It’s not every day that Alisha Williams, a resource development specialist for Lakewood, gets to speak French. But when she received a call from the City’s Head Start preschool program asking for help with a mom who speaks French, her skills provided some much-needed linguistic assistance to a recently arrived immigrant family.
After securing a visa, the mom left Africa’s Democratic Republic of the Congo for the promise of opportunity here, but it didn’t come without immense sacrifice. “This is a story of perseverance. Mom packed up her five kiddos into the unknown,” leaving her husband behind in the capital city of Kinshasa to continue his medical career, Williams explains.
The family arrived in Lakewood thanks to the generosity of an uncle, but only speaking French and the family’s indigenous language means the mom and the children “haven’t been able to communicate well,” she says. The mom was concerned because the language barrier had left her unable to find a doctor for her five children, and understanding what was occurring in the Head Start program was also difficult.
Having studied French from middle school through college, Williams then served three years in the Peace Corps in western Africa, which solidified her practical language skills. When she came to Lakewood, she volunteered to become part of the City’s translator list that staff members can call upon when they need support.
Head Start staff members asked Williams to facilitate a meeting with the mom, and the two made a connection almost immediately, staff members say. Williams “could tell right away the mother felt more at ease” speaking with her, as “someone who knew not just the language but her African culture,” she says.
Williams and the mom exchanged phone numbers, and she has extended her help on issues beyond the preschool meeting. Humble about her involvement and genuinely excited to put her French to practical use, Williams has stepped in to help the family navigate complexities such as doctor’s appointments, Parent Teacher Association meetings and school paperwork.
As the family members continue to adjust to their new American life, the mother is enrolled in regular English classes while the children are looking forward to the start of school again this fall. Williams has continued to provide translations for documents and other items during her personal time, demonstrating a passion for helping her community above and beyond her regular job duties.