For Sandra Celedon, community organizing on behalf of underserved populations in Fresno is more than just an occupation — it’s deeply personal. After emigrating from Mexico as a young child, Celedon and her family planted roots in Calwa, a community she said embraced and invested in her growth. Now, she strives to do the same for others as the president and CEO of Fresno Building Healthy Communities.

When Robert Bacci began his physical therapy career 30 years ago, he made it his mission to lead with a heart of service. Today, through his physical therapy practice, he provides free health workshops to hundreds of South Valley residents who would otherwise not have access to care. He also leads with philanthropy in mind, regularly providing support to the Department of Physical Therapy at Fresno State and its students.

When COVID-19 halted in-person classes at Madera Unified School District, Jaime Brown implemented a series of workshops for physical educators and their students, as well as families, to use at home. Since March, she has championed nearly 21,000 students and educators to maintain healthy, active lives despite the current challenges — and her efforts recently helped Madera Unified achieve distinction as one of “America’s Healthiest Schools.”

These are just some of the inspiring stories that will be shared at the College of Health and Human Services’ ninth annual Hero Awards, which will be held virtually at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 10, via Zoom.

The awards celebrate nine professionals — all Fresno State alumni — 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 of Health and Human Services.

The remaining 2020 Health and Human Services Heroes include:

  • Howard Himes: As the former social services director of Fresno County and the former health and human services director of Napa County, Himes dedicated much of his professional career to advocating for minority and marginalized populations. He now gives back his time helping communities combat the rising opioid crisis.
  • Michele Pacheco: Twenty years ago, Pacheco began her physical education career at Fresno Unified School District and has gone on to educate and coach thousands of students over the years. Now, as the physical education manager for the district, she oversees 74,000 students, while also empowering teachers with the knowledge needed to make their students career-ready.
  • Jeanne Frye Prandini: Creating a safe and healthy space for students to thrive is what motivates Prandini’s work as director of nursing services for Clovis Unified School District. An impassioned nurse herself, Prandini is committed to making sure her staff has the right tools to help students succeed, both mentally and physically.
  • Sarah Reid: As the community services director for the City of Reedley, Reid is responsible for providing programs and services that enhance quality of life for residents. With COVID-19 limiting many of these programs, Reid shifted to a digital focus, while her passion for the people she serves grew even stronger.
  • Laurynn Smith: Helping to restore hearing for Fresno Unified School District students is all in a day’s work for Smith, an educational audiologist. She works closely with both students and their families to ensure they have the best resources available to flourish in and out of the classroom.
  • Elizabeth Tucker: Building human connections is just one of the many things Tucker enjoys most about her role as the environmental health and risk management officer at the State Center Community College District, where she oversees the health and safety of over 50,000 students, staff and visitors.

“We are continuously grateful for the commitment and passion each of our 2020 health and human services heroes have for our growing Central Valley region,” said Dr. Denise Seabert, dean of the College of Health and Human Services at Fresno State. “Even more so, we are humbled by their actions — as alumni — who have chosen to lead with service, act with kindness and give back their time and talents to our campus community.”

The Health and Human Services Hero Awards are free and open to the public to attend virtually. To register, visit For more information, contact Beth Wilkinson at