Energy assistance provider Semcac breaks down language barriers

July 2023

Community Action changes people’s lives, embodies the spirit of hope, improves communities, and makes America a better place to live. We care about the entire community, and we are dedicated to helping people help themselves and each other.

– The Promise of Community Action

Outreach flyer

Southeast Minnesota Community Action Council (Semcac) provided a wealth of services for Southeast Minnesota residents, including energy assistance and weatherization programs. A recent seed grant from the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) helped them work with a local organization, Project FINE, to further their mission with targeted translation services. The two organizations teamed up to translate posters, forms, website pages, and even a television commercial, encouraging people to apply for Semcac’s Energy Assistance Program and the Weatherization Assistance Program. The results are impressive: Semcac Energy Assistance approved 5,126 applications.

Stacy Draper, Energy Coordinator with Semcac, answered our questions about this project.

Which people or communities did this project serve? How did it serve them?

Flier translated into Hmong

“Based on the data, other than English, we chose the top languages of Somali, Vietnamese, Karen, Spanish, and Hmong. Other languages are available per household request.

“These services are available in the southeastern Minnesota counties of Dodge, Houston, Fillmore, Freeborn, Mower, Steele, and Winona. We serve the households by providing interpretation and translation services for those with a language barrier or little understanding of the English language.”

What did you learn from this project? If you were helping someone else replicate your project, what advice would you give them?

“Advertising is on-going and much needed for Semcac services. We have many households coming into our service territory that need assistance to better understand our programs so they may achieve self-sufficiency. Continued and increasing advertising efforts will help us to get our name out in the communities we serve. 

“We also need to have our information available to all households in the language that they understand. Too many of our households don't get served because they plainly don't understand due to interpretation struggles.”

“This project opened our eyes to realize the need for interpretation services within our service territory. It is nice to be able to pool our resources and collaborate with another local agency to achieve household self-sufficiency.”

- Stacy Draper, Energy Coordinator with Semcac

Has this project spurred other ideas or next steps? If so, what?

“This project has allowed Semcac’s energy programs to begin what will be an ongoing interpreting service relationship with a local translating provider, Project FINE.”

Semcac - Collaboration for Interpreting Services of Energy Programs

Clean Energy Focus: Interpretation services and translated materials for households applying for Energy Assistance Program

Southeast CERT Seed Grant: $5,000

Other Funds Leveraged: Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Energy funds through MN Department of Commerce

People Involved and Reached: 7,017

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