1995 Finalist
State of Texas
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

The population of the city of Dallas, Texas, has become increasingly diverse in recent decades. The Dallas Committee for Foreign Visitors estimates that the more than one million residents of Dallas speak 96 different languages. Although the other cities in the area are less populous and less ethnically diverse than Dallas, they also are characterized by linguistic diversity. For example, the Fort Worth Independent School District estimates that it students speak roughly 50 different languages. This language diversity has posed challenges for the Texas Department of Human Services (TDHS), tasked with delivering services to significant numbers of non-English speaking constituents. The Volunteer Interpreter Services (VIS) program was therefore initiated in an effort to break through communication barriers to provide requisite social services to Texas residents.

VIS is available to all non-English speaking TDHS clients. When non-English speaking clients request services, caseworkers and support staff use the automated interpreter directory to arrange for an interpreter. If there is no interpreter for the language, the Coordinator begins person-to-person recruiting of an interpreter, who often agrees to become a volunteer for other clients. While actual service utilization varies, during 1994, an average of 24 volunteers interpreted for approximately 494 clients, for a total of 3949 hours of translated conversation. On average in 1994, 11 volunteers per month also provided 81 hours of written translation and other in-office services including translated notices, letters, and medical forms, to the benefit of both staff and clients.

Cost-effectiveness is an additional testament to the program’s success. Commercial telephone interpreting services are priced at $2.50 per minute. In 1994, the VIS provided 3,949 hours of interpreting which, if paid for at the market price, would have cost $592,350. Volunteers provided 966 hours of program support valued at $12.13 per hour, representing an additional $11,718 in services gained.

Finally, this program's success is also reflected by the level of satisfaction and interest of the volunteers who are drawn to volunteer work because of a desire to help, to contribute to their community, to find fulfillment in a meaningful activity, and to prepare for and find out about future employment. The growth of the roll of volunteers to as many as 200 indicates that this program provides a meaningful and satisfying opportunity to help others. A random survey of volunteers showed across-the-board support and widespread belief that this volunteer experience can enhance their future job searches.