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The Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine is the first dental school in West Texas. Its inaugural cohort of 40 students will start classes in July. | Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters

Borderplex Community Gives Its Heart to Future Trusted Heroes, Raising $1.876 Million in Scholarships for Hunt School of Nursing Students

Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso had plenty to celebrate Friday night.

The university raised more than $1.876 million in scholarship funds – overwhelmingly exceeding its yearlong goal – while marking the Hunt School of Nursing’s 10-year anniversary.


About 800 Borderplex community members joined the university and its nursing students at the sold-out Cirque de Corazón event on the TTUHSC El Paso campus. The event closed out the Hunt School of Nursing’s 10-year anniversary celebration, which kicked off during National Nurses Week in spring 2021. In addition, Stephanie L. Woods, Ph.D., R.N., dean of the nursing school, announced a $500,000 gift from the Dallas-based, Houston J. and Florence A. Doswell Foundation.


The total amount raised was made possible through a variety of fundraising initiatives, including the Champions of Trusted Heroes employer-gift matching campaign, gifts from generous local businesses and community organizations, and a truck raffle in partnership with Casa Ford and the Paso del Norte Community Foundation.


“The accomplishments that the Hunt School of Nursing has achieved over the past 10 years couldn’t have happened without this community, and what a community it is,” Dr. Woods said. “I have been in other cities and El Paso is, simply put, outstanding and an absolute gem. From day one, I have felt its support and I have always believed that if I told our students’ stories that El Paso would respond. And it has. The money that was raised this year is exclusively marked for nursing scholarships.”


The 10-year celebration was an extravaganza complete with a performance by Dream World Cirque, which entertained guests with dancers, acrobats, aerialists and more. The event also featured inspirational speeches from Woody L. Hunt and Gayle Greve Hunt, chairman and vice president of the Hunt Family Foundation. The foundation helped establish the nursing school in 2010 with a $10 million gift.


The Hunt family have been vested community leaders, helping to build up the Borderplex and bring businesses to the area. They advocated for TTUHSC El Paso and the Hunt School of Nursing in order to improve the wellness of all Borderplex residents, and create a competitive economy and workforce.


“We are both honored to celebrate the dedicated leadership and staff at the Hunt School of Nursing as well as the former and current students who are going to change the lives of everyone they touch. By choosing to become nurses, these students are filling a critical health care need in our border region and will transform the health of communities for decades to come,” stated Gayle and Woody Hunt. “As a critical part of the TTUHSC El Paso campus, the Hunt School of Nursing provides a local institution where young El Pasoans can pursue their dreams of a career in medicine.”


During their shared speech, Gayle Hunt spoke on how the Borderplex region is a better, healthier place today than it was a decade ago because of the nursing school.


“We see graduates inspiring their friends, their patients and children to pursue the honorable calling of patient care and new career options for those who want to give back to their community,” Gayle Hunt said. “We see a dream that started with a few and now is shared by thousands, perhaps tens of thousands — a vision that will continue to grow and shape our city and region for years to come.”


Ten years ago, when they helped make the nursing school a reality, Gayle and Woody Hunt were focused on addressing the region’s nursing shortage. They never knew how much Hunt School of Nursing alumni would be needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, with many 2020 and 2021 graduates going directly onto the front lines at local hospitals. They also could have never imagined how students and graduates would find themselves working amid tragedy following the El Paso Walmart mass shooting in 2019.


“You can never foresee tragedy, but you can prepare for it by investing in systems and in people like those gathered here today. We are very fortunate that the Hunt School of Nursing and the students, staff and faculty affiliated with it have been here to help our community weather hard times these past few years,” Woody Hunt said during his speech. “And you’ve been here for joyous times, as well.  Graduates have helped thousands of El Pasoans mark milestones big and small: The birth of a new baby, learning that a loved one’s cancer has gone into remission, helping a parent make a full recovery from surgery or simply brightening someone’s day with a whimsical Band-Aid for younger patients — or those who are young at heart. These are moments that give us hope.”

Several current and former students were in attendance to celebrate the past decade of education and look forward to future milestones. Current student Paloma Romero was thankful to have the community’s support and see the culmination of the school’s yearlong celebration. She’s inspired to finish her studies and join the health care workforce where nurses are needed now more than ever.


“Pursuing higher education often feels like a high-wire balancing act as you attempt to juggle so many tasks and priorities,” said Romero, who will graduate later this month. “Sometimes we may feel like we’re performing this act all on our own, so the fact that 800 community members are showing support to the nursing program is truly a thing of beauty and an honor to witness. I am utterly humbled to have such a vast amount of community support. This whole event feels surreal.”


Honoring those who have left us


Part of the night’s event was dedicated to the local nurses who were lost to the fight against COVID-19. Representing those fallen heroes was the family of nurse Daniel Morales, who died in August 2020. Morales was one of the first health care professionals in the region to lose his life due to the virus, before a vaccine became available.


His wife Erika Castor-Morales and the couple’s four children attended Cirque de Corazón along with Daniel’s sister and parents, Frank and Minerva Morales.


The somber moment was a reminder of the sacrifice and risk nurses endure while caring for others.


Fundraising goal exceeded


The initial goal to raise half a million dollars for nursing scholarships was easily surpassed with $1.75 million already accounted for prior to Friday night.


“Even though the Borderplex community is known for supporting its future health care heroes, the amount of support and love the Hunt School of Nursing received this year is awe-inspiring,” said Andrea Tawney, Ph.D., vice president for TTUHSC El Paso’s Office of Institutional Advancement. “Every fundraising initiative was met with enthusiasm from start to finish, and most importantly, our nursing students are going to benefit from the generosity of our community. It’s an amazing show of kindness and assures future generations of students that El Paso is behind them.”


An additional $100,000 was raised during the night through a Heart Scan campaign which allowed attendees to contribute from their table using their cell phones. WestStar, a local financial institution, matched $25,000 given by the community.


Driving away in style


It was a win-win for the Hunt School of Nursing and Miguel Castaneda, a resident of the 79905 ZIP code, which is home to the TTUHSC El Paso campus.


The Paso del Norte Community Foundation helped facilitate a pickup truck raffle that raised $106,000 for nursing students. Casa Ford handed Castaneda the keys to a brand new 2021 Ford F-150 truck with the FX4 Off-Road package.


Six hundred tickets were sold and the Paso del Norte Community Foundation selected the winner using Random Picker software by VeroMotion. According to its website, it is “one of the world’s most used independent services for random drawings.”


The selection was made electronically and kept confidential until the announcement was broadcast on Facebook Live from Cirque de Corazón. Castaneda said he was shocked to hear his name called Friday night. However, he knows exactly what he will be doing with his brand-new truck.


“I’m going cruising. I can’t wait to take it around town, to Scenic Drive, to see my friends. I even look forward to driving to work. I’m going to take it everywhere,” said Castaneda, who decided to let it ride and buy a single ticket when he saw the truck at Lone Star Title. “I’ve always been a truck guy. It’s my go-to vehicle. I’m still just in disbelief. It will feel real when I drive it home.”


The university collaborated with the Paso del Norte Community Foundation and Casa Ford for the raffle, limiting tickets to only 600. For weeks, the Raider-red truck made appearances all over town, including at Southwest University Park for El Paso Locomotive and El Paso Chihuahuas games, Lone Star Title, the El Paso Country Club and Coronado Country Club, and the TTUHSC El Paso campus.


Doswell Foundation continues couples’ legacy


The $500,000 gift from the Houston J. and Florence A. Doswell Foundation was a welcome surprise Friday during the event.


The Dallas-based foundation was established in 2009 to continue the charitable legacy of the couple it’s named after. The Doswells are known for their philanthropy following a successful career together in oil and gas production. Houston Doswell died in 1974 after a battle with cancer. It was during that time that Florence Doswell developed an appreciation for nurses and nursing students.


Since the founding of the Doswell Foundation in 2009, it has supported nursing students across Texas, starting with the forming of the Houston J. and Florence A. Doswell College of Nursing at Texas Woman’s University in Denton. It continues today, with the latest gift to the Hunt School of Nursing.


As a member of the Doswell Foundation’s Board, Dr. Woods proposed a scholarship endowment for the Hunt School of Nursing and the entire board jumped at the chance to approve it. Dr. Woods was joined by foundation board chair Beverly Fricke at Cirque de Corazón to personally announce the $500,000 gift.


“I’m delighted to be here tonight to celebrate the Hunt School of Nursing’s 10-year anniversary and it is a distinct honor to announce our investment tonight,” Fricke said.


The gift to the Hunt School of Nursing will go toward the nursing scholarship endowment, helping future students reach their goal of becoming health care heroes.


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