On November 18, the College of Health and Human Services will host the 2021 Health and Human Services Hero Awards to recognize individuals who are making a bold difference right here in the Central Valley. We will highlight the ten honorees in our Heroes Blog Series.

MPopper2Name: Mor Xiong Popper

Occupation: Executive Director, Healing Hope, Inc. 

Nominated by: The Department of Social Work Education 

For Mor Xiong Popper, her Christian faith and love of God is rooted in everything she does – and is the catalyst for her agency, Healing Hope, Inc. She created the agency in 2006 while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in social work education from Fresno State. It was a way for her to support the behavioral and emotional health needs of the Fresno community. In her role as executive director, she aspires to be a servant leader to those most in need. 

“In the past, I’ve been through similar situations like my clients and at the time longed for a service that could help me, but I was unable to find any,” Xiong Popper said. “So, once I obtained my education, I decided I wanted to do something for others going through similar trying times. The work that I do now reflects my faith, and that is what primarily motivates me. I want to help others who feel like they have nothing to live for.”  

In addition to providing social services, Xiong Popper’s agency also provides case management as well as a myriad of services to communities close to her, especially Southeast Asian refugees. The desire to give back to the Hmong population, in particular, is deeply rooted in her own upbringing. Xiong Popper, who is of Hmong descent, escaped Laos during the Secret War in the late 1970s.

Her childhood, on the outskirts of a small village near the Mekong River, was marred by images of death while echoes of gunshots pierced the air. During that time, she lost three siblings to illness and famine. While her parents mourned the loss of their loved ones, Xiong Popper struggled to survive and dreamt of a better life and an education. In 1979, she and her family escaped to a refugee camp in Thailand, and a year after that, immigrated to Green Bay, Wisconsin. She was only 12 at the time.

“Life was still hard,” Xiong Popper said. “I was learning English, but at the same time, had to also interpret for my parents. I was attending school, while simultaneously taking care of the household and helping to raise my siblings.” 

Xiong Popper married at a young age and went on to raise five children, and although her time was limited, she was fiercely determined to advance her education, as she knew that was the key to success. Along the way, she overcame severe mental and physical disabilities, as well as a divorce, but nonetheless persisted in achieving her goals and dreams.

Xiong Popper went on to pursue her bachelor’s degree in social work from Fresno State in 2004. Upon graduating, she decided to continue her studies in the field that she loved and later obtained her Master of Social Work degree in 2009.

Today, Xiong Popper provides internships to undergraduate and graduate social work interns through Healing Hope, which she runs with now-husband, Mark Popper. Providing these educational and hands-on experiences to students is her way of giving back and giving thanks to the program and faculty at Fresno State who treated her with so much support and kindness. She hopes to continue paying it forward to future social workers, so that they can one day serve the community as well. 

“Through my work with Healing Hope, I’ve been able to learn so much from my clients,” Xiong Popper said. “It’s a two-way street because even though I help them, they equally help me to grow and heal, as well. Helping others has changed the way I see life and makes me appreciate everything I have and the people around me. It makes me reflect on a passage from Jeremiah 29:11: ‘For I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’.

Every day, I count my blessings.”

The 2021 Health and Human Services Hero Awards, which celebrates heroes from each of the seven departments, as well as centers and institutes within our college, will be held virtually this year. For more information on the event, contact Beth Wilkinson at bwilkinson@csufresno.edu.