Carmen Gomez always going above expectations to help others
Determination and education are the keys to success as Carmen Gomez has shown her three daughters and extended family. For Carmen, that success has always been for the benefit of her family.
That perspective gave Carmen the resolve to continue when times got tough, but it also caused her to put her education on hold when she decided in a moment to give the gift of life to another.
Carmen, who holds a master’s of arts in counseling degree and works as a student services counselor and academic advisor at Navarro College, immigrated to the U.S. in December 1986 without knowing a single word of English. She and her husband Tino Gomez knew that an education in the states would provide their daughters Cynthia, Mayra and Karen, a chance to set them on a path to better themselves. However, Carmen soon realized that to support her daughters’ education, she needed an education of her own.
“I saw the necessity when they started going to school. To me, it was hard and kind of frustrating to help them with school,” Carmen said. “I didn’t understand any English, not a single word. I told my husband I needed to go to school to learn English to help the girls.”
Through it all, Carmen said Tino has been her rock and supporter. He told Carmen if she felt she could still take care of the house while going to school, he would support her every step of the way.
So began Carmen’s path to improving the lives of her family and her own through education and sheer determination to succeed.
Carmen enrolled in a six-level English as a Second Language program at El Paso Community College, where they were living after immigrating to the U.S. on green cards. Once she graduated the course and knew English, Carmen decided she was interested in taking more classes. She enrolled in a certificate program at the college to learn to use a computer and was certified for data entry.
“That gave me the opportunity to get a job in the college as a part-time clerk,” she said. “I worked there for five years, but I thought, ‘This is not what I want to do for the rest of my life. If I want to improve my lifestyle a little bit more, I need to get at least an associate’s degree.’”
Not being familiar with the U.S. education system, Carmen had no idea her social work degree she earned in Mexico could provide her with credits to get started on her educational path. Carmen knew enough to know she had to obtain her GED and enrolled in a course to prepare for the test.
“I passed all of my tests the first try, and then I said from here my next step is my associate’s,” she said. “I got my associate’s in social psychology while working full-time. My vocation has always been to help others, so I decided if I wanted to do something similar, it would be psychology.”
Carmen attended courses at Park University, located within Fort Bliss, in El Paso. The university, once solely for the education of military personnel, had opened its doors to the general public and now offers associate’s, bachelor’s and two master’s degree programs.
While she was working on her associate’s degree, and later her bachelor’s degree, Carmen never let her other responsibilities slip at home or work.
“We never felt she would alienate us,” Cynthia Barron, Carmen’s middle daughter, said. “She was always there for us — 100 percent mom, 100 percent student. We never felt she was always doing schoolwork. She had the food ready every day at 4 o’clock when we would get home—and she worked!”
“Yes, I worked full time,” Carmen said.
“You worked full time, you were a student and a mom,” Barron clarified.
“And a wife,” Carmen added.
“And a wife,” Barron added as they both laughed.
Carmen worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and then would attend classes from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. while Tino watched the children. After coming home from school at 9:30 p.m., Carmen would prepare the family’s lunches for the next day before going to bed. Saturdays were devoted to cleaning, preparing meals for the week and doing her homework, and Sundays were devoted to God and her family. All while raising three, now teenage, daughters.
“It was hard. I’m not going to say it was easy, but I was determined,” Carmen said. “And I always believe if you believe in yourself, there’s nothing that’s going to stop you from reaching your goals.”
After her daughters had been fed and she had helped them with their homework, they would go to bed and Carmen would have her quiet time to work on her own education.
“I always felt if I wanted to better our lives, education was the answer. There’s nothing else that’s going to stop me from reaching my goals,” Carmen said.
By the time Carmen had completed her associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, the Gomez’s oldest daugher Mayra Jones, and Barron, were preparing to go off to college themselves. Both now work as educators, Jones as an Arlington ISD and Barron as a Waxahachie ISD teacher at Wedgeworth Elementary, carrying on the passion for education their mother instilled in them.
“It wasn’t a question,” Barron said. “It wasn’t an option not to go. It was just ‘you’re going to school.’ That was one of the things that motivated them to bring us to the states. Education is a key to success. Now we’ve seen it with my mom, and it’s true.”
Carmen said she never thought about giving up on her education even though it was difficult.
“I always tell my students, you ever feel like you are tired or something, yeah maybe you can take a semester off, take a break, but you can never quit. You have to come back. How do you say in English, ‘Si todo era fácil todos lo harían’?” She asked Barron.
“If everything was that easy, everyone would do it,” she answered.
At one point, while earning her bachelor’s degree, Carmen did find it too difficult to continue and took a break in her education — because she had donated a kidney.
“I was working toward my bachelor’s when my brother’s daughter, she was 6 at the time, she had renal failure,” Carmen said. “I knew for a fact that she was not going to be able to get a transplant right away, because there is a huge need for that. I remember when we went to the emergency room with all the check-ups and everything, I said, ‘OK doctor, do everything that is possible, and if I am compatible with her, I can donate one of my kidneys.’”
“She said it like it was an item of clothing or something. ‘Oh, here you go,’” Barron added. “She didn’t really think about it twice. That’s just how she is. She’s just so willing to help others.”
“That’s what my husband sometimes says. I got in trouble, because he says you act or make decisions based on what you feel, but you don’t see other consequences. You make your decisions based on your heart and not on your brain,” Carmen said.
But Tino didn’t object to Carmen’s decision. For six months, while her niece Edith Jara was on dialysis, Carmen had routine check-ups on her kidney and testing to see if she was a candidate to donate. Every two weeks, the nurses would draw eight tubes of blood, Carmen said.
On Jan. 20, the transplant was performed. Now Carmen receives a card from her niece every year thanking her “for the gift of life.” Barron read the card that Jara sent Carmen this year on the anniversary thanking her aunt for the kidney:
Today is another year of our anniversary and that unforgettable day for me. Thank God, and you, too, that I am able to live another year. You know that I will always be grateful for giving me the gift of life. This year, it’s 12 years. May God continue to bless you always with health and happiness. I love you. Thank you again for risking your life to save mine.
After recovering from the surgery, Carmen went straight back to her education. She finished her bachelor’s degree and set her eyes on earning her master’s degree to obtain her dream job of working as a counselor. There was one more bump in the road to test Carmen’s determination and her family ties.
Tino’s company closed its plant. He had two options, go on unemployment or move to a city the Gomez family had never heard of—Waxahachie.
In the middle of earning her master’s degree, Tino had to move away from his wife and family to work at then RockTenn, now known as WestRock after a merger. Despite their separation, the couple stayed strong, and as soon as she finished her master’s degree, she moved to Waxahachie, Carmen said.
One month prior to moving to her graduation, Carmen applied to an online job listing for an academic advisor position at Navarro College. After a phone interview, she was asked when she could start.
“Tomorrow,” she said.
Now Carmen is using her education to advise others through their own quest to better themselves through education. She sees some of the same trials and shares her determination with all those who walk into her office.