WESLACO — Gina Cardona’s been places.
At the age of 36, the Milwaukee native has made a livelihood traveling the country in search of a community to serve. Such a journey has taken her from Wisconsin to South Texas, then to Colorado and back to home before returning on two separate occasions to the Rio Grande Valley.
Although she’s moved several times, the one consistency Gina maintained is what continues to motivate her today: helping mothers bring their children into the world. And as the clinical director at Holy Family Birth Center in Weslaco, that’s exactly what she’s doing.
She leads the organization, a faith-based nonprofit, in its more than 30-year mission to provide midwifery services and prenatal care for mothers seeking a natural birth experience, and for those who cannot afford traditional hospital care. Making up the latter’s demographics are expecting mothers who may not have insurance, or indigent patients seeking basic women’s healthcare.
She brings to the position, which oversees a modest staff of nurse-midwives, years of experience in the field as well as an education that began at nursing school in Wisconsin, where she served with AmeriCorps. It wasn’t until she was recruited by the center’s founder, Sister Angela Murdaugh, that Gina came to Holy Family.
“I was interested in birth and midwifery, and I wanted to do something different than a job at a local hospital,” Gina recalled about her aspirations. “Of course, there was a girl in nursing school who had been down here and knew of Holy Family, and we talked about it. I had heard of it before too.”
What she discovered at the center was a dedicated group composed of nurse-midwives and volunteers, some of whom had accepted Sister Angela’s offer to live on-site for a year to gain experience before moving on in their careers — whether that was in holistic care or in standard practices.
After a year, Gina moved back to Milwaukee and found work before once again venturing to another destination, this time for five years working at a birth center and preschool in Colorado. It’s also where she earned bachelor and master’s degrees in nursing for midwifery from the Health and Behavioral Sciences program at University of Colorado Denver.
Once she finished school in 2009, Gina returned to Weslaco and offered a helping hand at Holy Family. Following a subsequent stint in Colorado, where she worked in a hospital as a nurse-midwife, she came back to Holy Family in 2014 and eventually found herself in unfamiliar territory — in a leadership position.
After serving under Heather Swanson, former executive director, Gina was offered the position of clinical director in July, and now serves side-by-side with the operations director, Sandra de la Cruz-Yarrison.
Looking back on her travels and experiences, Gina attributes her drive to be a help to as many people as possible to passion. Inspiring her along the way have been the dozens of relationships she’s made with clients, co-workers, colleagues and supervisors — a network she continues to rely on today as her most-trusted resource.
“It’s a challenge,” Gina said of her role as a director. “It’s a whole new skill set, so I think I’m learning along the way. But fortunately, I have a lot of friends around the country who are in this position, so I look to them on a daily basis for their advice. Because it’s new and more of a leadership role, and something that evolves over time and pushes you out of your comfort zone, I know learning everything can’t all happen over night. It’s little by little.”
Knowing she’s made an impact in people’s lives helps that process, she added; especially now that she can apply expertise from multiple capacities, settings and environments, including her volunteerism in Mexico.
Also gained during her journeys is an ever-growing extended family of clients. At an organization such as Holy Family, where the staff is encouraged to engage their patients on a more intimate level, Gina’s now in a position in which she can pull from her own experiences when helping the center cultivate and maintain such relationships.
This, she said, can be a labor of love.