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.
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.
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.
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!
Tax season is here and in full swing. The deadline to file your 2015 tax return is Monday, April 18, 2016. Washington D.C. will celebrate Emancipation Day on the traditional April 15 due date, which pushes the deadline to the following Monday. Here are a few tips to make this year's tax season go as smoothly as possible.
Esther is a Tax Manager at Lauterbach, Borschow & Company, P.C. and is an adjunct lecturer teaching Individual Federal Taxation at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). She has practiced in public accounting for 10 years where she has worked with closely-held/family businesses and individual taxpayers. Esther graduated from UTEP with a Master’s degree in Accountancy and a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting. She is a Certified Public Accountant licensed to practice in Texas.
Meet Erika Roman, a 2014 recipient of the Women’s Fund of El Paso scholarship. Erika currently works for Las Palmas Medical Center as a Certified Hyperbaric Tech and a Registered Medical Assistant. Her goal is to obtain her bachelor’s degree in nursing and begin her career as a nurse in the same hospital.
“I work for Las Palmas already, so it would be easy for me to transition into the nursing department on any floor (of the hospital),” she said. As a single mother, her biggest accomplishment thus far has been seeing her two older children prevail in their studies and careers despite coming from a divorced family.
One of her sons also attends El Paso Community College and is studying to be a physical therapist. Her other son recently enlisted in the United States Navy. “I am a single parent and having these boys come out on top when coming from a divorced family is a big accomplishment,” she said.
She counts her mother as her biggest influence in working hard for not only herself but also her family. “When I was 15, my mother and father got divorced. She worked full-time and raised her three daughters as best as she could while battling alcoholism. I learned to be a hard worker from her and I thank her every day for what she has shown me”.
Coming from a single-parent household herself and navigating the difficult path of raising a family on her own, Erika has continued to persevere in her quest to improve her family’s future through education. “The scholarship from the Women’s Fund benefitted me by helping me get books and helping with bills at home so that I would not fall behind while attending school,” she said. “I thank the Women’s Fund for helping me and others to accomplish our goals.”
Since its inception, the Women’s Fund of El Paso has awarded 145 college scholarships to local women in our community. To find out how you can help provide these scholarships to women in need, click HERE.
Responding to a study showing that 53 percent of households headed by women in El Paso were living in poverty, a group of 80 women leaders from organizations throughout the county gathered last fall to discuss what could be done.
The gathering at the El Paso Community Foundation was the first installment of the El Paso Women’s Economic Summit. The goal of the summit was to bring women leaders together to identify local resources available to women to help boost their economic status. An Oct. 16 article in the El Paso Times reported a consensus among the attendees that they should continue to work together to fill in missing gaps.
"A lot of people (in the groups) didn't know what other agencies are doing. We have to get the word out and break down the silos of knowledge and bring other voices to this powerful work," Deborah Zuloaga, CEO of United Way of El Paso County, told the group, according to the Times.
Based on a 2014 report by the Texas Women’s Foundation titled “Economic Issues for Women in Texas” along with another study conducted 10 years ago by the El Paso YWCA and the University of Texas at El Paso, it was determined that little has improved for women economically in this community. “In the El Paso metro area, 32% of households are female-headed yet they represent 53% of households living in poverty,” the 2014 report stated. For a single parent with two children, poverty is defined as living on less than $18,769 in per year
The report also found full-time working women in the El Paso metro area have median earnings of $27,489 a year, one of the lowest earnings among the state’s metro areas and almost $8,000 lower than the state median for women.
The Texas Women’s Foundation identified four building blocks for economic security for women in El Paso:
Azuri Gonzalez, Women’s Fund of El Paso President, states that the next step for the Women’s Economic Summit is to analyze the feedback from the gathering and reconvene in February to form working groups. These groups will work together to develop solutions to some of the challenges presented in order to further identify and provide increased resources to local women.