As the Golden State enters the 2018 fire season, a group of selfless volunteers have been recognized.

On June 2 Blanca Figueroa, a representative of Congressman Salud Carbajal, honored Just Communities’ Language Justice Network (LJN), an organization comprised of staff and volunteer interpreters, translators, and advocates that provide linguistic services, youth leadership development and cultural competency training, with certificates of Special Congressional Recognition for their assistance during the Thomas fire and Montecito mudslides earlier this year.

According to LJN's Development and Communications Manager, Melissa G. Patrino, the recognition was a complete surprise to the volunteers.

"They put their hearts into volunteering, and to be recognized for it meant so much to them," said Patrino, adding that upon being recognized, many through tears, talked about the importance of giving back to their community during such a crucial time.

The organization provides interpreting and translation services in Spanish, English and both dialects of Mixteca. They also have American Sign Language (ASL) trainees on hand.

During the Thomas fire, LJN was approached by a non-profit agency out of Ventura County, asking for translation assistance for a resource-rich website for residents displaced by the fire. Patrino said that LJN Program Manager, Lena Moran, immediately called upon its North and South Santa Barbara and Ventura county volunteers.

“The work that the LJN members did was beyond valuable, and some of the members themselves dealt with evacuation and concern for their own friends and family members. During these emergencies, all of the best practices we advocate for were tested and our members handled spur-of-the-moment requests and lack of preparation time and the need for extreme flexibility, and despite that, it shows the great heart and commitment that the members have to language justice and to ensuring that all members of the community are treated equitably,” Moran said.

When the initial call went out, the response came quick, she said. Ten LJN members assisted with document translation, despite some being evacuated or waiting to be evacuated. The call also went out to a national network of Language Justice partners, of which three were able to help from North Carolina and New York.

According to Moran, organizations like the Santa Barbara County Foodbank also reached out to have their press releases and social media posts translated. Santa Barbara County reached out for help with interpretation during the daily town hall meetings at San Marcos High School, along with the Local Recovery Assistance Center, where four LJN members volunteered to interpret while another three were on standby, she said.

Carbajal honored Berenice Martinez and Simoné Rivadeneira of Santa Barbara, and the entire Language Justice Network for their exemplary service.

According to Patrino, Just Communities is now working with government agencies in both Santa Barbara and Ventura counties to build more effective systems and increase capacity for translation and interpretation in order to ensure communities are better prepared for future emergencies.

About Just Communities

Just Communities offers cultural competency training to organizational leaders, education seminars for the general public, leadership training institutes for students and teachers, and customized consultation to local agencies for diversity, equity, inclusion and organizational change initiatives. Just Communities consciously works with people from a diverse cross-section of the community along the lines of race, income, gender, sexual orientation, age, and religious affiliation. Our expertise in human relations uniquely positions us to serve people and organizations in the education, health care, non-profit, government, and business sectors. The breadth of our vision statement to "ensure that all people are connected, respected, and valued" does not limit our service to a single constituency. Whether we are training educators to create more equitable and effective schools, health care providers on cultural competency, facilitating a diverse collaboration of service providers to address youth violence, or empowering at-risk teens as leaders in their schools, Just Communities continues to bridge differences among those of diverse backgrounds and cultures to strengthen the local community and advance social justice.

To volunteer or learn more, call Phone (805) 966-2063 or visit

This report was compiled by Lisa André. You can reach her at Follow her on Twitter @LAndréSYVNews  


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