Please remember in your prayers Sondra Lynn (Payne) Elizondo ’92, who died Wednesday afternoon in Costa Rica.
Elizondo, 45, was the director and co-founder of Vida Volunteer, an organization that sets up mobile medical, dental and veterinary clinics in needy communities in Latin America. For her work, she received the University of St. Thomas 2014 Humanitarian Award.
Elizondo lived in Merritt Island, Florida, and was in Costa Rica for a business trip. She was found in a San Jose hotel room with stab wounds.
“Sondra was a devoted mother, loyal friend and caring daughter,” a Vida colleague said. “She was a great inspiration and always passionate about helping others and making a positive difference. Vida Volunteer is the legacy Sondra leaves behind and we are more committed than ever to keeping her dream alive. She will be deeply missed.”
Elizondo, originally from Stewartville, Minnesota, earned a B.A. in social work. She fell in love with Costa Rica while serving in the Peace Corps from 1994 to 1996. She married Richard Elizondo, and they moved back to the United States. When their children were 2 and 4, the Elizondos decided to return to Costa Rica.
While there, Sondra and friend Curtis Larsen, a teacher, wanted to address the health care issues they witnessed in Costa Rica, so in 2007, and with a $5,000 personal loan, they founded VIDA (Volunteers for Intercultural and Definitive Adventures), later renamed Vida Volunteers. The program offers premedical, predental and preveterinary college students the chance to work with local doctors, translators and guides in underserved remote areas of Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala, and provides free care to people and, for a small fee, their farm animals and pets.
In the article, “Living Pura Vida,” from the fall 2010 St. Thomas magazine, Sondra said, “Vida lets me express my spirit of giving. I love working with children and I love health care and that’s why I once was a medical social worker.”
She also had expressed her hope for the student volunteers: “Just like in the Peace Corps, through VIDA, we hope that when students return to their home country they won’t become hurried doctors. We open their eyes to a positive experience where they can engage with the local doctors and ask questions. It exposes students to the medical field in a safe environment where they learn skills and compassion; also, students gain incredible experience because they get to do things that they wouldn’t get to do in their home country at such a young age.”
Sondra lived in Costa Rica for 10 years and moved to Florida in 2014 to continue fundraising and overseeing Vida. Last year, Vida Volunteer provided care for 10,977 medical patients, 4,619 dental patients and 11,101 animals.
She is survived by two children, a brother and her parents. Her death is under investigation by the Judicial Investigation Police in Costa Rica.