Despite his Puerto Rican and French background, Ralph Marcano does not speak a foreign language.
That said, Marcano does head up one of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office's newest groups - the Translation Team.
"It is all volunteers. It is all civilians," Marcano said. "To be honest, this thing is just now getting going."
Sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said the sheriff's office employs several Spanish-speaking deputies and investigators who are called upon when the need arises. The need might include a traffic accident when one or more of the people involved does not speak English.
The roughly 20-member team was formed to translate languages that sheriff's office employees cannot such as French, German, several Hindi dialects, Greek, Italian, Pakistani, Philippine, Vietnamese and sign language.
Team member Anneliese Childers, who came to America from Germany with her husband in 1959, remembers how difficult it was to function then when she didn't understand much English. That is one reason she volunteered to translate German if she's called upon.
"People have helped me when I first came to this country," the Martinez resident said. "So why wouldn't I help someone else? You don't know how frustrating it can be when you don't understand ... Many people helped me, so if I can be of help ..."
Marcano said he tries to find ways to give back to his community and the Translation Team is one way for him to do so.
"Most of these people, they jumped right into it," Marcano said of the team, adding that many team members also offer translation services to area hospitals and Fort Gordon. "I think they have a good heart. If the time comes and we need them, I'm sure they are going to be right there."
Marcano, who leads the team with Cindy Gilbert, said the idea originated from the sheriff's office Citizens Auxiliary Unit, which Marcano has been a member of for many years. As different emergency and community service teams were mentioned, the translation team was discussed and Marcano volunteered to oversee it.
Marcano said he went to the September 2005 Arts in the Heart of Augusta festival and approached the different ethnic groups in search of volunteers.
"It amazed me, but I got a bunch of people," Marcano said.
One of those people who volunteered at the festival was Carla Mann. She moved to the United States from Naples, Italy, with her husband in 1962. Mann, like Childers, admitted she was frustrated not knowing much English and having to do simple things such as find her way around town.
Her experiences led her to want to help others who might be in a similar situation.
"Whatever help I can give you, I would be glad to give it," Mann said.
Marcano also found Childers at the festival, where she was with the German Friendship Club.
The Translation Team, which has not yet been called upon by the sheriff's office, reports to a civilian in the auxiliary unit, then to the sheriff's office Community Services Division.
Marcano said one thing slowing the team's organization was that he and other team leaders have spent a lot of time collaborating with sheriff's office officials and District Attorney Danny Craig about what team members can legally do and be used for.
"One of the things we were waiting on is we didn't want to get into trouble or use them in a way that would be against the law," Marcano said, adding that translators are not allowed to read a suspect their Miranda rights.
"I think it has got the potential to be a really helpful thing," Marcano said.
Anyone interested in volunteering on the team should call the sheriff's office Community Services Division at (706) 541-2856.
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