What You’ll Learn
Rolando Benitez helps lead Carroll EMC‘s outreach to Spanish speaking members by providing them with materials in their native language, as well as seeking out community leaders.
Guest SpeakerRolando Benitez
Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Intro: A production of WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. StoryConnect: The Podcast, helping communicators discover ideas to shape their stories and connect with their customers.
Andy Johns: What are some things you can do to make sure you’re not missing out on an important part of your audience who may not speak English? That’s what we’re talking about on this episode of StoryConnect: The Podcast. My name is Andy Johns, your host with WordSouth and Pioneer. And I am joined today by Rolando Benitez, who is the Member Advocate for Carroll EMC. Rolando, welcome to the podcast.
Rolando Benitez: Well, thank you, Andy, for having me. It’s definitely an honor for me to be here. It’s my first one, so just be gentle.
Andy Johns: There we go. Sounds good. I guess I should have said Bienvenido on neustra podcast because as listeners may guess from my 11th grade Spanish there, we are going to be talking about Spanish outreach and how to reach folks who are not native English speakers. And you guys have done some really cool things there at Carroll EMC. I know you’ve been a big part of that. But first, I wanted to start with the title “member advocate.” Because you know, you mentioned this is your first podcast. This is probably our first podcast interviewing somebody with the job title “member advocate.” It’s one I hadn’t seen a lot, but it’s one that I like. Tell us a little bit about your role and what that means.
Rolando Benitez: Yeah, definitely. Yes, Andy, and member advocate at Carroll EMC utilizes that position basically to assist and help our members with various different needs. In the co-op world, we wear many hats. I’m over our water heater rebates, our high energy audits as well. And we also use that position to be able to go to our local schools, educate many of our students in our community what a co-op is. A lot of people really don’t know what the business is. I certainly didn’t when I was in high school. And just to name a few things here, we really do have quite a bit going on over here.
Andy Johns: Yeah, sounds like it. It certainly does. Now, I met Rolando at the the Georgia Association, GMCSA or SCA conference down there at Callaway Gardens, and we had a conversation back kind of in late fall, early winter of 2021. And we got to talking about some of the things that they’ve done to reach out to folks, to be member advocates for folks who aren’t necessarily the traditional English speaking co-op members. And it’s an area I know that a lot of folks who are co-op communicators have mentioned to me,. You know, just the the struggle that they know there’s an important population out there to reach, but obviously there are some language barriers. So tell me a little bit about kind of, if you go back to Carroll EMC, when did folks start to notice or pay attention to, “Hey, we’ve got a significant section of our membership that is not going to be able to read easily the communication that we’re sending them?”
Rolando Benitez: Yes, Andy. And you know, definitely I like to mention that this is something that’s very passionate about. It’s very close to my heart. I just to give you briefly, a little bit of a history of my positions here at Carroll EMC. I started off in our construction department. I Moved onto our member services there for about 15 years. I got a lot of experience, a lot of great experience there. Moved to our HR department for about three years before actually accepting this position here, about almost a year now. So I’ve been with Carroll EMC 20 years, coming up on 20 years. So yeah, I got a lot of experience there. And when we moved, when we moved here and to Carrollton, Georgia, in 1990, we were one of maybe three families, Spanish-speaking families in the area. We have seen the population as other areas may experience this have grown quite a bit, and we have too as well. And being in member services has really helped me a lot to understand what the needs of the Hispanic community are. I was the only, for a long time, the only employed Spanish-speaking person for Carroll EMC, and many times I was assigned at positions where I may be at a district office or be out of town. And so when individuals would come in, you know, to get assistance that had some challenges speaking the language, they may even have had, you know, they may even bring their children sometimes to assist or someone else to help them translate and so forth.
Rolando Benitez: But one thing that I always notice is that as soon as they were able to speak with me, they weren’t just initially starting off by, “Hey, I want to pay my bill, and I had a question about it,” or something like that and the rep just called me in. They talked about everything that they’ve had on their plate since they first became a member with Carroll EMC. And so they unloaded, you know, because they were able to actually see a, well, number one, this person speaks Spanish. I want to be able to talk about everything while I have them here and so forth. So because of that, Andy, some of the things and now being away from our member service department now for almost five years or so, you know, my heart is still with our that department member services because I really loved being able to assist and help individuals in general, but in particular to also help those Spanish-speaking individuals as well. And so we came up with an idea or I came up with an idea too, about how can we try to educate the Hispanic community, or what can we do? What can we, how can we be proactive on that? And so we recently hired two Spanish-speaking individuals. And so I was just brainstorming and just thinking, what can we do? And one of the things that came that I was thinking about was these videos, not only to introduce ourselves to the community because we serve as seven counties.
Rolando Benitez: And so not only to introduce the community who we have here? Who are they going to see if they ask for a Spanish speaking individual over the phone, or if they come in to see us? But I went ahead and made videos, separate videos, one speaking about prepaid versus regular billing. So we provide prepaid with our co-op and others as well, I believe are doing the same. So that was one of the most common questions. Well, what’s the difference between those two services? Where can I pay my bill? How do I report a power outage? You know, all these different things were the most common that I saw and that our reps would bring up. And so we went ahead and did these videos. But not only did we post those on our website Andy, I went ahead and got with a local community leader here with a Hispanic community who has strong ties with the Hispanic community. And her outreach, you know, extends to almost all the seven counties that we serve is. So we partnered up, we teamed up with her. And so I did also a little live video with her, and we used those videos too as well. So that way she could have that available and be able to share it with the Hispanic community.
Andy Johns: So and there’s a lot to unpack there, and it’s kind of like a three pronged approach. And I really like it, and thanks for the overview. So I mean, the three basic things that you’re touching on. (1) You’ve got to hire, you’ve got to have the staff, the resources folks that are able to speak the language. (2) You’ve got to provide the materials in multiple languages. (3) Which I think is really important that I want to get to here in a minute is, it’s not enough — I heard it said whenever you’re talking about different groups, whatever that is, whether that’s language or whatever — it’s not enough just to invite them to your party. You’ve got to go to their party. And it sounds like that outreach that you’re talking about with the community leaders is important. And I do want to get to that. But, let’s go to the hiring part first, because I think you said that you were in HR for a little while. So is it as simple as just throwing out there on your on a member services, you know, job listing, you know, Spanish-speaking required or preferred or something like that? How do you go about finding the right folks to be — like you said, so there’s not one person in the office is the only one who can who can help, folks. You want some bench depth and other folks that can can do it so that it’s not always fallen on one person.
Rolando Benitez: That’s a great question, Andy, and that was a challenge that we as a company have had in for quite some time. And you know, I did think about that question, or we’ve had that question before, and I thought about it. And one of the things that I personally feel and something that one of my goals for the next couple of years and that I’m also very passionate about here, is to do the outreach or utilize the position to be able to go to the schools to educate our community. And number one, what is a co-op? I mean, what are the job opportunities in that co-op? But one of the main things too, that I brought up to you before too Andy, is that my long term goal right now that and I’m working with these schools. I have quite a bit of, made a lot of good connections of actually have meetings already to go to career days. Not only, but I’m wanting to focus in on minorities for our construction field. Now one of those things, and obviously that includes women too as well, a lot of the co-ops probably have, may experience the same things that we do in that Carroll EMC is 100% white males.
Rolando Benitez: And that’s great. It’s working in many, many, many ways. But our administrative side is more diverse, and we’ve seen how that has benefited our company. And my long term goal is to actually do the same for our construction department. And so because of that, being able to go out to the schools for career day. When I speak, I am going in there because we provide scholarships as well for lineman. So the initial meeting is set up for our lineman scholarships. Talk about linemen. I’ll bring in one of our linemen to talk a little bit more about what they do and so forth. But that’s the main meat or the main body of that of that meeting. But I do go on to mention other things too as well that’s available in our field. And so I’m able to I feel like educating starting early is one way that I feel that’s going to help us.
Andy Johns: Definitely. Now, the second piece of that is the content and getting the messaging and that communication out there, whether it’s print or digital, whatever the pieces are. I know digitally, and we have done podcasts and webinars before about making sure that a website is built where it can be translatable. And the Google Translate does a pretty good job for by all accounts. But if somebody is listening and they’re saying so to reach the Spanish-speaking audience, whatever percentage of their membership that is, do I need an entirely separate parallel track of everything I do in English, I need to also do in Spanish in terms of all of my communication and collateral? How far have you guys gone? I know you said you have the video. Are there other pieces as well that you found have been important to do both? Or do you guys do everything in English and Spanish at this point?
Rolando Benitez: So we haven’t gotten to that point yet, Andy. but we’ve made huge strides in trying to reach that goal. Our applications, which obviously that’s standard, I believe most of companies may have that already, are English and Spanish. We do have things set up on our website that have both as well. You know, we’ve done quite a bit of things to, you know, obviously we have to have things available from the HR side of it as well that’s both English and Spanish, too as well. But I know we can, we’re working towards improving on some of those forms to as well.
Andy Johns: And there’s always, you know, there’s always more to be done, for sure. So on the digital side, you know, when you mentioned sharing the videos, do people need to consider a separate Spanish, you know, social media outlets? Or it sounds like you were putting those primarily on your website where you had those. So once you had the content there, how did you make sure that folks could find it?
Rolando Benitez: Yeah. So our communications department does a wonderful job too, as well. Not only did they put those and made those available using our website, we have a social media page. They’re able to blast those. Put those all over the place too, as well. And obviously using our connection with the community. Latino leaders as well, having them, I think that was probably one of the biggest assets that we have. Being able to team up and partner up with them because they were the ones that are the trusted, you know, leaders or community leaders for the Hispanic community. And and really, I think that’s what’s really benefited us the most.
Andy Johns: For sure, and then that’s the third part is I wanted to be sure we do talk about that. Because like I said, I’ve heard it said over and over again when it comes to whether it’s a DEI topic or whether it’s a, you know, talking about reaching these other audiences, whatever it is, not just language barrier. But like I said, it’s not enough to just invite them to your party and hope they show up. You’ve got to get into that community and show up and, you know, be an ambassador. And it sounds like that you’ve done that. How do folks go about finding out where they need to be in terms of other groups?
Rolando Benitez: Well, another thing that I was going to mention too Andy is, how should I say this? But I think, what I have seen too as well going into the schools, I’ve only been at it for seven months or so, something like that. But what I have seen is these minority individuals, when they see someone, one of — and I’m not sure if I am saying this right — but when they see me, they see someone you know, maybe they can relate [to]. They tend to perk up a little bit more. You know, really pay attention. You know, I’ve these meetings have been done before, but it’s, you know, they can’t relate to the individual. They feel like it’s not for them. But when I’m there, and I’m so passionate about this, Andy, I really, really want to get this out. Because working for a co-op, especially Carroll EMC, is one of the best choices that I’ve ever made in my life aside from, you know, marrying my wife.
Andy Johns: Gotta get that out there, just in case she listens.
Rolando Benitez: Exactly, exactly. But it is. I love working for Carroll EMC. The opportunities that they have given me are, man, I’m so excited to be a part of this. I love what I do here. To be able to go out and do these outreach programs has really meant a lot to me. And from what I have seen already, the faces, speaking with the students, it’s I don’t know. They just… They I think, like I mentioned, they can, you know, they can see someone that relates to them. You know, so that might be a little challenging if they cannot, you know, you could have someone that’s a presenter come in, and I’ve seen it before and give presentations and done various different things, done way better jobs than I have. But for whatever reason, they may not be able to connect as well. So I don’t know if that kind of answers or helps you a little bit there.
Andy Johns: No, that’s good. Well, the last question that I had for you. If we’re, you know, if there’s somebody who’s listen to this and whatever percent of their audience — whether it’s Spanish or whether I know there are other areas where we were talking to co-op out in West Texas, where they have a, for whatever reason, a large immigrant population from one of the African countries that speaks a different language that is not English or Spanish. So if somebody has a a significant part of their membership that are not English speakers, that speak another language, primarily. What advice would you give them to get started? You know, like you said, it’s even somebody who’s been working on for a while, you acknowledge that there’s still a ways to go to get everything there, if that’s the goal. So it can be a little intimidating. But what are some first steps? What are some things that they can start doing to start making impact and start reaching those folks?
Rolando Benitez: Andy, that’s a great question. The very first thing that I would recommend personally myself in no matter what language, nationality, I would encourage to try to hire an individual. Personally myself, I would try to hire an individual that could relate, that can maybe speak the language. I mean, obviously, we want to make sure that the individual can handle our English speaking members as well. But to having a bilingual or having someone that could actually really relate to whatever nationality or language, I think that would go a long way personally. That’s just my opinion.
Andy Johns: Sure. Excellent. Well, it’s an opinion founded in a lot of good experience over your time there, in your years there. So we really appreciate you sharing some of that experience and wisdom with us on this episode.
Rolando Benitez: Oh no. Well, thank you, Andy, for having me. I really appreciate everything. This has been really very encouraging. So if you guys ever need anything else, just, you know, I’m here.
Andy Johns: Thanks so much. He is Rolando Benitez, the member advocate for Carroll EMC. My name is Andy Johns, your host with WordSouth and Pioneer. And until we talk again. Keep telling your story!
Outro: StoryConnect is produced by WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. Both companies are built to share your story. Our associate producer is Sarah Wootten. StoryConnect is engineered by Lucas Smith of Lucky Sound Studio.