On April 10, the College of Health and Human Services will host the 2015 Community Heroes Awards to recognize the unsung heroes in our community whose actions, thoughts and words have had a transformative power in our region. Our heroes, who represent each of the seven departments and four centers within our college, put others before themselves to genuinely make a difference for the residents of our region. All month long, we will be highlighting our 11 honorees in our Community Heroes Series.

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Name: William Mitchell

Occupation: Former Director of Public Health for San Joaquin County (now retired)

Nominated by: Central California Center for Health and Human Services

If there is anyone that knows the ins and outs of public health in the San Joaquin County region and beyond, it is William Mitchell. Although he recently retired after dedicating 40 years to working in the public health realm, the impact he’s made as a passionate and committed public health leader both in the community and among his colleagues across the region, state and nation will continue to serve as his legacy.

Mitchell spent the last 25 years of his career as the director of Public Health for San Joaquin County, covering the cities of Stockton, Manteca, Lathrop, Ripon, Escalon, Tracy, and lastly Lodi, which is where he now resides.

During his career, he experienced emerging health concerns that greatly impacted the nation, including AIDS in the 80s. The events that unfolded from September 11, 2001 brought to light the need for effective emergency preparedness. More recently, he began to address the issue of climate change, and the potential human health consequences. Mitchell said although there were some significant public health concerns during his tenure, it was always very exciting and challenging to him as director to be able to tackle these issues in partnership with his community.

Most notably, Mitchell has contributed significantly at the federal, State and regional levels. One such local endeavor was his involvement with the Central California Public Health Partnership. At first, he questioned whether a regional approach would be effective. Fast forward several years, the Partnership transformed into the San Joaquin Valley Public Health Consortium and is stronger than ever as a result. Mitchell retired as the most recent chair of the eight-county Consortium, which explores and exchanges ideas and information to develop strategies for addressing pressing public health issues faced by counties in the region.

Mitchell did not initially start out with a desire to go into the public health field. He originally began his undergraduate collegiate career at Sacramento State with dreams of going into the medical field, just like his beloved grandfather, who was a physician. It was the 1960s at the time and the U.S. was going through a time of great social unrest. Mitchell wanted to be a part of the movement and to make change. This would inspire him to change his major from math to health and safety studies, in which he received a bachelor’s degree in 1973.

He later pursued and received a master’s degree in 1974 at the University of Michigan. Throughout his education, he came to the realization that public health is all about social justice. Individuals don’t have the opportunity to be healthy, unless they have access to instruments of power, Mitchell said. He found that being in the field of public health was the best way for him to actualize his social and political views.

Mitchell has never let go of that belief and it shows through his professional career, having been instrumental in a number of organizations and coalitions. One of which is the Healthier Community Coalition, where he served as chair several times. The Coalition develops a community profile to promote collaborative efforts based on data, community input, and group consensus to improve the health of San Joaquin County residents.

Mitchell helped establish the Healthy Children’s Collaborative, one of first major regional initiatives that helped build trusting relationships between public and non-profit organizations and community residents at neighborhood level. He has also served for more than ten years on the California Department of Health Services’ HIV Prevention Community Planning Working Group, helping set parameters for State-wide prevention programs.

Mitchell’s work has led to many distinct honors and accolades over the years, all evidence of his extraordinary commitment to public service. His leadership and expertise continues to serve as a constant beacon for public health in the Valley; and he continues to make a difference by offering a clear and compelling voice for ensuring health equity for all in the San Joaquin Valley.

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The 2015 Community Heroes Awards will be held on April 10, 2015 at Fresno State. For more information on the event, contact Beth Wilkinson at 559.278.3603 or bwilkinson@csufresno.edu.