Con Alma Health Foundation congratulates this year’s heroes of health: Chuck Howe, president of National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center, Inc. in Angel Fire, and Rebecca Palacios, PhD, assistant professor at New Mexico State University.
Con Alma also awarded an honorary hero of health to Sen. Dede Feldman, this year’s speaker at Con Alma’s grantee recognition event, for her work advocating for New Mexico to address the health needs of its residents.
“Every year we receive nominations about amazing individuals who make extraordinary contributions to the health of their communities,” said Dolores E. Roybal, Con Alma’s executive director. “This year we couldn’t pick only one hero. Both Chuck and Rebecca embody the goals of Con Alma – creating sustainable solutions to improve the health of underserved populations. We congratulate them for caring deeply and working hard to help people.”
In honor of this year’s heroes, Con Alma is providing a $1,000 donation to a New Mexico nonprofit of each honoree’s choosing – the National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center for Howe and Character Kids, Inc. for Palacios.
Howe started the Healing Center after hearing about the need for veterans to receive treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Center has hosted seven-day retreats for 175 veteran couples in 26 states since opening in 2009. Couples, which can include spouses, friends, siblings or partners, experience a variety of therapies, including yoga, meditation, group sessions, massage, equine therapy, acupuncture and a Native American pipe ceremony.
Howe’s vision and focus make him a hero, said Karen Kelly, the center’s executive director. He recognizes the importance of treating both the veteran and the significant other, she said. The center offers traditional and non-traditional healing because Howe saw that was the best way to help veterans and their families, she said. Also, he trained local residents in military life so they could connect to the people they treat.
“His vision has been, ‘I don’t care what I have to do to make this a reality – I need to help the guys who are coming back now so they don’t have to live with this for 40 or 50 years,’” she said.
Rebecca Palacios, a first-generation Mexican American, grew up along southern New Mexico’s border and has a passion for helping the Latino population. Her work at New Mexico State involves improving drinking water in the colonias, where people don’t have access to city water, and improving consumption of fruits and vegetables in Mexican-American households.
“There’s no reason for these health disparities to exist,” she said. “I think it’s important that everyone should have access to good health.”
The three-year colonias project provides people with no-cost filtration systems to get rid of common contaminations in the water systems. To enhance people’s nutrition, Palacios is examining barriers to people buying fruits and vegetables. She is collaborating with grocery stores and the marketing departments of New Mexico State University and Cornell University to design better store plans that encourage fruit and vegetable purchases, including putting recipes on grocery carts.
“What Rebecca has is an incredible, uncanny ability to work well with the residents,” said Mark Kittleson, Palacios’ supervisor who nominated her for the award. “All of the nominees are heroes. They certainly don’t do it for the money or glory, but they are out there concerned about people and making a true impact in the community.”
This is the fourth year Con Alma has named heroes of health. Past heroes include Kristine Suozzi, public health advocate with New Mexico Health Equity Working Group, and Mario Pacheco, M.D. with the Pojoaque Primary Care and Northern New Mexico Residency Program.