At age 16, Lupe Mirelez was forced to drop out of high school to take care of her eight younger siblings. With a home marred by poverty and violence, her opportunity at success was slim, but an opportunity to join the Job Corps would fuel her nearly 50-year career in nursing.

When David Luchini began his career as a public health nurse, he saw firsthand how poor health outcomes can affect an entire community. Now, as the assistant director of the Fresno County Department of Public Health, he makes it his mission to educate future generations on prevention and disease control.

For Erica Alexander, giving back to her community in west Fresno is more than a mission — it’s her responsibility. As the former coordinator of Fresno County’s Black Infant Health Program, she has helped to reduce black infant deaths by educating hundreds of women on proper maternal health.

These are just some of the inspiring stories that will be recognized at the College of Health and Human Services’ eighth annual Hero Awards at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, at the North Gym, Room 118 (5305 N. Campus Dr.) at Fresno State.

The awards celebrate nine professionals who are making a difference in the fields of health and human services through their work, volunteerism and advocacy on behalf of children and families in the Central Valley. Each recipient was nominated by an academic department, school, center or institute within the college.

The rest of the 2018 Health and Human Services Heroes include:

  • Danella Barnes-Penman – In 1998, Sanger Unified School District became the first school district to hire certified elementary physical educators to teach physical education. Barnes-Penman, one of the trailblazers of the program, would later go on to coordinate the program for over 10 years and teach for 28 years.
  • Connie Clendenan – As the CEO Emeritus of Valley Teen Ranch, Clendenan has been an advocate and champion for over 2,500 abused and neglected children from all over California. Since retiring, she has become a published author and gives back her time as a keynote speaker and child welfare expert witness.
  • Cynthia Fuller – Just one decade ago, Fuller survived a traumatic brain injury. As a physical therapist, she now uses her experience as a catalyst and makes it her goal to empower individuals with similar injuries to live and function independently.
  • Mikal Kirchner – Enhancing the quality of life for residents is what keeps Kirchner motivated each day. As the director of recreation and community services with the City of Selma, he believes everyone deserves access to parks and green space.
  • Bethanie Mills – As the senior manager of patient access at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Central California Chapter, Mills ensures cancer patients are equipped with the best health care and financial resources possible. She believes everyone deserves access to health care and deserves to be treated with human dignity and respect.
  • Courtney Young – Restoring eating and drinking abilities, as well as communication, for her patients is all in a day’s work for Young, a speech-language pathologist at Community Regional Medical Center. Based in the only Level 1 trauma center in the region, Young works closely with critically ill patients and gives them a renewed chance at quality of life.

“We are honored to recognize our 2018 health and human services heroes, each of whom can be defined as advocates, trailblazers and humanitarians,” said Dr. Jody Hironaka-Juteau, dean of the College of Health and Human Services at Fresno State. “Through their inspiring work, they are contributing to a healthier, more thriving, Central Valley region.”

For more information on the Health and Human Services Hero Awards, contact Melissa Tav at or 559.278.8379.

View original press release.