Bilingual Council Broadens Member Engagement

By: Joe Rominiecki

The Santa Fe Home Builders Association bolsters community by bridging the language divide. (Titled "Two Languages, One Council" in the print edition.)

On a large scale, bridging the divide between differing cultures is an unwieldy problem, but on the micro level, one path forward is simple: Find a way to get people in the same room.

Kim Shanahan has made that his goal at the Santa Fe Home Builders Association (SFHBA), which developed a Bilingual Builders Council this year to organize education and networking events for local Spanish-speaking home builders. "I came to the conclusion that the most obvious thing to do was ... simply to offer our services as networking and advocacy and education and so on in Spanish," he says.

Easier said than done, of course. But collaboration with the Santa Fe Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a business-development consultant at Santa Fe Community College has helped get the council's programming off the ground, says Shanahan, a self-described "middle-aged white man" who began as executive officer at SFHBA in 2008 after 23 years as a general contractor.

The council began hosting monthly luncheons in April, with attendance ranging from 25 to 45 people at each event. Spoken presentations are translated, and networking among attendees is bilingual. "It really has been about just having a place where Spanish can be spoken comfortably, and it should be where you can just talk amongst yourselves in a networking setting, in whatever language you want," says Shanahan.

The Bilingual Builders Council will soon have its own bylaws, trustees, and other structures to make it a permanent part of SFHBA, joining its Green Building Council and Remodelers Council. Shanahan says he and his board realize that the chapter needs to better reflect its industry in a city that is 50 percent Hispanic.

"We have 23 board members and we have one Hispanic woman on our board, and she doesn't speak Spanish," he says.

Shanahan says he hopes "to mainstream to the Spanish-speaking community the same opportunities that every HBA around the country talks about."

SFHBA finds itself in an industry and region for which bridging the language divide is especially important.

"We have Mexican immigrant business owners in virtually every jurisdiction of the 800 chapters that we have in this [national] association," he says. "I hope we'll be able to crack the demographic riddle about what we can do to really reach out and become relevant as a home builders association to the immigrant community of business owners. If we can't do it in Santa Fe, we might not be able to do it anywhere."

Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki is a contributing editor to Associations Now.