Taking its name from the Spanish word for “voices,” Voces aims to build a community of opportunity, inclusion and well-being for the Latino/Hispanic community of Greater Battle Creek, Mich.
Founded by a small group of Battle Creek residents in a basement office at a local hospital in 2007, Voces today is providing Latino/Hispanic families with opportunities and resources that are helping to spur individual and community transformation.
Voces Executive Director Kate Flores says building and maintaining strong relationships in the community has been critical to the organization’s development.
“A lot of our vision for what Voces can become has been shaped by the community,” Flores said. “Our initial work with medical interpreter services met an immediate and urgent need. It was critical in helping us build trust and relationships.”
Voces, with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, is reshaping the organization to further meet the needs of the community. The Battle Creek Latino/Hispanic community has consistently identified children’s success in school as a core aspiration in community conversations, so Voces is expanding its offerings beyond medical interpretive services to develop programs that focus on education and family literacy. New programs aim to increase literacy skills, cultivate parental involvement in children’s education, increase the number of trained interpreters, improve awareness and educational services and connect Latino/Hispanic families to support networks.
“We do a lot of informal learning to have a sense of if we’re moving in the right direction,” Flores said. “When we ran our pilot computer class, we talked with the participants about how it went, what they learned and next steps. Those conversations are a touchstone in knowing how to develop programs.”
Voces also seeks to work with a broad array of partners to help build the capacity of the larger Battle Creek community to support not only the Latino/Hispanic community, but also other immigrant communities with similar issues regarding language and culture.
“We don’t want to create separate, duplicated services and programs,” Flores said. “We want to connect other agencies, educators, health care providers and the government to the Latino/Hispanic community and work with them to improve services and programs.”
Voces has developed a number of successful and productive partnerships. In 2010, Voces collaborated with Kellogg Community College (KCC) and the Burmese American community to bring the nationally renowned Community Interpreter Training program to Battle Creek. Through community outreach to businesses and service organizations, KCC explained the importance of trained and qualified interpreters, and in return, many agencies sent their bilingual staff to the trainings which provided benefits in many ways across the community.
Flores also points to Early Childhood Connections (ECC) and the United Educational Credit Union (UECC) as examples of strong community partners. Voces has organized multiple community conversations for ECC to help the organization connect to the Latino/Hispanic community while UECC has redesigned their materials, hired bilingual staff and offered financial education workshops at Voces’ community center.
“Ultimately, both organizations took the responsibility for servicing the Latino/Hispanic community themselves,” Flores said.
In addition, the Voces team participates in a number of collaborative groups – from the Community Literacy Collaborative to Access to Care and Pathways to Health.