La Colaborativa Executive Director Gladys Vega was everywhere over the past two years helping Chelsea residents during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.
Chelsea reached out to Vega and La Colaborativa, and they delivered during a time when the community was in crisis.
Gov. Charlie Baker lauded Vega during his State of the Commonwealth Address. Sens. Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren visited Chelsea to lend federal support to Vega’s incredible work in food distribution, housing placement, and so many other vital services. City Manager Thomas Ambrosino, Council President Roy Avellaneda and others stood side by side by with Vega in the daily challenges.
The Boston Globe honored Vega as one of its “Bostonians of the Year.” This Saturday, Vega will receive a special recognition award at State Sen. Sal DiDomenico’s St. Patrick’s Day Dinner.
Can you say standing ovation?
And now Gladys Vega and La Colaborativa Chief Operating Officer Dinanyili Del Carmen Paulino are planning something extraordinary: the opening of the Chelsea Survival Center.
The Center, located on Sixth Street, is under construction and July 1 is the target date for completion.
The Center will be a one-stop base of assistance for residents in need of any of a multitude of services or programs.
Currently at its Broadway offices, La Colaborative provides help in such areas as translation services, filling out immigration documents, requests for Mass Health coverage, and consultations on domestic violence issues.
“People are coming here for help in all these different issues,” said Paulino.
Paulino said La Colaborativa came to the realization “that we really needed to have a system where we were able to triage emergency, but we were not going to be the emergency-provider organization.”
“Part of the goal of our organization was to create systematic change to empower our community, but for that, we needed to ensure that they were economically stable and have a path for economic mobility,” said Paulino.
Residents were facing challenges even before the pandemic, said Vega. Issues ranged from parents not having money for items for their young children to residents needing shelter because they had been locked out of their apartments.
Addressing the Needs of Residents
La Colaborativa officials felt it had to build “the pillars to address the immediate needs of residents, but also to provide sustainable program initiative such as workforce development.”
The agency expanded its youth development programs year-round to complement the more than 200 youths who participate in the summer program. Literacy classes, ESL classes, computer classes, job placement programs, and job retention programs remain in high demand and are being implemented.
Chelsea Survival Center Being Built
Vega and Paulino toured the construction site Monday and the renovation of the multi-faceted Chelsea Survival Center is happening fast.
Outside the construction site, La Colaborativa is still providing food packages for residents three times a week.
Inside the Center there is a buzz of activity, some of which, like the plans for a large community room – where Chelsea organizations will be able to host functions – are creating much excitement.
Vega said one area of the Survival Center will be reserved for a kitchen and culinary arts training program where residents will learn from professional instructors and train for jobs in the hospitality industry.
“We are being very creative and everything we are doing is very intentional in order to make sure we are meeting the community needs where they are,” said Vega.
The Survival Center will allow residents to have all their concerns addressed in one centralized location.
“We will be a one-stop place where for example, we can assess a family’s situation, build a resume, and help a person on their path to employment,” said Vega. “In the building (next door to the Center), we will provide wrap-around services so that a person can have economic freedom. Our ideal situation is that we don’t have people depending on services – that we build a person’s skills so well that you don’t depend on us anymore, because you learn English, you know your rights, and you have a good-paying job, so you don’t have three jobs to make one decent salary.”
Looking back at the past two years, Vega noted that La Colaborativa was not alone among local agencies helping residents overcome the obstacles caused by the pandemic. Vega cited the outstanding work that was done daily by CAPIC and its executive director Richelle Cromwell, “who have been a great partner in our community.”