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Everyday Heroes: Suann Kim and Nela Vintrlikova

SUNE Translate

Not many high school students can claim to own and operate a business. But Suann Kim and Nela Vintrlikova of Gwinnett County have been entrepreneurs since their sophomore year.

The two friends, high school seniors, started the nonprofit SUNE Translate two years ago to fill an unmet need for translation services in Gwinnett’s underserved immigrant neighborhoods.

As immigrants themselves, they each remember what it was like to be in a new country and not speak the language, and they wanted to help other newcomers.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Suann’s family moved to Suwanee from South Korea when she was in fifth grade.

“Back then, I did not speak a single English word,” said the 18-year-old. “I was a very awkward student. But as time passed, I was able to pick up a lot of words and things I could understand.”

Nela, whose family moved to Gwinnett County from the Czech Republic when she was in fourth grade, had similar experiences.

Both girls saw their parents struggle to communicate and were discriminated against because they were not English speakers.

They formed their nonprofit to help immigrants overcome language barriers by using an untapped resource of high school and college students who are proficient in multiple languages.

“In our area, there are a lot of students who can speak, write, listen and understand in their own language, and also English, but they don’t have the opportunity to use those valuable skills,” Suann said.

SUNE Translate charges for work with companies and others with the ability to pay. But as a nonprofit, gives free help to those who can’t afford these type of professional services.

“Our main intention is to help underprivileged and under-resourced communities,” said 18-year-old Nela.

They’ve helped people get birth certificates and driver’s licenses and translated websites, financial documents, tax forms, and insurance applications for free.

In addition to their work with SUNE Translate, Suann and Nela are busy seniors at the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology. They’re also applying to colleges, writing essays, and searching for scholarships.

Suann is interested in pursuing chemistry and pre-med and wants to continue playing the violin. She’s been playing since age five and is a section leader with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Nela is active in professional dance and interested in business, finance, and languages.

“I’m really passionate about languages,” she said. “Most of my time is spent learning German and Korean.”

During her family’s frequent return visits to the Czech Republic, Nela teaches English to students at her former school.

Both girls are also fervent about other immigrant students becoming proficient in English.

If you don’t know the language, “you’re not able to participate in a class or get the same opportunities,” Suann said.

“It’s really hard to get jobs or to get internships. It can be daunting for everyone,” agreed Nela.

The teens are amazed at how much they’ve accomplished in two years and plan to continue running SUNE Translate while in college. Another high school student is now managing the nonprofit so they can step back and do other things.

SUNE translators have been involved with projects such as community outreach for the Reclaim Gwinnett Place Mall project. They provided Korean, Vietnamese, and Mandarin interpreters to help with neighborhood feedback.

“When we first started, we never thought we would get the opportunities that we have,” Suann said.

Nela said one of the most rewarding aspects of running the nonprofit has been meeting many people from different backgrounds.

And they’ve both gotten high praise from their parents.

“I think they’re really proud of me for taking the initiative and addressing this issue because it was such a part of our lives,” said Nela.

HOW TO HELP

Apply to be a translator. This is open only to high school and college students: https://sunetranslate.com/en/home/


WE’RE STRONGER TOGETHER: A SPECIAL PROJECT

This place we call home is filled with ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary feats. Their selfless acts make this region so special – and they bring out the best in all of us. With the holidays upon us, we wanted to share their inspiring stories, celebrate their accomplishments, and offer ways that you can help.

Just as the 55 people we’re profiling can’t do it alone, nor can we. That’s why we worked closely with our partners to bring you this collection of uplifting stories.

We hope they leave you feeling inspired and ready to tackle the busy new year that lies ahead. We hope they make you feel more connected to your community or to your neighbors.

And maybe, just maybe, they will motivate you to come up with your own small way to make a big difference in the lives of others.

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