Maria Vertkin used her experience as an immigrant to start Found in Translation, an organization that leverages the multilingual skills of immigrants, and helps them become interpreters.
“If you don't have people pushing you on, believing in you, how hard is it to accomplish what they did?”
As an immigrant, Maria Vertkin knew the struggle to establish life in a new country. She also knew the advantage of being bilingual. So when her social work career brought her into contact with low-income immigrant communities, she saw a vast, untapped resource.
Being bilingual, she says, is "a really marketable skill, if you supplement it with the right training." When medical interpreting, a fast-growing field with a respectable pay scale, presented itself as an option for her clients, Maria says “I thought I'd solved it all."
However, her clients could not afford the tuition for training program, to say nothing of extras like babysitters and transportation. But that all changed when Maria received a grant from the Kip Tiernan Social Justice Foundation. At that moment, she says, "I hit the ground running."
The pilot program of Found in Translation trained native speakers of Spanish, Haitian Creole, and Arabic in the fundamentals of the healthcare system, as well as technical competency in interpreting.
Maria smiles broadly as she details the benefits of the program. "They get a productive career—that's more money for them, and less money they're using in public benefits. They're actually contributing to the tax pool. And as interpreters, they save a ton of money for the healthcare system. It's a win-win-win-win."
At the program's graduation ceremony, Maria says, "it really struck me how many of our graduates have nobody to invite." The mentorship and support provided by Found in Translation is just as crucial as the technical training. "If you don't have people pushing you on, believing in you, how hard is it to accomplish what they did?"
Maria is working to create a job placement pipeline between program graduates and local hospitals. She also hopes to spread the program beyond healthcare. "If you remove economic barriers, if you put those supports in place, you can put incredibly talented candidates into the workforce."