We are proud to announce Melissa McCue, executive director of Mandy’s Farm in Albuquerque, as this year’s Hero of Health. Mandy’s Farm serves 170 individuals with developmental disabilities each month. In honor of Con Alma’s 20th anniversary this year, we are honoring five additional leaders: Tina Cordova of Albuquerque, Pastor John Graydanus of Shiprock, Guadalupe Lugo of Vado, Shelley Mann-Lev of Albuquerque, and Duane Chili Yazzie of Shiprock.
“Melissa’s nomination stood out to us for her advocacy and direct support of staff who work at Mandy’s Farm as well as her local and national advocacy for caregivers,” said Denise Herrera, Con Alma’s executive director. “Throughout the pandemic, McCue recognized that direct support of individuals with disabilities was more essential than ever, as was ensuring her staff’s needs were met.”
Once the pandemic started, McCue ensured coverage of staff’s healthcare premiums for several months, and provided retention wages for furloughed employees and temporary $4/hour pay raises for essential employees working in the homes of adults who have disabilities. In addition, she advocated for higher wages with funders, community members and the Board of Directors, resulting in permanent wage increases for staff.
“She has advocated tirelessly to highlight the role of caregivers in our community, and how essential their contributions are,” wrote Jessie Calero, director of development at Mandy’s Farm, who nominated Melissa. “She continues to emphasize the need to advocate with Federal and State Medicaid to increase provider rates to support increased wages for our staff, as well as fundraise to fill those wage gaps.”
McCue believes bringing awareness to the value of direct support professionals is essential in her role as executive director for almost 10 years.
“We must continue to work for a living and thriving wage, an equitable career pathway and recognition of the work of our valued direct support professionals in our New Mexican communities,” McCue said. “They provide an essential lifeline to the health and safety and meaningful community engagement to individuals with disabilities.”
Con Alma will donate $1,000 to Mandy’s Farm on McCue’s behalf as well as $100 each to nonprofits that Cordova, Greydanus, Lugo, Mann-Lev and Yazzie choose.
“We had a record number of nominations this year and recognize the additional burden the global pandemic has had on community leaders. On our 20th anniversary, the selection committee is excited to honor more individuals who give of their time and energy to make a difference in New Mexico,” Herrera said.
Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, volunteers her time to advocate for the federal government to recognize and provide restitution to New Mexicans who have suffered negative health effects due to radiation exposure from the first atomic bomb test in south central New Mexico. Restitution and health-care coverage could lift people out of poverty.
Greydanus, a pastor in Shiprock, expanded his partnerships with the local grocery store and food bank during the pandemic to increase outreach to isolated families who needed food. Also, he contributes his homegrown produce to address food insecurity through farm-to-school initiatives and by feeding the homeless.
Lugo, a promotora at La Mesilla Food Center, juggles multiple community projects involving nutritional health, farmworker rights and environmental health to improve the wellbeing and quality of life for people who are disenfranchised in southern New Mexico. She is a volunteer and an advocate for Latino people.
Mann-Lev, president of New Mexico Public Health Association, is an important contributor to systems change toward health equity and racial justice in New Mexico as she advocates for equity in vaccine distribution, collaborates with organizations to support state policy changes, empowers diverse Board members, and improves public health systems through workforce development projects.
Yazzie, president of the Shiprock Chapter of the Navajo Nation, is a lifetime advocate for justice and equality for indigenous people with issues involving education, environmental and economic justice, and sacred site and cultural resource protection. Among his many contributions, he spearheaded efforts to engage young people and elders in a community farm as a way to transfer cultural knowledge and support the health of indigenous people.