WAIPAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - All week, Hawaii News Now has been getting up close and personal with five extraordinary women the YWCA is honoring on Friday.
Violeta Arnobit a nurse who immigrated to the U.S. with just $25 in her pocket.
Today, Violeta is a multi-award-winning entrepreneur.
It's a one-stop shop - at Ace Medical, Inc. in Waipahu, Violeta has created a convenient place to get home health care supplies and equipment.
The nurse-turned-entrepreneur is too humble to let us reveal how financially successful her small business is.
But her office says it all. She has shelves packed with awards, a wall beaming with certificates, and numerous articles, with Violeta on the front page.
She's a success story with humble beginnings
"The first office was my daughter's bedroom and the first warehouse was our garage and our lanai," said Arnobit.
That was in 1995, where she endured two years of zero profits, working 16 to 18 hour days.
But Violeta's hard work paid off.
In four years, Ace Medical's sales skyrocketed to seven-figures.
"She serves as an inspiration for me. She was actually my mentor," said Agnes Reyes, R.N., Violeta's longtime friend and colleague.
Violeta says her success is fueled by painful memories of when she immigrated to the U.S. in 1983 with just $25.
"I remembered the mattress I slept had no frame, it was saggy and the spring was poking into my bones on my body," she said.
Violeta was one of many Filipino nurses recruited by a New York hospital.
She says they were housed in an abandoned dorm - 60 of them sharing two bathrooms, and no kitchen, forcing them to cook in the hallways.
"We didn't have a washing machine so we'd go out on the street. I remember it was so cold, pushing my cart, a grocery cart and putting in all my laundry," Arnobit said sobbing, as she recalled having to walk a ways to get to a laundromat.
Violeta says they worked without pay for the first three months.
Their paychecks went to expenses the hospital paid to bring them over from the Philippines.
"Yeah, but I made it," she said tearfully, saying they relied on friends for grocery money.
Violeta and her colleagues hired an immigration lawyer and things improved.
Since then, Violeta made this promise to herself:
"That the next generation of nurses that comes along will not be treated the same way," she said.
It's a mission that is at the heart of her latest venture.
Next door to Ace Medical is a training school for certified nursing aides.
It's just one of Violeta's many projects devoted to her dream of improving health care in Hawaii.
For that reason, her Small Business Advocate of the Year award is her favorite.
"The SBA award is very important to me because it is a dedication to all health care providers and the caregivers who are the backbone of our health care industry nowadays," said Arnobit.
Despite her numerous accolades, Violeta says her biggest accomplishment is her ohana - four daughters, and her husband.