By Cary Shuman
Gladys Vega, a pilla
r of the community and executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative since 2006, is stepping down as the leader of the well-known agency whose headquarters are on Broadway.
Vega, who has earned victories for Chelsea residents against injustices and helped improve community-police relations, informed her friends and colleagues in a personal letter this week that she would be stepping down.
“The Collaborative has been my home for 29 years and the time has come for me to move on,” wrote Vega, adding that it has been “a tremendous honor to lead such a skilled and dedicated staff.”
City and state officials reacted with deep emotion that Vega, who has done so much to improve the qualify for life for residents and helped establish the Collaborative as a national model, would be calling it a career in the city.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino praised Vega as a tremendous advocate for residents who worked tirelessly on their behalf in important causes. Ambrosino said that Vega was “a true friend” to the city and a highly respected community organizer statewide.
Sen. Sal DiDomenico said that Gladys Vega “has been an outstanding advocate for the City of Chelsea and a champion for the many new residents from throughout the world who call Chelsea home.
“It has been a pleasure working with her over the years to serve the city and to enhance the social, environmental, and economic health of our community and its residents,” said DiDomenico.
Vega began her association with the Collaborative as a receptionist when executive director Edward Marakowitz headed the organization and it was located at 300 Broadway.
Vega’s passion for her work and the personable and professional manner in which she conducted herself became obvious to her colleagues. A 1985 graduate of Cheslea High School who had come to Chelsea from Puerto Rico when she was nine, Vega understood the challenges facing Latino residents and how to best help them grow and prosper in their new community.
Vega became the office manager and then worked as a tenant organizer. She showed her impeccable community organizing skills right away, fighting for tenants’ rights and gaining an important victory against an absentee landlord. Her organization has stood at the forefront advocating for immigrant families. The Collaborative became the go-to place for Chelsea youths seeking a summer job.
The question being asked by residents in all corners of the city is: Why is Gladys Vega leaving at the height of her power and name recognition and with the unmatched skills to rally people for important causes locally and nationally?
“I always told my family when I turn 50 years old (she celebrated her birthday at a large party in June), that I wanted to do something different because I feel the Collaborative has taken my social life away in a manner that all I do is work and be committed to the organization and the movement,” said Vega, who has two children, Melinda, 28, and Jerry, 21.
She spoke emotionally about the loss of her mother, Juanita Vega, who was a great inspiration in Gladys’s life. “There have been all these things that have happened in my life and I have never slowed down. I want to try a different job and leave myself time to help raise my two grandchildren. I have never been happier to have those two individuals in my life and I want to make sure that I don’t steal time from them like I stole from my two children.”
Vega also talked about health issues that she has had in the past but she happily reports to her many friends and supporters, “This year I’ve been in the best health. It’s been a very good year.”
There have been so many personal accomplishments during her brilliant reign as executive director, it was difficult for Vega to pinpoint one.
“But I’d say my biggest accomplishment was putting Latinos on the map and building a bridge between communities regardless where people come from and regardless of documentation,” said Vega. “To be able to put a passion in people that Chelsea is a great community to live in – we are a group of people that have worked very hard to build up Chelsea. Our movement has made history because our goals have always been to focus on the growth and betterment of Chelsea as a community.”
Vega lauded the many Chelsea administrators and community leaders that have helped the Collaborative succeed on its journey. She singled out the leadership of former city manager Jay Ash. Vega was front and center involving Latinos in city government when Ash ably piloted the total resurgence of Chelsea. She traveled with many others to Denver when Chelsea received the coveted All-America City Award from the National Civic League.
Many say that honor was Jay Ash’s finest hour as city manager and Gladys Vega was a valuable member of the team – its preeminent community organizer – that helped bring the city national recognition.
“We, those of us who care deeply about the community, worked with Jay Ash to help turn the city around,” said Vega.
She also spoke reverentially about the positive impact that Police Chief Brian Kyes has had in helping immigrants feel safe in the city.
“I love the fact that Chief Kyes gets the concept of diversity. I’ve worked very close with him and I know that people trust him and trust his leadership. I’m very proud to say that I was a part of the selection committee for chief and Chief Kyes has not let me down. I have been very impressed with his work and the police officers’ work in our community.”
Former Collaborative assistant executive director Roseann Bongiovanni and Colloborative President Rosalba Medina, a Chelsea Police detective, also drew plaudits from Vega.
“Roseann started at the Collaborative at the age of 19 – she was like my sister in the movement,” said Vega. “Little by little we kept working together until we built this environmental justice movement. Both of us learned together and worked very hard to build an environmental justice model that is the envy of other cities. We had more victories than we had losses.”
“It’s been an honor to work with Rosie Medina,” said Vega. “She has been a great liaison and partner in the Chelsea criminal justice system. Her leadership of our board has been outstanding.”
Vega said she worked closely with her cousin, Juan Vega, and community activist Tito Meza to help increase the number of Latino police officers in the department.
Vega regrets that she will not be continuing her work with current city manager Tom Ambrosino at the helm of Chelsea city government.
“As I think about moving on, I would have loved to have worked closer with him – my time with him has been brief, but it has been an amazing partnership. I think Tom, having been elected mayor of Revere, has a great sense of community organization and a sense of helping his constituents and listening to the people with a great level of professionalism. He treats everyone equally. I love what he has done as our city manager and I’m a huge fan of Tom Ambrosino – who has stated that there is no room for hate or injustice in the city.”
Vega will stay on board at the Collaborative until a successor is named. There will be a farewell celebration in December at the Homewood Suites Hotel in Chelsea.
City Council President Leo Robinson congratulated Vega on her successful tenure at the Collaborative, understanding that she has been one of the city’s most visible and most admired community leaders for three decades.
“Gladys Vega did a very good job for Chelsea residents and I wish her good health and good luck in all her future endeavors.”