Interpreter spans language gap in emergencies

  • Wed Jul 21st, 2010 10:49pm
  • News

By Amy Daybert Herald Writer

EVERETT — As the program manager for the South Everett Neighborhood Center and Familias Unidas, Winnie Corral enjoys helping people who speak different languages.

Sometimes she speaks Spanish, other times she’ll converse in Russian. So when flooding occurred at the Three Rivers Mobile Home and RV Park near the Snohomish River three years ago, and Spanish interpreters where needed, she volunteered her skills.

That was the beginning of her involvement as a volunteer with the Snohomish County Medical Reserve Corps, a group that responds in emergency situations throughout Snohomish County.

“I worked with the Salvation Army and helped with communication,” Corral said. “I remember I was brand new and I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. I didn’t know how disaster procedures work and I realized there was a whole group of people who didn’t know either but had a vital need for it.”

Corral, 53, has been a volunteer for the Snohomish County Medical Reserve Corps ever since, assisting in the aftermath of floods throughout the county in 2007 and during last fall’s H1N1 outbreak.

The Medical Reserve Corps is a national program. Snohomish County’s program is in partnership with the Snohomish Health District and the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management, according to Therese Quinn, volunteer coordinator for the Snohomish County Medical Reserve Corps. Corral is one of nearly 200 active support and medical volunteers with the county’s program, she said.

“Winnie is fantastic,” Quinn said. “She is one of those people who when she sees there’s a need she makes sure there’s a way she can be there to help out.”

At one point during the county’s H1NI response in October, Corral was called to help someone who only spoke Spanish.

Corral was happy to help, Quinn said.

“We got a call in to the call center and didn’t have anyone who spoke Spanish,” she said. “(Corral) was driving down the road and pulled over and was able to get all the information to the person who needed it.”

Corral immigrated to the United States from Honduras with her family when she was three. She taught language classes for elementary students in Southern California before moving to the Everett area in 1984. She has worked at the South Everett Neighborhood Center and Familias Unidas for the past 10 years.

She participates in training courses that are offered to Snohomish County Medical Reserve Corps volunteers. The last course she attended focused on how to help people who are involved in a trauma, she said.

“They wanted us to know how to respond to people who are traumatized by the situation they’re in,” she said. “It’s important to have ideas because most of us have not been in a disaster.”

One hundred Medical Reserve Corps volunteers helped immunize more than 20,000 people in vaccination clinics throughout Snohomish County last October, Quinn said. The Snohomish County Medical Reserve Corps received a national Community Resiliency Award on June 3 at the Medical Reserve Corps 2010 Integrated Training Summit in Las Vegas, Nev.

“People were afraid volunteers would not come out if we had a pandemic,” Quinn said. “Just the opposite happened. When we put out a volunteer call we could not answer the phones fast enough. I just think it’s so wonderful our volunteers are so giving.”

Corral will volunteer at Empower, a disaster preparedness fair, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at McCollum Park, in Everett. She hopes a crowd of Snohomish County residents will attend the fair to learn how to be better prepared for a disaster.

“I will be one of many interpreters there that day making sure people have access to information,” she said. “We can’t ever have too many prepared people.”

Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491; adaybert@heraldnet.com.