It’s Alumni Highlight Monday! Fresno State Public Health alumna, Sandra Celedón-Castro, was recently featured in Vida en el Valle, talking about her work as a public health advocate with Building Healthy Communities. We wanted to share the article, as written by Vida en el Valle staff writer Maria Ortiz-Briones. (January 13, 2015)
What motivated Sandra Celedón-Castro to become a public health advocate for underserved Fresno residents was the bus ride she took as a college student from her home in south Fresno to Fresno State.
For Celedón-Castro, the 45-minute bus ride she took on bus route 38 on Cedar Avenue, from Church Avenue to Shaw Avenue, opened her eyes to the disparities within the city of Fresno.
“I love the city, I love this county and I think that everyone in our county should have access to the resources they need to be healthy,” said Celedón-Castro, who is the Fresno Building Healthy Communities program manager.
She is responsible for guiding and supporting multi-sector, diverse stakeholder collaboration in order to drive the Fresno Building Healthy Communities Initiative – which aims to foster and encourage thriving communities where all children and families can live healthy, safe and productive lives.
Celedón-Castro still remembers looking out the window and seeing how much the neighborhoods changed as the bus traveled north.
“That bus ride, it stayed with me throughout the years,” said Celedón-Castro of the differences of south and north Fresno’s neighborhoods. “That just short bus ride when I was 18, freshman, going to college, and thinking something isn’t right here.”
She changed her major from nursing to public health.
Being in public health, Celedón-Castro said she understands how a neighborhood impacts its residents’ lives.
“Not just in the quality of life that you live but also how long you live. It just shouldn’t be that way,” said Celedón-Castro, who graduated from Fresno State with a degree in Public Health.
She spent her undergraduate years traveling to places like Egypt, Ghana, Trinidad & Tobago and Brazil to learn about international health systems and policies.
“One should live in a neighborhood that supports their health, allows them to be somebody healthy and live a life we all want to live, which is just being able to have kids play out on the streets, ride their bikes, take a walk to the neighborhood park, and being able to see the doctor, buy groceries at the local grocery stores,” said Celedón-Castro. “Things that we all need. I don’t think if you talk to anybody they are against these things.”
However, policy decisions made in the county and in the city of Fresno over the years have left some people in the city and in the county not having access to those things, she said.
“And to me that is something we need to change,” Celedón-Castro said.
In her search of what makes a community and its people healthy, Celedón-Castro found her passion and was hooked to public health advocacy.
She loves public health because it is so inclusive.
“Public health doesn’t look at just going to the doctor. It looks at where you live, where you go to school, how close things are to you, and looks at everything,” said Celedón-Castro, who has worked in numerous public health positions and has developed public health programs, with special focus on prevention and primary care access before she joined Fresno Building Healthy Communities in December 2013.
“Public health is the belief that people and their environment are connect and that if one is unhealthy the other one will suffer and vice versa,” she said. “I fell in love with public health then and I am still in love with it now.”
“I saw that while it is important for people to have access to health care and definitely people should have access to primary care, that is not it, that is not the only thing that makes people healthy, and that going to the doctor is our response, it is not preventive.”
“It became clear to me that in order to have a county and a city that is reflective of what we all say we want — and we all want to see that — we need to make public health a priority,” said the 29-year-old health advocate.
Over the years, Celedón-Castro has seen the impacts of cut backs to public health, such as the closure of the county hospital, the disinvestment of public health programs such as mental health, etc.
“You started to see where Fresno was headed and you see where that took us now,” said Celedón-Castro who was born in Salamanca, Guanajuato, México. She has lived in Fresno since she was 6.
“We are here fighting for basic health care for everyone, including undocumented residents. We are still here fighting for adequate health services, adequate health funding to different preventive programs, to make sure people in Fresno are health,” she said.
One of her goals is to make sure everyone in the city and the county is valued and truly inclusive.
“If we value someone we are going to make sure we invest and make sure that person has the resources they need and access to the opportunities that other people have in other part of the city,” she said. “Whether you live in south Fresno or north Fresno, your life is just as value. I don’t want people in north Fresno value any less. I just want everyone to be valued the same.”
“And so I don’t see that yet, the work is not done yet. If you take that bus tide, that still the same, it hasn’t changed,” Celedón-Castro said.
For Celedón-Castro, 2015 is going to be about “continuing the fight that we started in 2014, making sure that everyone in Fresno has access to health care” either through a local program or so through a statewide legislation.
Celedón-Castro is also an elected board member for the Calwa Recreation and Parks District. She just finished serving on the Environmental Justice Advisory Group in December 2014 at the Air District.
All photos courtesy of Fresno Building Healthy Communities.