All in the Family Investments in education deliver benefits for all

Erika Monjaras, a member of the St. Luke’s Wood River labor and delivery team, is just the person you’d want greeting your newborn as he or she enters the world. She is bright, sunny, quick to smile, and full of happy energy. It’s hard not to think she was simply born to help others give birth.

Of course, landing where she has landed—Erika began her current position in February 2014—took a great deal of work and dedication on her part, as well as support from the St. Luke’s community. Her journey began in 2001, when, as a sophomore in high school, her parents moved her to the Wood River Valley from Watsonville, California. As she describes it, slightly mocking her teenage self back then, “I was devastated, thinking (of my parents) this is the worst thing you can do!”

Erika’s mother began working in the St. Luke’s Wood River kitchen (and does to this day). She subsequently convinced Erika to apply for a job there as well. As a bilingual 16-year-old, Erika was soon hired to work after school two days a week. She delivered menus and food to patients, then cleaned up after meals.

Graduating from high school in 2003, Erika knew she wanted to continue her education, but money was tight. Enter the late Jim Cimino, whose foundation offered her a full scholarship to attend the College of Southern Idaho (CSI). “So I took it,” she says without missing a beat. Erika continued to work at the hospital—in patient admissions, then as a secretary for the Medical-Surgery (Med-Surg) department—all the while commuting to Twin Falls for classes.

It was in Med-Surg that Erika was exposed to the real happenings in a hospital and she “…fell in love with nursing.” That experience inspired her to complete a Certified Nursing Assistant program. Also a new mother at the time, Erika asked to transfer to the Obstetrics Department where she worked for two years, splitting her time between CNA duties and secretarial responsibilities for the unit.

It was in 2011 that Erika decided to pursue her Registered Nurse (RN) degree. As a single mother and working full-time—now in the Emergency Department—Erika only had time for one class per semester at CSI. Nonetheless, she persevered. For much of the coursework, she was able to take advantage of a generous tuition reimbursement program provided by the hospital. What’s more, toward the end of her studies, Erika received a scholarship for nursing students newly established by St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation. The Foundation’s ongoing nursing scholarships are funded through unrestricted gifts and through the P. Scott McLean Jr., MD Educational Endowment established by the Boswell family. Erika and several other nursing students benefited from the program (and many, ultimately, were hired by St. Luke’s).

Graduating in December 2013, Erika was hired in February as a labor and delivery nurse. Typically, new hires are not brought in to a specialty so early in their careers. But given Erika’s long history with the hospital and her diverse exposure to the Emergency, Med-Surg, and OB departments, the staff felt Erika was ready for the specialty work.

But that wasn’t the end of Erika’s education. She set her sights on getting a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, and achieved her goal this year.

In the end, one thing is certainly true: community generosity through the Foundation has resulted in one woman achieving the job of a lifetime—a job Erika Monjaras absolutely loves doing.

Reliving an epiphany she had back in 2006, Erika bubbles up with joy: “After having my own child, babies became my passion! How could I not want to do this for a living? I love being able to care for the babies after they’re born!”

And, indeed, those babies are in good hands.