Blanca Meléndrez, MA is a highly motivated, dedicated and creative leader with 20 years of local, regional, and national experience in the non-profit and government sectors. Currently, Blanca leads UC San Diego, Center for Community Health (CCH) operations with responsibility for fundraising, HR management, public relations, and strategic planning, all conducted through an equity lens. She has extensive high-level responsibility for the preparation, conduct, and administration of implementation science and service grants, and her innovative, strategic, systems-oriented thinking and processes have led to impactful interventions at the local, regional, and national levels. For example, a recently acquired $3.4 million USDA Financial Incentive grant program is receiving national attention. Blanca has leveraged her forward-thinking leadership skills and her strong passion for community health to design and implement innovative strategies to improve health within the State of California for those most underserved.
As Executive Director for the Center for Community Health at UC, San Diego, Blanca leads collective community-wide efforts to enact policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) changes aimed at impacting social determinants of health through a racial equity lens. For example, Blanca’s work addresses food security from a variety of perspectives including availability of fruits and vegetables in food deserts through market interventions, farmers markets, and community gardens, and by impacting UC San Diego food systems policies around food waste, food insecurity, and procurement. Blanca advocates for a broad range of health justice PSE interventions (i.e., lactation support) preventing obesity and chronic diseases both in the community and on campus. The newly launched Refugee Unit at the UC San Diego Center for Community Health (CCH) is working to improve access to education and economic mobility under Blanca’s leadership; and the CCH Youth Advisory Council is working to create school environments that enhance learning and develop lifelong wellness practices. Signature programs Blanca has developed and pilot tested have far exceeded expectations.
As Co-Chair for the UC San Diego Healthy Campus Network (HCN), Blanca has worked with all levels of the UC community from the Chancellor’s office to faculty, staff and students to build the necessary campus capacity and infrastructure to create a culture of health that is responsive to the values of the UC San Diego Community. Blanca has expertly managed multiple strategies to achieve this, including leveraging expertise and resources, developing and improving programs, coalition building, and public relations. Now the HCN is a successful, multidisciplinary cross-sector initiative comprised of over 100 partners representing all aspects of life at UC San Diego.
Blanca has worked tirelessly to foster local, statewide, and national partnerships, bringing stakeholders from the public and private sector together to develop programs and initiatives to improve health outcomes for California’s low-income residents and underserved neighborhoods. Blanca develops and maintains impactful collaborative relationships with agencies including: the California Department of Public Health, US Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency, county health departments in Riverside, First 5, Prevention Institute, and foundations such as The California Endowment and the Alliance Healthcare Foundation. Blanca provides administration and oversight for numerous contracts and programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance and Education Program and the Diabetes Prevention Program, funded through the County of San Diego by USDA and CDC. Her large-scale nutrition education and obesity prevention experience and expertise includes her work as the Director in charge of USDA funded programs such as the Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention (NEOP) Training and Resource Center for San Diego, Imperial, Inyo, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties; the Network for a Healthy California – San Diego and Imperial Counties; and the Southern California Nutrition Incentive Program, also known as ¡Más Fresco! More Fresh, among others.
Under Blanca’s expert leadership, her team of over 30 program directors, managers and coordinators, and frontline staff implements a wide-range of evidence-based, practice-based, and innovative activities to support the right of low-income Californians to live healthy lifestyles, engaging in targeted, multifaceted, community-driven projects. These team members have successfully established themselves as content experts on school wellness, healthy retail, faith-based wellness, healthy food systems, and worksite wellness initiatives.
Blanca’s extensive experience in executive level program oversight, community engagement, community-based initiatives, human resources, event planning, project management, public relations, and marketing has been instrumental to the Center’s growth and development over the past 20 years. During her time as Executive Director, Blanca has secured over 40 million dollars in grant funding for the Center. Blanca and her team have developed new programs from the ground up and significantly expanded the reach of existing programs and projects through partnership and collaboration. Her long-standing dedication to the community and unwavering commitment to promote optimal health in all populations is an immense asset to UC San Diego and its work within San Diego County and statewide.