Community center aids international residents

By Sharon Wittke

Language barriers are often the reason for cultural barriers, says the director of the Old School Community Center.

The center, formally known as the Bowen Gym Multicultural Community Center on High Street since 2005, is relocating to North Springer Street in a donated space where it will continue to offer programs in language and cultural services and interpreter training to help combat cultural barriers, said Debbie Gates-Burklow, the center’s director.

Gates-Burklow, who is also the president of Expressions of Faith, the non-denominational, non-profit corporation that manages the center, said staff members and community volunteers have been renovating the space in preparation for its open house on April 12.


“We love this old place,” Gates-Burklow said. “We plan to renovate it from top to bottom.”

Dee Casper, one of eight part-time staff members at the center and coordinator for the disaster preparedness program, said the center is essential in Carbondale, where there are people from many cultural backgrounds, mostly because of the international students enrolled at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

“When you walk into Faner, it’s like walking into the United Nations,” Casper said.

He said many international students bring their families to Carbondale, and these family members may not be able to communicate effectively in English, particularly when talking to doctors and lawyers.

Casper said the center’s keystone language and cultural services program provides services of professional interpreters trained in eight languages to help individuals better understand medical and legal advice. The eight languages are Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Mandarin, Korean, Haitian Creole, French and Japanese, he said.

He said the center’s interpreters are trained to interpret communications “word-for-word” so that the client knows exactly what is being said.

“Our interpreters take a neutral position with 100 percent accuracy,” Casper said.


Angie Acosta, the center’s interpreter education coordinator, said her job is to administer the nationally recognized 40-hour certification program. She said it’s designed to teach people already proficient in two or more languages how to interpret conversation or translate written materials with complete accuracy.

Casper said his primary duties are to educate the public about disaster preparedness and to assist international clients with survival planning.

“People from other countries aren’t familiar with the types of disasters we have here,” he said.

Casper said language barriers often keep international residents of the community from understanding emergency warnings.

In his course, he teaches basic and practical information such as how to gather supplies for an emergency kit and where to go for help if a disaster occurs, he said, and has interpreters assist him to ensure everyone can understand.

Casper said the center is developing Jacob’s Ladder, a program designed to help ex-offenders reintegrate into the community.

Shane Hassler, the center’s program developer for Jacob’s Ladder, said his program will help felons find jobs, which ultimately helps to reduce recidivism rates.

Gates-Burklow said the main focus of the open house in April is to increase awareness of how her organization is creating a support network for international members of the community.

“All the programs work to benefit the people and the community,” she said.