FEMAP’s programs in Juárez are bursting at the seams.
Since Guadalupe De la Vega founded the non-profit in 1973, it has provided a hand up to countless impoverished border residents. And its model for helping the poor has received national, and sometimes global, recognition.
FEMAP, an acronym for the Mexican Federation of Private Associations, has grown steadily over the past 42 years.
Its nursing school, built for 250 students, enrolled more than 500 students this year and turned away another 200 qualified applicants.
Hospital de la Familia in Juárez, opened by De la Vega in 1973 with two beds, now provides more than 550,000 low-cost medical services a year to the region’s poor.
In response to the overwhelming need, FEMAP officially launched a $15-million capital campaign in 2013, its first ever.
That was a tough time to launch a campaign. The economy was still slow and similar campaigns in El Paso were competing for charitable dollars.
What makes FEMAP’s campaign unique is it is being conducted on both sides of the border, in two countries and two cities – El Paso in the United States and Juárez in Mexico.
The campaign is chaired in El Paso by accountant Adolpho Telles and in Juárez by Guadalupe Canales, a nurse. Both live in El Paso now, but Telles was born and raised in Alamogordo and Canales in Juárez.
So far, $8.4 million has been raised, according to Telles. He said they hope to announce the final results of the campaign during FEMAP’s annual gala in September. No donation is too big or too small, he said.
Donors include El Paso businessman and philanthropist Paul Foster and his wife Alejandra De la Vega Foster, Juárez businessman Federico De la Vega, the Hunt Family Foundation and El Paso Community Foundation.
The contributions are building a new and expanded nursing school, which will have the capacity to graduate 250 to 300 nurses a year. Construction is more than 90 percent complete, according to Telles.
FEMAP established the school in 1993 in response to a shortage of nurses in Juárez and to help unskilled women with few options for employment.
The capital campaign is also expanding and remodeling Hospital de la Familia. De la Vega opened the hospital in Juárez in 1973 with two beds. Now it is a 125-bed teaching hospital that provides low-cost services to the region’s poor.
FEMAP also operates a micro-finance program and has more than 1,000 volunteer health promoters who do community outreach.
When De la Vega refused to allow the drug violence to diminish her effort in Juárez as the violence there surged in 2009, she was selected as one of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes in 2010.
FEMAP is supported in El Paso by the FEMAP Foundation, which acts as the non-profit’s U.S. fundraising arm. Telles is president of the foundation’s board; Canales is president of the board of FEMAP in Juárez.
Telles and Canales sat down with El Paso Inc. and talked about raising money on both sides of the border, why the need is so great and why people in both Juárez and El Paso should care about it.
Q: How did you get involved with FEMAP?
Canales: I got involved with FEMAP in 1991 when I met the founder, Mrs. Guadalupe De la Vega. She has this ability … to recruit you.
Q: She has a magnetic personality.
Canales: She speaks from the heart and what she says is what she does; so you get attracted to her, and because of that, to the organization.
Telles: I had a friend who was president of the board at the time, and she asked me if I was interested in serving on the board. I didn’t know anything about FEMAP.
I struggled for a while, because I felt that we had a lot of needs to address in the U.S. But after several discussions, I joined the board.
Q: What convinced you?
Telles: In a nutshell, anything that occurs in Juárez to improve the economy, health care and education, helps El Paso; and anything that helps El Paso, helps Juárez.
Diseases don’t respect borders. We are not separated as San Diego and Tijuana are. I mean, we are neighbors. It is a regional concept.
The first time I took a tour of the FEMAP hospital in Juárez, something I have never forgotten was the NICU where the premature babies are treated.
One of those babies was in an incubator made from a wooden fruit crate with blankets in it. And then they had lights, and that’s what kept the baby warm. When you see it, it is emotional. You go into the hospital today, and we don’t have any of that anymore.
Canales: You have to live it to understand it. It is so hard to explain to you what we do over there, unless you go.
When you go visit the hospital or the programs out in the colonias, that’s when you feel under your skin how great those needs are and feel so proud to be part of the effort to meet those needs.
Q: How much are services at the hospital?
Telles: A mammogram is $20. I don’t know what it costs here, but I know it is much, much more than that. A general consultation with a doctor is $5.
We help the poorest of the poor. The people there, they don’t have many other options. While our prices would seem very, very low, it is still a challenge for some of the people we serve. But we don’t turn anybody away.
Our model is very different from what you would see in the U.S. It’s not – come in here and we’ll do the mammogram, then you can come back in for the reading and, if we find something, you can come back and we’ll do something else.
They do it all the same day, because many of the patients have a hard time getting to the hospital to begin with. You don’t let them out of the door until you have met their needs. That’s the goal.
Q: What do the people you treat typically make on a daily basis?
Canales: Probably $10.
Telles: Our tuition for the school is $42 a month – $42 a month for a nursing program, and it is a three-year program. We give a lot of scholarships because a lot of the people we serve can’t afford to pay that.
Q: When did you launch the capital campaign?
Telles: We started the campaign in 2013. We originally were going to start it very aggressively in 2013, but Mrs. De la Vega had a stroke. That slowed us for a little while because she is the leader and inspiration behind it all.
Q: What was the impetus for starting the capital campaign?
Canales: It’s really to expand the program because of the overwhelming needs.
Telles: The nursing school started in 1993 with 20 students and it was a one-year nursing assistant program. It has evolved over the years to become a full nursing program and is now affiliated with the university in Juárez and is now certified by the state.
The state of Chihuahua gives an exam to all the nursing students in the state, and we have graduates year after year who score in the top 10.
There are people who have graduated and are U.S. citizens who have come to El Paso and they work here.
The hospital now has 125 beds and probably about 15 percent of the people they serve are from the U.S., so it is not just Juárez it is serving.
Q: What are the plans for the new nursing school building and hospital?
Canales: We expanded and remodeled the obstetric and surgery rooms, as well as the doctors’ dormitories and lounge. We had to start with that project first to get the certification for the hospital.
The new building for the nursing school is about half a block from the hospital itself. It will be five stories and have 12 classrooms. It will also have labs, a computer lab, auditorium and a roof garden.
Telles: $5 million is for the new nursing school building, which is 90-plus percent done.
Q: How much have you raised so far?
Telles: We are at $8.4 million, so we still have another $7 million to go. But I think we can get there given how things are going.
Q: Most fundraising efforts in the region typically focus on one side of the border or the other.
Canales: The fact that this is a binational effort is very unique. We have a foundation in El Paso that raises money to support the programs in Juárez.
Q: How do you run a capital campaign like that?
Telles: The FEMAP Foundation was formed in El Paso in 1992, so there is a long history of raising funds for the hospital in Juárez.
We grew a little bit at a time, but now we need to take it to the next level to continue to meet the needs.
There’s a board of directors for the hospital in Juárez and Mrs. Canales is president of that board, and there is a board of directors for FEMAP Foundation here in El Paso. We work together very closely.
We have a team of people who are making visits in El Paso and a group in Juárez to raise money. We have Mexican nationals on our El Paso board, and the Mexican board has U.S. citizens.
The pledges from the U.S. total almost $3.4 million and the pledges from Mexico total $5 million. The total collected in the U.S. is $820,000 and in Mexico $4.7 million.
The majority of the uncollected amount comes out of the U.S., because those are five-year commitments. There are differences in the tax laws in Mexico and the U.S., which impacts how people give.
Q: Without getting too deep into the law, what are some of the differences?
Telles: There are a lot of issues. We have donors that live here in El Paso that contribute in Mexico, and we have donors that donate here even though they live in Mexico.
We got a joint pledge from one couple, she works in Mexico and he works in the U.S., and some of it comes from her earnings out of Mexico and some of his earnings out of the United States.
Q: Is it any different how you go about nudging people to open their wallets in El Paso versus Juárez?
Telles: There are some differences, but not big differences. People need to understand the need and have confidence that you are going to spend their money in a very productive manner.
Q: How is the campaign going? How receptive are people?
Telles: We probably should have started tracking in the beginning how many people we contacted and how many contributed, but I think we have a very high percentage.
If we get in there and visit with them and we can show them the need and talk about what we are doing, we have had very, very few rejections.
Q: When you were talking about the overwhelming need in Juárez, it made me wonder why those basic social services aren’t being met better by the state or municipal governments or the private sector in Juárez.
Telles: I don’t want to get involved with the politics. I will say, here in the United States we have similar needs but to a different degree.
We do have some welfare programs that compensate, but not at all levels. That’s evident if you visit the Transitional Living Center or Center Against Family Violence in El Paso.
Go out to the Eastside to the edge of El Paso County and visit the colonias where there is no running water.
In Juárez, this hospital and the school of nursing happen to be filling a need.
You educate a person and now her kids don’t have to go out and work because she can provide for her family. And the economic impact of letting those children graduate from high school and maybe go on to college is huge.