20 Questions with Mara Portillo
What state or country do you never want to go back to? – Can’t say that I have one place that I would never go back to. I’ve loved every state and country I’ve visited. Plus “never say never”.
What songs have you completely memorized? Any 90's and 2000 Spanish pop song. I don’t know how or why I know the words, I just do.
Are you usually early or late? LATE!!!
Who’s your go to band or artist when you can’t decide on something to listen to? Green Day. There’s a Green Day playlist on Spotify that I play constantly.
What age do you wish you could permanently be? 26
What TV show or movie do you refuse to watch? Anything Kardashian related.
What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives? Travel to a foreign country.
What are you most looking forward to in the next 10 years? Living my life with my fiancé/best fired/partner in crime and being able to travel to all the places we want.
Where would you spend all your time if you could? Traveling
What did you think you would grow out of but haven’t? Getting spoiled.
What are you addicted to? Coffee, Traveling, and binge watching series.
If you had to change your name, what would you change it to? I used to want to change my name when I was little to Fernanda, not anymore. I like that my name is unique, but I hate that sometimes they call me Maria or Mayra instead of Mara.
Name 3 celebrities you most admire. What I admire most right now is the all the individuals behind the #metoo, #timesup, and #neveragain movements. Individuals that will not stand down or remain silent in the wake of injustice. Sometimes I wish I could be more like them.
If you could live in any TV home, what would it be? Gilmore household. I love the Gilmore Girls.
What’s your favorite ice cream flavor? Vanilla
What is your favorite movie quote? I don’t have one, sorry.
What is the scariest movie you’ve ever seen? The Others, hands down. Gets me every time!
What’s the first thing you do when you get home from a trip? Unpack then lay on my bed, I always miss my bed.
If you could shop for free at one store, which one would you choose? Burberry!!!
What was the last photo you took? A photo of us using our “Wifey” and “Hubby” mugs for the first time. Corny, I know.
The Women’s Fund of El Paso would like to honor the 24 hard working women from our El Paso Community who were selected to receive scholarship support to continue their students this Fall 2017 semester. These women are students from the El Paso area attending El Paso Community College, Texas Tech Health Sciences Center and The University of Texas at El Paso.
These outstanding students represent women of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds who will be pursuing associate's degrees and bachelor’s degrees in various majors such as Electrical Engineering, Nursing, Social Work, Physical Therapy and others. The Women’s Fund received over 75 applications, compared to only 12 from the previous awarding cycle. These women were awarded funds to help support either their tuition fees, books and/or child care expenses. More than half of the students are single mothers; many are first-generation including non-traditional students going back to school.
Funds to support these scholarships were raised through the Women’s Fund of El Paso fundraising events such as the Power of the Purse – which is scheduled for Thursday, September 14th this year! Help us to continue to support these amazing women from our community to continue to reach their goals of obtaining an education.
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.”
Thanks to your generous support and our Power of the Purse fundraiser, the Women’s Fund of El Paso is able to help eight women of need move closer to self-sustainability this year.
Scholarship recipients can be awarded up to $5,000 per year, but El Paso Educational Advancement Grants are paid by semester or term. The amounts vary by need and priority. First priority goes to requests for direct educational expenses (tuition, books, and fees), that are paid directly to the educational institution. The next priority level provides awards that assist in reducing indirect financial barriers to education such as child care and will be paid directly to the agency on behalf of the recipient.
Many of the candidates who have been selected for this fall are pursuing degrees at UTEP and EPCC. We also are helping cover some of the costs of supplies for a candidate training at Tri-State Cosmetology.
For more information about our scholarship program, visit this link.
2016 Scholarship Recipients
As researchers see increasing college enrollment as an effective tool in mitigating poverty, it is clear that investing in education for women in El Paso will benefit the entire community.
The female poverty rate in El Paso is the highest in Texas with more than 106,000 girls and women living in poverty. Women are the primary earners in 53 percent of households in poverty in El Paso.
Since a high school diploma is no longer enough for a life of financial security, it becomes all the more important to help women get the education they need to give themselves and their families a better life.
Scholarships can bring opportunities for women to gain marketable skills and narrow the pay gap with men.
The Women’s Fund of El Paso raises money primarily through its Power of Purse event to provide scholarships each year to women in El Paso based on financial need.
Here is a look at some of our 2016 scholarship recipients:
Claribel Bermejillo is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at UT El Paso. Her goal is to become a neuroscientist and study behavior and brain connection.
Marylou Garcia is majoring in biological sciences at UT El Paso, where she served as a peer leader in her chemistry class. She has set her goal to become a speech pathologist.
Maria de Lourdes Lopez is working on her bachelor’s degree in multidisciplinary studies at UT El Paso. She would like to continue with a master’s degree in Chicano studies after she graduates in spring 2017.
Andrea Amato is a nursing student at UT El Paso. She expects to graduate in spring 2017 and would like to continue her education and obtain a master’s degree.
The more money the Women’s Fund can raise, the more scholarships it provide to women in our community. To find out how you can help support scholarships for women in need, click HERE.
Meet Our New Board Members
The Women’s Fund of El Paso welcomes four new board members this year: Laurie Banitch, Bonnie S.Y. Escobar, Ann Herkenhoff and Vanessa G. Leon. They are four wonderful, hardworking women who will bring in great ideas and we are delighted to get to work with. Here you can meet them:
Laurie Banitch is the Vice President of Strategic Planning for The Borderplex Alliance. Ms. Banitch is currently leading the implementation of the Borderplex 2020 Regional Strategic Plan, which is a five-year effort aimed at improving quality of industry and education across our region’s key sectors in El Paso, Southern New Mexico, and Cd. Juarez. Over 150 business and community leaders participate across nine different task forces that are aligned to the region’s target industries and other areas of focus.
Prior to joining The Borderplex Alliance, Ms. Banitch served as a Senior Consultant at Deloitte, providing financial analysis and management consulting services to a number of federal agencies and private institutions in the financial services and health care industries. Ms. Banitch has a B.S. in Finance and International Business from Georgetown University and a M.S. in Applied Economics from Johns Hopkins University.
Bonnie S.Y. Escobar currently serves as Director for Strategic Development at the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence. She was formerly the Managing Partner for MJD & Associates providing management and organizational consulting services to private corporations, foundations, non-profit organizations and community leaders in the border region. Bonnie has also served as a Vice President at the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce and formerly as leadership director for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), a national non-profit organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of U.S. Latinos. She is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso with a B.S. in Criminal Justice and a Masters in Public Administration. Bonnie is a committed community activist who strives to put her ideas into action, working to advance women, Latinos, and fellow El Pasoans. An active community leader, she sat on the board of the YWCA, El Paso Symphony and the El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center.
Bonnie enjoys spending time with her family. She is an avid knitter, fan of jazz, rock and art. She follows baseball and tennis and loves to travel.
Vanessa G. Leon is the Fundraising Manager for United Way of El Paso County. In this role, she is responsible for managing and executing the annual workplace campaigns for the public and private sectors. Vanessa is an El Paso native and has worked in the nonprofit community for the past five years. Prior to joining United Way of El Paso County, she helped lead the fundraising efforts for El Paso Children’s Hospital with the University Medical Center Foundation. She is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso where she received a B.A. in Organizational & Corporate Communication with a minor in Creative Writing. Vanessa is also a current board member with BAR (Border Arts Residency).
Thank you for being part of the team!
The Women’s Fund of El Paso is pleased to recognize and extend its sincere appreciation to Ladonna Apodaca and Rita Baca, Honorary Co-Chairs for the 2016 Power of the Purse.
Ladonna and Rita are no strangers to the Power of the Purse Auction for Women. They have both volunteered for POP since its inception in 2006 - hosted that year in the El Paso Chili Company Warehouse on Texas Avenue. With backgrounds in retail, interior design, styling and set design, Rita and Ladonna have generously given of their time and talent to make sure that Power of the Purse is a merchandising success.They help arrange both the silent auction of new and vintage designer handbags and mercado of new and gently used handbags ensuring the sale of thousands of bags over the last 10 years to support scholarships for single mothers in our community.
Thank you, Ladonna and Rita, for serving as Honorary Chairs for 2016 POP, and for your extraordinary generosity, style and grace.
Power of the Purse is Back!
As we get closer to Power of the Purse 2016, we have several things we want to share with you before this year’s event!
The theme for this year’s event is Frida Khalo, a woman whom we can all look toward as an example of brilliance, independence, and leadership. She personified the spirit that we seek to instill in all women who benefit from the Women’s Fund of El Paso’s scholarships, sponsorships, and programs. It is with an eye toward her singular impact on our world that we celebrate the 7th Power of the Purse event and its impact on our local community.
This celebration, the Women’s Fund of El Paso’s signature fundraising effort, helps us to provide scholarships for low-income single mothers and women; it enables us to sponsor high school junior and senior girls for leadership development programs and it allows us to continuously provide access to resources for women through our monthly newsletter and interactive website.
We look forward to seeing all of you in a few short weeks. In the meantime, practice your bidding strategies and make room in your purse collection for some new arrivals!
Click here to purchase your ticket.
We would like to congratulate Tracy Yellen on her appointment as the CEO of the Paso del Norte Health Foundation and its foundations. She has approximately 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector and was previously the president of the Paso del Norte Foundation, the fundraising charity for the health foundation.
"Tracy is an incredible leader, role model and an inspiration to many of us", said Azuri Gonzalez, president of the Women's Fund of El Paso Board of Directors. "The amount of thoughtfulness and caring that goes into Tracy¹s continued work in the community is to be commended. We are very fortunate to have had Tracy's leadership, guidance and involvement at the Women's Fund of El Paso for several years and are extremely proud of her recent appointment as CEO of the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, " Gonzalez said.
Congratulations again Tracy!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.