Discovering Possibilities in an Uncertain Time

Jul 20, 2021

As I wrap up my first month with Con Alma Health Foundation, I am mindful of this historic time of global uncertainty as well as possibilities.  I often consider this era to be a triple pandemic as we’re simultaneously experiencing a global health crisis, economic instability, and racial reckoning. I never anticipated a significant professional transition in the midst of a global pandemic. But I couldn’t resist this opportunity to return to my home state and work alongside our courageous and resourceful communities and partners. As a public health researcher and practitioner, I know that it might take decades for us to heal and recover from these turbulent times. I stand ready to be part of the solution here in New Mexico and for Con Alma to help lead the way.

First, I am humbled and inspired by our small but fierce Con Alma team. Nelsy Dominguez, Program Director, brings a wealth of philanthropic and nonprofit expertise to this important work. I’m in awe by how Nelsy authentically engages communities, while keeping systemic and institutional inequities top of mind. Nelsy’s experiences provide a unique perspective to everything we do – from grantmaking to convening to partnership. Amy Donafrio, Associate Director, has been with the Foundation for over 15 years. In many ways, Amy is the glue that has helped Con Alma successfully advance health equity in New Mexico. Amy oversees operations, budget oversight, and project management – and she has played a significant role in my onboarding. Cecile Labore, Information Manager, has played a pivotal role in every grant that has been processed since joining Con Alma in 2008. In March 2020, Cecile led the launch of a new grant management, data, and tracking platform. Cecile’s leadership positioned Con Alma to efficiently partner with national funders and distribute funds in response to the COVID-19 crisis, equitable vaccine rollout, and ongoing community rebuild. What I respect most about Dennis McCutcheon is his curiosity and commitment to stewardship. As our Communications and Outreach Coordinator, Dennis always has the best interest of the community in mind, and I can count on him if I need to brainstorm or troubleshoot something. I’m excited to see Dennis’s creativity shine through our updated website, which has been a true labor of love.

Second, in my short time with Con Alma, I have witnessed how many of our grantees have adapted to our ever-changing environment and responded to community needs. It is encouraging to collaborate with nonprofits, peer funders, and national funders – as well all do our part to help New Mexico and our country recover and heal from the dramatic events of the past year and a half.

A guiding question I keep asking myself is, “How can Con Alma ‘lean in’ to our role as a health foundation focused on equity and improving health and well-being for all New Mexicans?” I don’t fully know the answer to that question – but here’s where I landed.

  1. Con Alma should continue to deeply listen to and understand our neighbors and local communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.
  2. Con Alma should create spaces for nonprofits, community leaders, and peer funders to share insights, ask tough questions, and make hard decisions – together.
  3. Con Alma should create opportunities for communities to document and tell their own stories. Storytelling can be an incredibly powerful learning tool and resource. Since philanthropy has more flexibility and less red tape than other entities, we should invest in capturing stories as communities continue to heal and move forward. I’m excited for all the learning that will hopefully come from this turbulent time.

Finally, the number one question people have asked me since I moved back to New Mexico is, “Why did you move back after being gone for 19 years?”  At my core, I care about people and I believe in health equity for all. Having worked at two of the largest health foundations in the country, I am excited to apply my philanthropic and public health expertise to my home state, which has plenty of opportunities to advance health equity. I wholeheartedly believe that all people have the right to live as healthfully as possible, regardless of where they live, work, play, or worship. I know that I cannot single-handedly change or address the many unfair systems or all of the root causes that lead to inequities. But this is my life’s work and I will always strive toward a healthier, more equitable, and just world. I joined Con Alma Health Foundation because I know the staff and leadership, our community partners, and peer foundations are striving toward the same goals. I am part of something bigger than myself and all of us combined. And there’s nowhere else I’d rather bring my full self and skillset to than the Land of Enchantment. Thank you for welcoming me back; I look forward to what’s to come!

Denise E. Herrera, PhD, MCHES
Executive Director
Con Alma Health Foundation
Office: 505-438-0776 x3
denise (at)


Con Alma Health Foundation - The Heart and Soul of Health in New Mexico

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