Program tackles language barrier in fight against drug addiction

The Mahoning County Mental Health Recovery Board provided free training for 14 counselor assistants

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – One of the first skills needed in the battle against drug addiction is communication. The language barrier is something that’s been addressed and now new bilingual communicators are ready to take the skills they’ve learned to the street.

The Mahoning County Mental Health Recovery Board provided free training for 14 counselor assistants, and the group graduated from the program Friday.

Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant (CDCA) Stephanie Oquendo said she has seen drug addiction take over her loved ones. That’s why she started the six-week training course.

She said there are many people hurting who need help, but the language barrier prevents them from being able to ask.

“I don’t think the Valley realized how many Latin Americans they have out there who cannot speak any English whatsoever. Now we are able to reach out to an unseen, unspoken community,” Oquendo said.

The training is rigorous. Not only are counselor assistants taught bilingual communication skills, they also get a crash course on addiction.

CDCA Counselor Assistant Valerie Johnson said the training involved a lot of role playing, so trainees could experience scenarios and how they would react to them. Johnson said there was one scenario that stuck with her.

“A counselor wasn’t paying attention, and I think in order to help you have to pay attention. You have to know what they are saying. If you aren’t listening, you can’t help them.”

The 14 graduates are qualified to get jobs as chemical dependency assistants to help give a voice to those suffering from addiction.

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