July 18, 2019
Jeffrey Thielman, Esq., CEO
International Institute of New England
2 Boylston Street, 3rd Floor
Boston, MA 02116
As you are aware, the vast majority of direct care workers at The Guild for Human Services are recent immigrants to the United States. Increasingly, our managerial, supervisory, and leadership positions also are held by new immigrants. Each and every day, these invaluable staff members provide safety, security, care, and companionship for people with multiple disabilities, many of whom are non-verbal. In my role, I regularly observe Guild staff from all walks of life placing the needs of others above their own. This unique perspective on immigration is not shown in mass media or shared in tweets.
This is why I am so pleased that The Guild and the International Institute of New England (IINE) have established a partnership to advance career opportunities for immigrant workers. The Guild’s human resources and professional development teams are thrilled to be working with IINE staff to support English language learners in preparing for the state’s Medication Administration Program exam. We’re all invigorated to expand this partnership to enable Guild staff to access IINE’s comprehensive skills training programs, which integrate contextualized English instruction with career coaching and program management curriculum, in the near future.
However, even with the enthusiasm over these developments, none of us can escape the current social context in which we live and work. While it seems that there has been no “good” time to forge a new path, the current cultural environment is particularly challenging for immigrants in this country. I can’t help but wonder if we are doing enough to support our capable workforce, which is constantly subjected to verbal attacks.
Upon reflection, The Guild’s workforce training efforts have been focused on pursuing career advancement opportunities, specifically by teaching new immigrants how The Guild and the human services field more broadly expect staff members to perform. We seem to be missing the key element of reciprocity; namely, what is The Guild learning from our newly immigrated staff? My colleague Mustapha Abdulai, PhD, The Guild’s director of adult residential services, and I have hypothesized that our immigrant staff possess a distinctive strength.
Kinesthetic language (body language) plays a significant role in everyday communication. For people who are non-verbal, like many of those served by The Guild, physical gestures play an essential role in making needs and desires known. Likewise, numerous, empirical studies demonstrate that gestures offer insights into language acquisition for non-native speakers. The research in gesture and language acquisition suggests what Dr. Abdulai and I have long observed: Non-native English speakers are attuned to the nuances of kinesthetic language; in our observations, this characteristic greatly enhances the experience of the non-verbal individuals we serve. In other words, English language learners bring a unique skill set as direct caregivers that could be harnessed for improved service delivery for our respective organizations and beyond.
As The Guild and IINE further this collaboration, we hope that you will consider helping us identify means to finance research on the many incredible assets immigrant communities bring to our work and their contributions to human services in general.
Amy C. Sousa, Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer