Army vet finds new life in nursing thanks to ‘phenomenal’ Women’s Fund of El Paso support
Kharisma James was ready to give it up before getting started. She was an Army veteran with two young children and a failing relationship when she began thinking about dropping out of El Paso Community College to find a job to help make ends meet.
This wasn’t her plan when she participated in ROTC in high school and went on to join the Army. She served eight years in the service, including a combat deployment in Iraq where she helped set up communications throughout the country in the early days of the war. She began as a private, worked her way up to specialist and became an NCO. She had reached the E-6 level when she decided to have a child.
At first, she says, she thought she could be a supermom and soldier like so many of the other women with whom she proudly served. But, toward the end of her pregnancy it was clear that Fort Bliss was changing into a rapid deployment station. Kharisma couldn’t see herself spending a year overseas - away from her baby boy - She was done.
“I always thought I was going to be one of those people who was going to do 25 years,” she says.
Instead, she had to come up with a new plan, which involved going to school to get a new career.
“I found out quickly that all my military experience and everything I did didn’t translate into the civilian world.”
Kharisma wanted to do something meaningful, something that would be counter balance all the destruction she saw on her deployments. She decided to follow in the footsteps of an aunt she admires and study nursing.
She began by working on her basics at EPCC. There was a second child, a daughter. But her relationship was over and she was on her own with no family in town. That’s when she told an instructor she was going to put school on the back burner. That instructor suggested she apply for a scholarship from the Women’s Fund of El Paso. Kharisma made the application deadline with less than a week to go. Weeks later she learned that she would receive the support she needed.
“It was one of the determining factors that kept me in school, honestly,” she said.
After starting at EPCC, Kharisma was then accepted into the nursing program at the Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. Soon after she was given the opportunity to serve on the school’s student government association along with representatives from the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. For years she juggled family and school life along with dealing with unplanned challenges like car repairs and other expenses. She turned to the Women’s Fund one more time for help with the final push through school.
“Here I am in my last semester of nursing school and again, you know, finances. And I said ‘maybe I can go and apply for the Women’s Fund scholarship again.’ So I did and I got it. And it definitely helped me get through this last leg of nursing school. It has been a true blessing,” she says.
Kharisma is in the final stretch toward graduation on May 20. She will spend the summer preparing for her state board exam and then plans to go into clinical care nursing at a local hospital. Originally from Massachusetts, she considers El Paso her home now and she is looking forward to being able to help others the way the Women’s Fund helped her.
“It’s phenomenal. If you guys ever need anything let me know,” she says. “ I’d love to do whatever I can to contribute in the future because I think what you guys do is amazing - helping other women get through their education. It’s really important.”