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    • Please join me in welcoming Maria Vertkin, the Founder and Executive Director of Found in Translation, which trains low-income women to be professional medical interpreters, giving them an opportunity to overcome poverty by capitalizing on their language skills and unleashing bilingual talent into the workforce to fight disparities in health care.

      A bit about Maria herself: Maria was born in Russia and lived in Israel before immigrating to the United States. She studied Social Work at Regis College. Before launching Found in Translation, Maria led a pilot program for homeless, unaccompanied youth at the nonprofit Rediscovery. She has also volunteered with survivors of domestic violence, was a mentor to girls at Big Sister of Greater Boston, a support group facilitator at Parents Helping Parents, a phone counselor on the state-wide Parental Stress Line, and translated for the grassroots media project Alive in Mexico. Maria has won numerous awards, including being a Forbes 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneur, an Echoing Green Global Fellowship, and Chronicles of Philanthropy 40 under 40.

      Welcome Maria!

    • You are such a passionate advocate for others, giving back and social change. Where did the initial inspiration for Found In Translation come from?

    • The original inspiration, if you go back far enough, is my own upbringing, my own past. I’m from a poor family myself. We immigrated twice, first from Russia to Israel, when the Soviet Union collapsed, and Israel was another place where it was very difficult for immigrants to integrate. Xenophobia there was brutal and we did not find a lot of economic opportunity. And then we moved to the United States looking for the same thing: a better life when I was 11 years old. Eventually I became a social worker and met lots of families, especially women-led families, that went through the same challenges. When we talk about immigrants, a lot of people have a very negative view, in part shaped by media, about immigrants being people who don’t contribute, or people who don’t have a lot to give. The women I was hoping to serve had a lot of doors slammed in their faces due to systemic barriers, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and even in a field like interpreting, which relies on an immigrant workforce, many employers had a negative view of low income women. Having come from a low income family, and having been homeless myself, I knew that wasn’t true. To me, it was always obvious that it was circumstantial, that it was systemic, that there was nothing wrong with them. And I think that’s the kind of thing that makes sense intellectually for a lot of people, but there’s a lot of unconscious bias that people aren’t aware of. This is a population that is dismissed, underestimated, a lot of the time. But I couldn’t do that. Because that would be underestimating myself. So to me, it was a no brainer that there’s this incredible talent pool in low-income communities, and all they need to succeed is a little extra support. The playing field will never be leveled. That’s a huge undertaking, because the barriers they face are enormous. But we can do a little bit to take the edge off everything that’s working against them. For example, making our program free, because money is a huge barrier. We provide on-site childcare, another biggie. Everything is at no charge. We help with transportation, everything from coordinating carpools to bus passes to gas cards to fixing a flat tire - anything that gets in the way of someone getting to class. And our training is not just to learn the skills of interpreting, but everything a woman would need to get a running start in translation as a field: it includes career coaching, mentoring, up to and including direct job placement.

    • It’s a really great fit because it requires a skillset, bilingualism, that is specific to immigrant communities. That’s one thing the general community doesn’t have. There’s demand for bilingual professionals in all jobs, but for interpretation, that is the core skill. And it’s a flexible profession. Someone can work freelance, per diem, part time, take assignments or not take them, which is great for moms, especially for single moms. Women coming from low income backgrounds are used to jobs where they are disposable, or easily replaceable, jobs that don’t match their skill level. If you’re a single mom, and your daycare calls you and says “Your child is throwing up, come get your child,” you can risk losing your job by leaving early, or if you don’t go pick up your child, you can have the Department of Children and Families showing up at your door and accusing you of being neglectful. The consequences are so severe. If you’re just stocking shelves, you can be replaced easily. There’s a lot of built-in sexism in those jobs. But if you’re interpreting, you can take an assignment or not take an assignment. You can earn a lot more per hour - $25-30 per hour even as an entry level interpreter. And because you are earning more per hour, you can have more flexibility and work fewer hours, as opposed to 50-60 hours per week at $8 an hour just to make ends meet. It’s increasing the earning power of an hour’s work, which opens up the choice to earn more or work less if needed. And it’s one of the fastest growing job markets in the US. Not every language offers full time jobs, but overall as a profession, a lot of growth is predicted. You can use the credentials anywhere in the US, so there’s great job security in this field.

    • This is a really great area because we do have a lot of immigrants - so both people who need an interpreter to access medical care, and by law hospitals are required to offer interpreting services, it’s not an optional or preference thing, if someone comes to a hospital speaking any language they have to be offered an interpreter speaking that language by law - so there’s a market for it. And there are also immigrants who are established, bilingual, and would make excellent candidates to be interpreters if they had a chance to enter the profession. Another thing is we have world-renowned hospitals in Boston, that people travel to from all over the world. And these “medical tourists” tend to be wealthy individuals who pay of healthcare services out of pocket, and they need interpreters. Medical tourists are helping subsidize healthcare, in a way, for the rest of us. There’s a whole world out there of people who travel because they want to get the best treatment for cancer, for example, and without a professional medical interpreter workforce to support this, the healthcare industry and our economy would suffer.

    • I first got to know you during the Nashville WeWork Creator Awards process last year! It was a very busy time, but it seems like you’re continuously traveling and working doing speaking, advocacy and awareness for the people you work with. What’s coming up for you in 2019 and beyond?

    • In 2019 and beyond, we are entering a growth phase. We are ramping up now to 2 cycles per year, instead of one, so we can double the number of women we serve from 35 women in one class per year to 70 women per year, with 2 classes. And as we do that, we’ll be positioning for a geographic expansion, looking at another US city to grow into.

    • You know, I’m not sure! I like to joke that maybe we’ll do a contest like Amazon did for an HQ2. If someone reads this, and feels they need a program like ours in another city, I would love for them to reach out to us.

    • Your organization has had a profound impact on the participants in its programming. Can you share some of their stories with us?

    • On average, our graduates earn $10,000 more per year, every year. With 221 graduates, that’s $2.2 million extra we estimate in earnings going to immigrant families that have in many ways been shut out of the economy. And through their work, they aren’t just lifting up their own families out of poverty but they are serving a very vulnerable population whose rights are violated without a good interpreter, and it can be the difference between life and death for a patient.

    • We are philanthropically funded, so if this compels you, please visit our website and make a donation. If you are reading this and know a foundation, a philanthropist, a nonprofit or municipality that wants to partner with us, please let us know, especially as we are on the lookout for new communities to expand into! We also offer interpreter services. One of the things we do is provide job placement for our graduates, both on the open job market at agencies and hospitals direct job placement, where we act as an employer for our graduates. People can call us, or reach out through our website, and we’ll set them up with an interpreter for medical interpreting, community interpreting, legal interpreting, school interpreting, dental interpreting - any kind of interpreting that someone might need. This is a fee-for-service revenue stream for our organization, and a way for our grads to make money a lot faster than they would otherwise. Many jobs require past experience, and no one is willing to take a risk on giving you that experience, to the point where it’s a catch-22. So with us, because we can do direct job placement, our graduates build up the experience and skill to be qualified for jobs that would otherwise not have considered them.

    • Just go for it. When I was starting out, I didn’t know all the ways in which it was going to be hard, or for how long it was going to be hard - I had a belief that once I climbed that mountain, it would be easier. But behind that mountain there’s another mountain. There’s something nice about not knowing. If you have a realistic sense of how difficult something is, you may not do it. So before you realize that, go for it! That, in combination with realistic self-assessment. You, like the rest of us, have some strengths and some weaknesses. Get real honest about what those are, don’t hide from them, and figure out which you need to work on and which you need to accept, and then surround yourself with people with complementary skill sets. Because it’s possible to do something like this, but not alone.