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Got Spanish? New language service fills need

February 17, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. -- As the Hispanic population in Franklin County has grown, so has the number of businesses that either are owned by or cater to that demographic, and bridging the language gap is important to both sides.

Three women who met as medical interpreters for Keystone Health Center recently opened Esquivia & Stennet Bilingual Services at 67 N. Main St. to fill that void for businesses and individuals, owner Ayleen Esquivia said.

"Working in the medical field and the educational field, I saw the need for this service," manager Isabel Stennet said. A native of Venezuela who graduated from college in New Hampshire, Stennet said no other agency in the area offers the same variety of services.

"All three of us have the desire and the skills for it," Stennet said of their new business.

"I work at the (Chambersburg) Hospital part-time in the ER ... You could just see the potential," said Esquivia, a U.S. Army veteran born in Panama and raised in upstate New York. It was while stationed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center during her eight years in the Army that she began working as an interpreter, she said.

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"We offer everything from document translation to in-person interpretation. We can interpret by the phone and we also tutor English and Spanish," said Alicia Escobar, the manager of tutoring services. Her route to becoming an interpreter was quite different from those of Esquivia and Stennet.

"Nobody in my family speaks Spanish," said the Waynesboro, Pa., native. "In high school, it was my second worst class ... I even got a 'D' one marking period."

Escobar has spent time in both Guatemala and Mexico studying the language and culture and is married to a man from Guadalajara, Mexico. She has a degree in Spanish from Shippensburg (Pa.) University and taught the subject at Western Heights Middle School in Hagerstown.

While her husband is fluent in English, Escobar said they only speak Spanish between themselves.

Esquivia's husband originally is from Chambersburg, and when they moved here after he had been away for a number of years, "he was amazed at the growth of the Hispanic population."

The U.S. Census Bureau's 2006 estimate of the Hispanic population is 2.7 percent, up about 35 percent from the 2000 census. The 2000 census put the Hispanic population in Chambersburg at more than 6 percent.

In recent years, within a few blocks of their office, a number of Hispanic-owned businesses have opened, including a Latino grocery just a few doors away. David Sciamanna, president of the Greater Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce, said there are a "handful" of Hispanic businesses that are members, something the Chamber is trying to change by reaching out to that business community.

Within Franklin County, Sciamanna estimated there are about 30 businesses owned by Hispanics. That growing population of consumers and businesses needs services ranging from translating legal documents to confirming appointments with medical specialists.

Speaking another language is one thing, being able to explain the legalese of writs, petitions, contracts and proceedings in that language is another, and Stennet said all three are working toward certification as courtroom interpreters.

Businesses from doctors' offices to industries also need signs, pamphlets, brochures and other documents translated from one language to another, Escobar said.

Not all of Esquivia & Stennet's business has been local, Esquivia said. Via the Internet, the company recently performed a translation job for a forestry products company in Virginia, she said.

Esquivia & Stennet Bilingual Services can be contacted by calling 717-496-0828 or online at www.esbilingual.com.

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