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The nurse advocate
France, MSN ’10, follows a simple credo that explains much of her life philosophy. “I do what I think is right and that happens to involve me in a lot of things,” says the 33-year-old nurse and prolific volunteer.
Even though she recently cut back somewhat on community service work, she is still involved in projects close to her heart. France oversees Girl Scout troop leaders throughout central Texas and serves on the Board of Directors for District 7 of the Texas Nurses Association. She also volunteers, through her job, in a national program that teaches health care workers how to manage disruptive behavior among patients and others.
France has won a number of awards. This year alone, she was named Woman of the Year for the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System and received an Alumni Community Service Award from the University of Phoenix.
But talking about public recognition makes her uncomfortable. “I’m honored, but I don’t think I’m doing something so wonderful,” says France, who is also the mother of three girls. “There are plenty of others more deserving. I guess I don’t think about it because helping people is part of my nature.”
Her most memorable activity was the three years she spent counseling victims of sexual abuse. The work was especially rewarding because she served alongside her mom, who was an abuse victim as a young girl.
France was born in the Puerto Rican town of Ceiba, east of the capital of San Juan. Following her parents’ divorce, she moved at age 8 to Killeen, Texas, where her mom took a nursing job.
As often happens in families, her mother’s abuse had a cascading effect, impacting France’s life as well. At Killeen High School, she was part of the volleyball team, the marching band, the honor society, the Spanish club and the student council.
The high activity level was partly an outgrowth of France’s curious and friendly nature. But she was also avoiding going home, where her mom, fearful for France’s safety, kept her daughter on a tight rein. “My mom was carrying scars when I was growing up, and her trauma was my trauma,” says France. “I think that’s part of what motivates me today.”
After graduating from high school, France attended Central Texas College on an academic scholarship. She stayed close to home to help her mom raise her younger sister. Her mother was a single parent working the night shift, so France helped get her sister off to school in the morning, drove her to day care and then fed her at night.
After earning an associate degree and her certification as a lab tech, France enrolled at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, in Belton, Texas. She graduated with a nursing degree and later enrolled at the University of Phoenix to study for her master’s degree in nursing.
Today, she is the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System Home Telehealth Nurse Manager in Temple. She oversees the program’s day-to-day operations, including making sure staffers meet performance standards. She also acts as a kind of advocate for patients, with the ultimate goal of delivering appropriate, timely and quality medical care.
Whether in her day job or her volunteer work, she sees herself as a kind of fixer. “If a program is struggling and needs to be kick-started with fundraising or other help, and nobody is doing it, that’s where you’ll find me,” says France. “If I believe in the cause, I’ll go for it.”
She applied for her previous job at the Veterans Health Administration as veteran’s health educator and diabetes self-management program coordinator because nobody else was available, and France considered the work too important to leave to chance. “There aren’t many certified diabetes educators in central Texas, and it’s something our veterans need,” says France, whose husband, William, is an Iraq War vet. “I had a job I loved, but I jumped in because I wanted the program to continue to thrive.”
As for the future, France plans to get her doctorate, but she is taking a break to allow William time to complete his bachelor’s degree. France’s relationship with her mom is on solid footing, too, especially after the time they spent together volunteering at Families in Crisis, Inc., a Texas nonprofit that helps families experiencing sexual violence. The two worked as a team, one responding to calls when the other was unavailable. Although France still helps the group—her Girl Scouts donate clothing and food, as well as deliver meals to shelters—she took a step back, partly due to the emotional strain it put on her. “The children’s calls tore me up because all I’d see was my kids’ faces,” she says.
But she plans to return to advocacy work when her daughters get older. “I’ll never lose that desire to help, especially domestic violence victims,” says France. “I want to make sure that women and girls are safe and empowered, and always have the tools to go forward on their own.”