Anabell Cardona was 15-years plus into managing clinics and doctors’ offices in Weslaco and McAllen. It was then she figured the time was right, in her mid-30s, to make a career breakthrough.
Cardona recalls having no fear in 2001 as she sat in front of a banker and faced a business loan with six figures in it. She was ready to purchase Valley Grande Institute of Weslaco.
“Where do I sign?” she recalls asking the banker.
Cardona was ready to get on with it.
A week later she had her first payroll to meet at the vocational nursing school, and as she puts it, “nothing in the bank.”
Hardly deterred, Cardona then set about within months to move the school to downtown Weslaco. Vocational nursing was the bedrock program of Valley Grande from its start in 1992. Cardona further bolstered it with new instructors and facilities. Allied health programs would also be added in medical assisting, medical insurance and billing, and patient care technician.
A limited medical radiologic technologist/phlebotomy technician program would be the next addition to a growing school. By 2007, VGI became Valley Grande Institute For Academic Studies. It occupied 50,000 square feet in four buildings in downtown Weslaco.
“Basically, it was just hustling and believing that if we put our energy into solving problems – and not complaining about them – we can make a difference,” Cardona said. “I’m in a position today where I can do my part to help the community where I grew up.”
The reach of VGI goes beyond Cardona’s hometown of Weslaco. Her school draws students from throughout the Rio Grande Valley. Student success stories abound. Some of them are present on the VGI campus where graduates have returned to teach after stints in the healthcare field. Vocational nursing students in white uniforms fill classrooms and labs, engaging in skills practice and classroom lectures.
Leo Galvan is a registered nurse and director of the vocational nursing program at VGI. He has been with the institution for 15 years, rising from a patient care technician instructor to a director. He sees firsthand Cardona’s determination to grow the school.
“She’s a goal planner,” Galvan said. “She keeps it all together.”
The work of VGI was recently recognized by South Texas Health Systems with a $51,000 grant. Cardona, the institution’s president and chief executive officer, plans to use it to upgrade equipment as well as bolster staff development and training. During a Jan. 20 event awarding the grant, Charles Stark, the regional vice president for South Texas Health Systems, lauded VGI for the nurses and medical workers it provides area hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other health care facilities.
“I see it (grant) as leadership working together to make a difference,” said Cardona, who has served as board chair for both the Rio Grande Valley Partnership and the Weslaco Chamber of Commerce. “We’re very fortunate in that we’re able to impact and improve the lives of our students and their families.”