VIDA's mission is to empower and equip the Latin@ community and create equity in wellness through language services and increased access to resources.
Elizabeth is a national-level certified medical interpreter for Spanish. She has 22 years experience as a medical interpreter and is a nutrition educator for the University of Minnesota. In studies, she earned a Bachelors in Cross-cultural Sociology with an emphasis in Latin America and Public Health Nutrition and attended graduate school at Cornell University in International Community Nutrition with extensive research in Perú.
Johanna Díaz Torres
Johanna is a medical interpreter and a member of the MN Department of Health roster. She has 17 years experience working for the University of Puerto Rico in translating and presenting documents as well as experience in editing bilingual literary works. In studies, she earned a Bachelors in Administration of Business Systems with a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Puerto Rico, the most competitive university in the Caribbean region.
with VIDA founders Johanna Díaz Torres and Elizabeth Quillo
What made you decide that there was a need for a service like this?
I have been interpreting in the Long Prairie area since arriving here over 20 years ago in the fall of 1999. There has been a need for high quality Spanish interpreting in our area during all of this time; and it has continued to increase. I have dreamed of having my own interpreting company for all of this time to meet this need. I am passionate about connecting people through language to resources for wellness. Interpreters fill an essential need to bridge those with limited English to vital healthcare and community services to create equity where otherwise it would not exist. I found myself connecting deeply with my community as I attended prenatal visits, watched the children being born and attended their well child checks; as I accompanied those who were sick or injured repeatedly to get care, and as I walked alongside the families who came here to improve the quality of their lives. If I could help to open up these doors through language, what a wonderful privilege that would be!
It never crossed my mind that I would be an interpreter. My educational background is more related to office management, budgeting, analyses of reports, and administrative issues within the context of the University of Puerto Rico. It wasn't until a friend encouraged me to take the exam for becoming a medical interpreter that I pursued this alternate career. I wasn't sure if I would work as an interpreter until I witnessed misinterpretations taking place during appointments for my children. When I arrived to Minnesota, four of my five children did not know English, so they needed an interpreter, since it was a conflict of interest if I interpreted for them during a medical appointment. Once I realized what a misinterpretation might mean in the field of health, I said to myself that maybe I can make a difference. So after passing the exams I began serving as a medical interpreter for CentraCare.
When did you develop the idea? How did you find each other?
Although this dream of starting my own interpreting business had lived within me for over 20 years, I didn't have the inspiration or the readiness to make it a reality until I met Johanna. We had been interpreting as independent contractors at CentraCare and had informally introduced ourselves when we ran into each other in the hallway at the clinic. I could tell that she was very professional and respected by the patients and providers she served with her whole heart. As I heard many exceptional comments from the patients and providers about her interpreting abilities and her heart for people, I knew we needed to partner together more and to help each other as we were assigned jobs in Long Prairie and Sauk Centre and could coordinate our work to provide better coverage. As we did this and got to know each other better, Johanna mentioned that she had a masters degree in public administration and a bachelor's of arts in business administration. I remember saying to her that I had always wanted to start an interpreting/translating business and she would have wonderful knowledge and skill to help make this a reality. She was genuinely interested and we agreed to meet soon to begin planning how we could make it happen. This all occurred within a matter of months from meeting each other.
We held our first business meeting on a Saturday in November 23rd, 2019 in Sauk Centre at Jitters Coffee Shop, where we came up with a mission statement, our name for our business with the acronym, and our values to guide us. We met again at Hats Off soon after that and made a plan to save $100 a month each so that we could pay a lawyer to become either a non-profit or an LLC. We agreed to not go into debt to start our business, but rather to start it little by little with our own resources.
We had guidance from Rick Utech who gave us many good insights about everything we should consider when starting. He recommended Julie Nelson to work with on our accounting who we met shortly after we met with Rick. She was very supportive as well and generous with her time as we were new to all of this. Attorney Tom Sellnow agreed to lend his legal expertise to create our LLC after we had gone back and forth on whether to become a non-profit or what form our business should take. We asked Mely, my 12 year old daughter's friend and neighbor whose parents had immigrated here from Mexico and who is an exceptionally talented artist to draw a monarch for our logo to symbolize immigration and the welcoming spirit we believed in for our business. Peg Churchwell used this drawing along with Hannah Kroll to design the logo, business card, and flyer for promoting VIDA. By March 2nd we had all of this in place and were formally registered with the state; ready to begin what we had done all along, yet now would be able to do under a formal entity. This has opened many doors for us already and we are energized and excited about the future possibilities.
Deep down inside me I knew I would be a businesswoman. But the one who actually made it possible was Elizabeth. When we introduced ourselves as medical interpreters at the clinic, it was as if we had known each other for life. We would always smile and begin to identify many common qualities in addition to interpreting. She asked me about my background and automatically saw her eyes sparkle. Immediately, she told me that we should do a business and I took it as a joke. We saw each other often and every day, and she kept talking to me about the same thing, so I started to think that they were no longer jokes, that maybe it was true. She insisted so much that I said, well that's fine, let's get together and that's how it all started, we got together and from then on we haven't stopped.
Tell me about your backgrounds. How is it that you are fluent in Spanish?
My parents moved our family to Costa Rica when I was 7 to study Spanish in a language school so that my father could work as a surgeon in the eastern jungles of Ecuador as a missionary and my mother could teach English there to the medical students. We lived in Ecuador from the time I was 8 until I was 19. I became fluent in Spanish from my immersion in the language there as I grew up and also as I did research in nutrition and food access in the mountains of Peru for my university thesis at the University of Minnesota's Public Health and Cross-cultural Sociology program and later research for the International Community Nutrition program at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
In my case I was born in Puerto Rico, so Spanish is our first language. While I was completing my Bachelor at the University of Puerto Rico, I was hired by the same University by the English Department of the Faculty of Humanities. Only English speaking teachers worked there, for some of them their first language was German, or Russian. We all had to communicate in English. No one spoke Spanish. So this need led me to put into practice what I had learned in school and the university. One of the requirements to have the administrative position that I carried out was to be bilingual in Spanish and English, that allowed me to hire and work with foreign teachers and expand my knowledge with the hiring system under the Foreign Visitors Program. The University of Puerto Rico is my alma mater, I was educated there obtaining my Bachelor's degree in the Faculty of Business Administration and studying Public Administration in the Faculty of Social Sciences of the same university. I worked 17 years in the same institution and the last position I held was as Executive Secretary of the Registrar of the University of Puerto Rico, a position of extreme trust. My decision to leave the University was one of the most difficult ones that I have ever made. Unfortunately, my country of Puerto Rico goes through difficult times where crime increases every day and uncertainty blurs us and discourages us every day. I am here in Minnesota to provide a better quality of life for my family, and at the same time looking at Puerto Rico and envisioning that while we are here we can get up and move forward.
When did you have all your paperwork in order and "start" working?
March 2nd was the memorable day that we walked out of Tom Sellnow's office with the company officially registered as an LLC. We began work immediately. Johanna's birthday was soon after that on March 7th, so we celebrated her birthday and the birth of our business on that day.
Who/where have your customers been from so far?
We have helped to get passports and birth certificates in Alexandria, translated documents and flyers and interpreted for meetings regarding childcare for Mahube-Ottwa, provided translation services for the Chamber of Commerce of Long Prairie, interpretation for patients receiving care for work injuries through workman's compensation in St. Cloud and Long Prairie, and others.
What type of work have you been doing the most of?
We have a pretty good balance of in-person interpreting and written translations for mostly medical clients; but also an assortment of community needs as mentioned above.
Tell us how you feel about starting this and what you anticipate you will be doing as time goes on?
My heart is overflowing with gratitude to Johanna for her willingness to begin this endeavor with me. Without her, I never would have had the courage, the balance needed with her skills, or the inspiration to follow through. Her complete trust in me and her incredible professionalism, attention to detail, and her level of skill as an interpreter and translator were exactly what was needed to create VIDA: Vital Interpreting Delivering Access. Our deep friendship is the foundation for VIDA. We understand each other as we navigate our way, balancing raising large families, working other full time jobs, and this new exciting adventure that we are on together. It is an adventure with a deep purpose that our profession will bring improved well being for ALL, with no exception, in our community.
Well, everyone knows the kind of human being Elizabeth is. I identified with her for her passion to help people. VIDA is a business, but is also the VIDA (life) of our friendship. In this business she is my complement. From the beginning I told her that I can't run this without her. One day we ran like five consecutive meetings and I don't even remember how we did it. We both cover everything as a real work team. It was the day that I was convinced myself that VIDA was ready to start. Everything has turned out better than we have expected. The life experiences we have had have helped define VIDA's mission and vision. That is why we have enjoyed the creation of VIDA so much. Today I look back and sometimes I find it hard to believe where we are, but if we have already done it, here we are for our community.
Add anything you want to tell...
I would like to add a special thank you and dedication to Sister Donna Zetah who inspired me to work as an interpreter 22 years ago and is greatly missed, although I'm sure is smiling on us from heaven as we serve her beloved community. I also want to express deep gratitude to my parents John and Mary Doerfer who inspire me always to follow my heart, my children (Kori, Ch'aska, Maway, Nina, Chanin, Kusi, and Sara) for their patient support and encouragement to start and keep working hard on VIDA. We are grateful to Bobbi Osterberg (our first client and enthusiastic supporter from H&R Block, Rick Utech for his patient business advice, Julie Nelson for guiding us in our finances, Tom Sellnow for registering our business and his legal advice, Luan Brunkhorst for promoting us tirelessly, Peg Churchwell and Hannah Kroll for their expert creativity on our logo and business cards, and our supportive providers in Sauk Centre and Long Prairie, as well as Antonio Alba who encouraged me to pursue this dream.
First, I thank God that He has allowed me to get where I am. I want to thank Elizabeth Quillo for trusting me. My parents, who have supported me so much throughout this process. My brother Jose Díaz Torres, who I am in Minnesota for. To my children Jescel, Yaziel, Jatniel, Jatnielys, and Jatdiel, for giving me so much love and believing that Mama can do it all. Thanks to Rick, Lu, Julie, Tom, Hannah, Charitie from Sourcewell for her help with the contract with Todd County, Jenna,Samantha and Stephanie at Public Health, Bobbi at H&R Block, and the QRC's who work with injured workers: Mariah Stern and Verόnica Alba.
Thanks to those who have helped us in this endeavor!