Ernest Lee Sr. is teaching the staff of the Moab Valley Multicultural Center how to speak Diné.
“Shi-buddy,” he says as Rhiana Medina, the executive director at the multicultural center, writes it on a dry erase board. The rest of the staff at the center read and repeat the phrase.
It’s Monday, March 11, and Lee has wondered into the Moab Valley Multicultural Center (MVMC) to volunteer. “Shi-buddy,” he says, is how to say friend by combining the Diné and English languages.
Lee is a new volunteer, one of 76 who joined the center in 2018 with interest in learning about other cultures and helping the community nonprofit to carry out its mission. He’s from the Navajo Nation and says the elders with white hair call themselves Diné, not Navajo. He explains that the word Navajo is the Anglo term for his people.
“A few months ago, Ernest just stopped by,” Medina says. “He’s been coming back ever since.”
Nearly 250 volunteers work with the multicultural center and contributed over 3,000 hours of service in 2018.
“I have interest in it because it’s multicultural,” Lee says. “I want to get into it and learn more about it and see if I can get involved.”
Medina and the center’s close group of employees are listening to Lee and writing notes. Lee tells them the Diné words to describe the basic phrases of hello, thank you, see you later, friend.
“He’s a good teacher,” says Zaida Agreda Winn, the program coordinator at MVMC.
PROGRAM DIRECTOR CELEBRATES 10 YEARS AT MVMC
She began working with the MVMC 10 years ago. A native of Bolivia, Winn and the multicultural center were new to the community back then. She says a phone call came into the MVMC every single day from the beginning from people in the community asking for resources or crisis assistance. The resources provided to the community by MVMC travel by word-of-mouth, she says. Today, Winn says the MVMC receives 10 to 15 calls every day, and in 2018 helped over 6,500 people with language services and crisis intervention.
And just like she was doing 10 years ago when she began working with the center, Winn is still visiting expectant mothers at the local hospital and assisting with interpretive services during labor and delivery. The last delivery she helped with was in February.
“We go to the hospital, almost every day, sometimes all day. I personally go to see the deliveries,” Winn says. “Sometimes I can help the doctors to tell the mom, breathe in, breathe out. To see a life coming, it’s just amazing.”
She says the team at the multicultural center works with people from around the world, some of whom who do not speak English as a first language, such people from Ecuador, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Chile, Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Canada, Europe and the U.S.
Winn helps interpret the process for medical procedures like epidurals or C-sections. She says she thinks that it is “fundamental” to have somebody at the hospital to provide interpretation.
“I can talk to the partner and say everything is fine, the baby is fine,” Winn says. “Or, they need to have a C-section and need to know what to expect from the doctor.”
MVMC can connect people with resources and provide immediate food and clothing to people in times of crisis. Winn says MVMC’s biggest priority is collaborating with local businesses, nonprofits and organizations to help meet the needs of the community. In 2018, she says the center saw “a lot of U.S. citizens coming here for crisis or referrals.”
“We have seen an increase in U.S. citizens who are homeless who come here for services,” Winn says.
Each year, MVMC volunteer Bob Read offers to help the MVMC as it sets up tables, chairs and festive decor for its annual Day of the Dead festival.
On Monday, March 11, he had stopped by the MVMC to meet with Medina. When asked why he supports the nonprofit through volunteer service, he says the multicultural center is “one of the most awesome things I have ever been involved in.”
"The reason is, they don’t hesitate to jump up and help people,” Read says. “There’s a need that pops up and boom, they're right there. One of the most important things about Moab is all the powerful, caring, giving women who are totally unselfish with their time. They sacrifice so much – including their families. That’s what impresses me and motivates me.”
Winn spent 10 years working in Bolivia as a television reporter and won national acclaim for her talent before moving to the U.S. in 2006, Medina says. Winn learned English and cared for two young children as she started her life over.
“Perseverance, family support, and a love of helping others brought her to the present day, still working for MVMC and still helping people every day in her role as program coordinator and lead medical interpreter,” Medina says.
MVMC board president Jim Tendick says Winn “links the beginning of the center to the present day.”
Recently, the MVMC began to offer Spanish classes to the community for anybody who wants to learn. Classes are taught by Bit Betancourt, from Venezuela, three times per week. The cost is $5. Other programs by the multicultural center have been well underway for years, such as an educational class designed for students in an after-school program.
“It’s amazing,” Winn says of the work the MVMC has done over the years. “We couldn’t do without our amazing volunteers, we couldn’t do our job because we are are just five now.”
The multicultural center is currently hiring for a temporary program assistant.
“All the jobs we do have here, we couldn’t do it without our amazing volunteers,” Winn says.
Lee, pausing at the door, leaves the MVMC staff and volunteers with a final word in Diné.
“Hágóónee' shik’is,” he says. Goodbye my friend.