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NMSU Department of Public Health Sciences recognizes National Public Health Week with awards

The Department of Public Health Sciences in the New Mexico State University College of Health and Social Services is recognizing two community partners and public health heroes in Doa Ana County in honor of National Public Health Week.

The NMSU Department of Public Health Sciences Public Health Heroes Awards annually selects and recognizes two awardees for their significant public health commitment, collaboration and contributions, said Cindy Kratzke, associate professor in the Public Health Sciences department and awards coordinator.

Elmer Gonzalez, director of the Dental Hygiene program at Doa Ana Community College, will be recognized with the Community Organization/Program Public Health Hero Award for his work with the Happy Smiles free dental clinic, which took place in February and was aimed at improving oral hygiene for children in the community who have limited resources and no dental insurance. Children and adolescents ages 2 to 15 received a free dental cleaning, radiographs, fluoride and oral hygiene instruction at the clinics, which involved students and faculty from the DACC Dental Hygiene program.

I am very honored to receive this award on behalf of the team who participated in Happy Smiles. Our goal for the event, which we hope to coordinate yearly, was to have an impact in our community. We want to educate students on the importance of community work and outreach no matter where they end up working after graduation, and to serve the community by providing services and education that could have a long lasting impact throughout their lives, Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said the clinic focused on children ages 2 to 15 because that age group is vulnerable to developing oral diseases such as periodontal diseases and cavities due to poor oral hygiene and lack of proper education.

As dental providers and public health advocates, we believe that optimal student education goes beyond the walls of dental hygiene school, Gonzalez said. We feel that community volunteerism is essential for creating a culture of giving, respect and the understanding of health concerns, health promotion and disease prevention.

Yolanda Diaz, president and founder of Cancer Aid Resource & Education, or CARE, will be honored with the Community Leader Public Health Award, which is given to an individual in Doa Ana County who has provided distinguished service to the community and significant contributions as a leader in the development of a healthier community. According to CAREs website, the organization was established so that cancer patients in Doa Ana County have a physical location to obtain services or assistance to cope with their cancer diagnosis. CARE is dedicated to establishing or assisting with no-cost services, resources and general education to help address the challenges many Doa Ana County cancer patients, both children and adults, face while receiving cancer treatment.

We are so proud of their work and hope to connect our students as partners with their future community health events, Kratzke said.

The honorees will be recognized during a meeting of NMSU Department of Public Health Sciences faculty at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 18. Students in Kratzkes MPH 572 Health Communication class reviewed and selected the award recipients.

This is the fourth year the department has recognized local public health heroes in honor of National Public Health Week, which is commemorated through Sunday, April 8, this year.

For more information about National Public Health Week, please visit www.nphw.org or apha.org.