devising this project. ``Various community agencies are trying to help our newcomers but don't have the facilities or personnel to serve them properly.''

Grants have been awarded to six Boston-area programs:

Associated Day Care Services in partnership with Wheelock College will provide training and internships to prepare Haitian and Hispanic people for entry-level jobs in local day-care centers.

Boston University is to offer training and counseling to bilingual employees of nonprofit and public human-service agencies.

Cambridge Community Services in collaboration with Catholic Charitable Bureau of Boston is to set up a pool of interpreters to serve nonprofit and human-service agencies in nearby Cambridge.

Concilio Hispano de Cambridge is to develop internships at human-services agencies in minority communities.

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Massachusetts Trial Court will develop a program to train interpreters for Boston-area courts and cultural-sensitivity training for judges.

Trustees for Boston City Hospital are to form a citywide medical interpreter pool and a training program for local health-care institutions.

Ultimately the sponsors hope these programs receive further funds to make the project ongoing.

``These newcomers ... need our helping hands so that they will be better able to contribute to the progress of Boston and vicinity,'' Mrs. Diver says.

The project is seen as a positive development by those participating in it. ``This collaboration is wonderful [and] very much needed in our community,'' says Hubie Jones, dean of the Boston University School of Social Work. ``Now is the time to make things happen. We are committed to the empowerment of these newcomers to serve their own people. The School of Social Work has provided training for refugees from Southeast Asia since 1980.''

``This program is a positive signal to our groups that we can better ourselves and our community,'' says Jorge Luna, executive secretary of the Concilio Hispana de Cambridge.

``The United Way is always seeking outreach initiatives, new ways to resolve community problems,'' says Wayne S. Wright, United Way outreach director.

``We now have the opportunity to develop interpreters who can relay the real inward feelings of the immigrant in preference to people who are translators only,'' says Maribel Pintado-Espiet, coordinator of Court Interpreter Services, which trains interpreters for the Massachusetts court system.

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