The Collegian
Thursday, November 30, 2023

Students reach out with Red Cross to local Hispanic community

The local chapter of the American Red Cross will be working with University of Richmond undergraduate and law students in a new initiative to serve the Hispanic community in Richmond.

The Hispanic Community Legal Liaison Association (HCLLA), a student organization at the T.C. Williams School of Law, will work with the Red Cross on a new project that will focus on educating native Spanish speakers about the services that the Red Cross provides. Undergraduate students enrolled in Spanish 301 — Spanish in the Community — will also be working on the initiative.

The project, which is still in the planning phase, will begin sometime in late March or early April, HCLLA president Jeff Hanna said. Law and undergraduate students trained by volunteers from the Red Cross will go to apartment complexes where the majority of the residents speak Spanish and give them information packets written in Spanish about the services offered by different organizations in Richmond. The information will center on public health and emergency preparedness, especially the services the Red Cross provides. The HCLLA would like to one day include voter registration forms in Spanish, Hanna said.

The initiative is based on a project that the Red Cross started last summer, said Peter Von der Lippe, manager of multicultural services for the Richmond Red Cross. Students went door to door asking basic questions about emergency preparedness and handing out information in Spanish about how residents could be better prepared for disasters. The current initiative with the HCLLA will expand on this project.

"Last summer, 1,600 out of 7,000 residents responded to us," Von der Lippe said. "This time we hope to involve more students and increase that number."

Many of these students will come from Laura Middlebrooks' Spanish 301 class, for which students are expected to perform 20 hours of volunteer service in the Spanish-speaking community. In the past, students have worked with after-school programs, tutored and even played soccer with a Spanish-speaking team. This semester, they are being strongly encouraged to spend some of their time working with the Red Cross and the HCLLA.

Middlebrooks said when her students first find out about the service component of her class, they're usually terrified. Until this point, she said, students are used to textbook learning, not interacting with people and using their language skills. After starting their work, students are "generally euphoric," she said, when they realize the difference they are making in the community. Gradually that euphoria will wear off, and it becomes a more natural process as the students become confident in their speaking and comprehension skills, she said.

Middlebrooks said she hoped her students would get that same experience from working with the Red Cross. Von der Lippe has already spoken to her classes about the work the Red Cross does in the community and about the importance of making emergency and health services available to all sections of society.

"With the increased negativity of immigration debates and how politicized that debate has become, these people often have the feeling that they aren't always welcome," Middlebrooks said. "That leads to a degree of marginalization, and they don't always come forward to claim what is offered to them. If nothing else happens, this initiative lets people know the Red Cross has a presence in the community and that they are eager to help in the case of emergencies."

Hanna said it also became clear after Hurricane Katrina and the recent wildfires in southern California that non-English speakers often suffer the most during emergencies because they feel they have nowhere to turn. "When you watched the news after these disasters, there were not many Hispanic faces," he said. "They were nowhere to be seen."

Eventually members of the Red Cross and the HCLLA hope to go door-to-door to gather information on the Spanish-speaking community in Richmond to find out more about their countries of origin and who they are so that the Red Cross can better serve their needs. The Red Cross also hopes to expand this initiative to other regions and schools in Virginia.

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