A Welcome Project Graduation Celebration

Maria Landaverde, left, youth organizer, congratulates some of our LIPS youth at the graduation.June 7, 2009—In the colorfully decorated Mystic Activity Center, The Welcome Project held its first graduation celebration for three classes of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and the bilingual high school students who completed training in its Liaison Interpreters Program of Somerville (LIPS). Among a packed house of family, friends, and community members, graduates were celebrated for their tremendous successes and progresses through the programs.

Welcome Project ESOL teacher Lisa Gimbel congratulated the adult language learners in her class on their perseverance to learn a new language and face the many obstacles that have challenged them along the way. “[My students] bring their problems to class…” said Gimbel, “…I teach mothers who are literally in my class fighting for the lives of their families.”

“…I teach mothers who are literally in my class fighting for the lives of their families.”
--Lisa Gimbel, ESOL instructor

LIPS student and Somerville High School Senior Catherine Cachimuel danced with her family's Ecuadorian Band, Yarina, at the Welcome Project Graduation.An innovative youth program, LIPS professionally trains local bilingual high school students to assist in meeting the language interpretation needs of Somerville’s diverse immigrant community in Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole.  LIPS students dedicate two hours a week to honing their interpreting skills and many more learning the intricacies of community issues with which they will be assisting, such as community planning for the Green Line extension, public school workshops on preparing for college, health fairs, and working to enable tenants to more easily participate in the Clarendon Hill Tenant Association.

Graduates of the year-long LIPS training are certainly using their bilingual talents to make marks in their community.  As Somerville High rising junior Clivia Camara says, “…we especially help those who don’t know about the services out there…” “It makes you feel great [to interpret],” said Gina Cachimuel who is headed to UMass Boston in the fall.

“…we especially help those who don’t know about the services out there…” “It makes you feel great [to interpret]”
--Gina Cachimuel, LIPS student

The enthusiasm for helping their community was evident in the day’s celebration, which was collaboratively designed and implemented by the LIPS and ESOL students.  After the program certificates were awarded, family and friends enjoyed abundant laughter, food, and a special music performance by local Ecuadorian band Yarína, which included a traditional Andean dance by LIPS graduate Katherine Cachimuel.  Cachimuel, who says she did not speak English upon arriving in the U.S., will matriculate at Simmons College in the fall.  She conveyed that the program reinforced in the students “how to treat people, even if they do not treat us with respect, we know to treat all people with respect.”

LIPS has served a more personal purpose, too.  During her keynote address Somerville High rising senior Kathleen Portillo relayed to the audience the influence of the program on her transformation throughout the year.

Kathleen Portillo, LIPS student, spoke about her experience.“…I would never have imagined myself being an emcee and speaking about our campaign to people and being an activist for something I am truly passionate about. In addition to making me aware of the issues concerning immigrants and making more appreciative of the fact that I can use my ‘bilingualness’ to help immigrants in my community, I have become more gregarious.

"In addition to making me aware of the issues concerning immigrants and making more appreciative of the fact that I can use my ‘bilingualness’ to help immigrants in my community, I have become more gregarious."
--Kathleen Portillo, LIPS student

The before and after picture is not quite one of those dramatic ugly caterpillar to beautiful and extravagant butterfly scenarios, but I feel as if this change is occurring gradually, and the L.I.P.S. program has definitely helped to initiate or jump start the change…”.