Employee learns Russian to better serve
Written by Julie Borgen, Twin Cities Media Relations Director for The Salvation Army Northern Division
When case manager Russell Gutsche (pictured) heard there was a job opening at The Salvation Army Booth Manor senior housing complex in Minneapolis (related story), he jumped at the chance.
“I was tickled – it was the perfect fit,” said Gutsche, who took the job in 2016 after transferring from a different Salvation Army location.
Gutsche immediately loved the people of Booth Manor (pictured), the work, and the culture. But he soon encountered a problem: He couldn’t communicate with many of Booth Manor’s 158 residents because 40 percent of them are Russian (related story).
“At first, I was just winging it,” Gutsche said.
To bridge the gap, he relied on apps like Google Translate and he listened to a Russian podcast. He also bought a language learning program and even a Russian computer keyboard so that residents could type and have their words translated into English.
“Then I thought, I need to do better,” Gutsche said. “I wanted to immerse myself in Russian so that I could truly communicate with them.”
With that, Gutsche enrolled in Russian language classes at Minneapolis Community and Technical College in January.
“They say Russian, Arabic and Chinese are the hardest languages for English speakers to learn, ” he chuckled. “It was really taxing on the brain. I was peddling fast to keep up, but I did.”
“She’s about 85 years old and she’s tough on me,” Gutsche said with a smile. “If I don’t say something right she just says, nope, that’s wrong. Keep going until you get it right.”
So far, his work is paying off. The Russian speakers at Booth Manor are thrilled that they can communicate more easily.
“Their eyes light up, and they say oh, you’re speaking my language,” Gutsche said.
His efforts are creating an even more supportive community for the people who call Booth Manor home.
“Russ is such a dedicated and caring case manager,” said Jessica Hering, Assistant Social Services Director. “His initiative in taking Russian is so impressive. It really makes our residents feel valued and know how much he cares.”