Local health care plan gives $100,000 to support student scholarships for second year  

Jorge Gomez Jr. watched his sick mother get hospitalized, lose lots of weight because she couldn’t keep any food or water down and endure exploratory surgery to find out what was wrong with her.

Then, the diagnosis finally came — a tumor behind her stomach. 

“She was in so much pain, and we were in and out of the hospital so much,” Gomez Jr. said. “From an early age, after my mom survived, I knew I wanted to go into nursing.”

Born in San Jose to Mexican immigrant parents, Gomez Jr. ended up in Fresno where he attended Fresno City College then transferred to Fresno State because he heard there was a great nursing program. But the cost of all the extra things that he needed for school, on top of the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and being a single father to an autistic child, surprised him.

Gomez Jr. applied for scholarships to get some financial help. In fall 2020, he received a $5,000 scholarship from CalViva Health, a locally managed public health care plan serving Fresno, Kings and Madera counties that strives to provide access to quality, cost-effective health care throughout the region. CalViva Health gave $200,000 to Fresno State during the 2020-21 academic year to help empower future physicians, nurses, physical therapists, social workers and other students studying in health care-related majors. Forty-one students received a scholarship. 

CalViva Health’s commitment to help Fresno State students stay enrolled, graduate and obtain future employment continues this year with another generous gift of $100,000 to fund student scholarships.  

“At CalViva Health, we understand how important it is to support the next generation of health care professionals,” said Jeffrey Nkansah, chief executive officer of CalViva Health. “As a college student I faced similar circumstances of balancing life with learning, while trying to figure out how to pay for college expenses. Those experiences molded me into the individual I am today, which is why I believe CalViva Health’s commitment to investing in local students provides greater opportunities in our communities for the future.”

Eligible students must be enrolled full-time and also qualify for state and federal aid while maintaining a 3.0 GPA or higher. 

For Gomez Jr., the scholarship couldn’t have come at a better time. While most of his courses were virtual last year, clinicals were still performed at the hospitals. He did his emergency department rotation during the pandemic. At home, while signing into his classes, Gomez Jr. was also helping his 12-year-old son with his virtual classes. Gomez adopted his cousin’s son when he learned that the boy would go into foster care because his biological parents could not care for him. 

“This meant so much to me. I always heard about scholarships, but I never applied to any in the past because I didn’t think I would qualify for anything,” Gomez Jr. said. “This helped me out so much from buying a new laptop, printer and ink, to a uniform and other school supplies that added up. I’m thankful for the opportunity.”

Gomez expects to finish his undergraduate nursing program this fall and would like to work in complex care with patients who suffer from chronic and behavioral health issues and social challenges. His future goal is to get a master’s degree. 

“We are grateful for CalViva Health’s continued support of our students who are learning and training to be the next generation of frontline workers,” said Dr. Carolyn Coon, dean of students and acting vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Fresno State. “With CalViva Health’s help, our students are able to get through these challenging times and put their education first to reach their career goals.” 

Gabriela Perez-Vigil wants to get her master’s degree in school counseling. The senior psychology major from Corcoran lost her mother at age 5 and received counseling services as a child, which led her on a course to do the same for others. 

The pandemic brought some challenges for Perez-Vigil who contributes to her family’s finances. She lost her movie theater job when the business closed during the pandemic and her hours as a supplemental instructor at West Hills College got reduced in the summertime. She had to dip into her savings to pay for her car, food and housing. When her savings got depleted, she started living paycheck to paycheck and was afraid she would have to leave school. 

Then an email came with good news. Perez-Vigil was a recipient of a $5,000 scholarship from CalViva Health. The money helped her pay some outstanding housing costs and allowed her to concentrate more on school and less on work. 

“I really couldn’t believe it,” Perez-Vigil said. “It took a huge weight off my shoulders. It was like, ‘I got you. I believe in your educational success.’ So, I was able to reduce my hours at work and focus more on school.”