Community leaders spoke on specific steps they have taken to improve immigrant safety and inclusion and their plans for growing the Gainesville Immigrant Neighbor Inclusion (GINI) Initiative on Wednesday.
GINI, formed in 2021, supports community efforts to make the City of Gainesville and Alachua County safer and more inclusive for immigrants. More than 60 community members from various backgrounds and cultures work to advance engagement for its immigrant neighbors.
“Six months to a year ago, many people said GINI was ambitious,” said Robin Lewy, GINI lead community liaison, at the press conference held at the Matheson History Museum. “I think we see that change has been made one year later. The idea of GINI is to break down isolation, to build community, safety, and create a more welcoming community for us to all live in.”
Since its Immigrant Inclusion Blueprint was revealed in its March 29 meeting, GINI has made critical strides to increase the community’s language accessibility, new positions to address the barriers immigrants face, and efforts to provide immigrants with resources to receive the necessary support.
The City of Gainesville focused most of its efforts on language inclusion, which entails working on its language lines for phones, multi-language publications for documents, and multi-language signage. The majority of the $350,000 from the city’s undesignated funds has gone toward these efforts.
Mayor Lauren Poe hopes that a budget amendment will be approved at the city commission meeting on Thursday so the city’s various departments can begin implementing the language inclusion efforts.
“We want every person who interacts with the city, regardless of how long they’ve been here, to be able to take advantage of all the city’s services and opportunities we offer,” Poe said.
Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) has 85 languages that are spoken among students throughout the district.
The district hired a full-time translator-interpreter — a new position — to ensure faculty, staff, students, and parents could communicate better, even with a language barrier.
The ACPS School Board recently approved the installation of Language Line. A beta test conducted on Friday was successful and allowed the district to recognize minor technical issues that need fixing.
“In addition to the installment of Language Line, a welcome center is in the process of setting up and hiring staff,” said Jackie Johnson, ACPS director of communications and community initiatives. “It is for families who are not English proficient and will be located at the Fearnside Family Service Center.”
Law enforcement agencies also implemented procedures to increase immigrants’ knowledge of their legal rights and responsibilities.
The Gainesville Police Department (GPD) created a group called The Language Inclusion Champions. A member of each department within the general government can connect a non-English speaker to the language line or supply fully translated documents and paperwork. All members must go through an extensive training circuit.
GINI is sponsoring the Greater Gainesville International Festival and Longest Table celebration this Sunday, Sept. 18, at the MLK Center from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The event is in honor of the UN International Day of People and the 10th anniversary of Welcoming Week.