Community profile: Silt woman pursues dream of becoming nurse with help from scholarships
Local philanthropist’s endowment of $1.5 million to Valley View Hospital helps nursing community
For as long as she can remember, Nora Meraz wanted to become a nurse — a dream now becoming reality because of charitable donations from a local couple to Valley View Hospital.
Meraz is one of more than 40 Valley View nurses to receive a scholarship funded through donations from Pete Welles and his late wife, Sondra.
“I am enrolled at Colorado Mountain College, working toward associates in nursing,” 39-year-old Meraz said, explaining she received her scholarship in 2021.
A single mother of three, Meraz has worked as a medical assistant for 18 years, six of which she worked at Valley View. Juggling work, child care, bills and challenging work schedules, Meraz put her aspirations to become a nurse on the backburner.
“Financially, a scholarship has made pursuing my education a possibility,” she said.
Born in Mexico, Meraz moved to Basalt when she was 6 and has lived in Garfield County since.
“This is where my family is,” she said. “And the community is fantastic.”
In 2017, as Meraz was helping Habitat for Humanity build a duplex for her family in Silt, the Welleses founded the Pete and Sondra Welles Nursing Excellence Program at Valley View to further nursing education throughout the valley.
Valley View Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Dawn Sculco said the program was recently bolstered by an endowment of $1.5 million from Welles.
“The endowment was created to help nurses with pre-requisites for the nursing program, scholarships and continued education,” Sculco said.
The hospital’s current plans for endowment earnings include providing expanded educational opportunities for Valley View nurses. From four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees to certifications and continuing education, Welles’ endowment supports the local nursing community, improving the quality of care they can provide to patients at Valley View, Sculco said.
Welles was not available for an interview but provided a written statement through a public relations team representing Valley View.
“Valley View’s nurses are unsung heroes at the hospital, especially today with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Welles wrote. “This is a great program for nurse advancement, and will provide a higher quality of health care in Valley View and our community. This can make Valley View the premier hospital for nurses on the Western Slope.”
A simple smile
While Meraz studies English, math and biology at CMC, her 21-year-old daughter is pursuing a degree at Colorado State University.
“My kids think it’s great I’m going back to school — they support me,” Meraz said. “One of the reasons I started working at Valley View is they work with me on schedule and what’s best for me, my children and my schooling.”
Sculco said Meraz’s simultaneous dedication to the craft and motherhood made her scholarship application stand out.
“It’s inspiring,” she said.
As a medical assistant, Meraz said she focused on patient education and worked directly under a doctor at clinics for most of her career, but she’s always had her sights set on working in a hospital setting.
“I currently work in acute care at Valley View as a patient care tech,” Meraz said. “I feel like I make a difference in everyday lives.”
Throughout the pandemic, hospitals across the country have struggled with employee burnout and retention, but Sculco said community efforts like Welles’ endowment have helped Valley View keep their staff.
“Like many other institutions, we can be challenged with having the right staff,” she said. “I think the scholarships and endowment are instrumental in giving hope to the people and providing our nurses with the continued education they need to stay on top of their career field.”
For Meraz, the work is rewarding, and she said once she’s earned an associate degree in nursing, she plans to start working on her bachelor’s.
“When people come to the hospital, they are usually at the worst point in their life,” she said. “It’s amazing the impact a simple smile can make.”
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at email@example.com.
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