County Fare: Lee's Velez honored for efforts to aid Latinos

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Lee resident Eleanore Velez was honored by the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus during a Statehouse ceremony held Thursday in Boston. She was one of 44 recipients of the caucus' 2019 Latinx Excellence on the Hill Award. Velez was nominated for this recognition by state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield.

"I know Eleanore to be passionate about education and her community," said Hinds. "When the [caucus] reached out seeking a nomination for this year's Latinx Excellence honors, she was the first constituent that came to mind, and in vetting her name with local stakeholders, I received nothing but tremendous positive feedback."

The caucus hosts Latinx Excellence on the Hill to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month and the leaders who make Bay State communities thrive. The honorees are known locally for their dedicated work in civic engagement, education, business and other fields.

The caucus invited all 200 state legislators to nominate a constituent for this award. Hinds requested suggestions on whom to nominate from the Berkshire Immigrant Center. The message came back clearly: BIC staff strongly endorsed Velez.

"Eleanore is a whirlwind of energy; donating almost all of her free time to local causes, nonprofits and supporting her community," wrote Michelle Lopez, BIC executive director. "I don't know how she finds the time to volunteer, as she is an admissions counselor and the coordinator of the Multicultural Center at Berkshire Community College, doing two jobs at once."

Velez was born and grew up in Mexico City. As a girl, she spent 13 summers at Chimney Corners Camp, a YMCA camp in Becket. She later became a counselor and then the Youth Travel Programs director. After working for the YMCA in New York City, Velez returned to the Berkshires and volunteered as the chairwoman for the Latin American Council, where she helped Latinos, a population that grew more than 25 percent in the early 2000s, relocate to the area.

Thursday's ceremony was not Velez's first recognition. She has garnered numerous awards for the inspiration and guidance she has provided to hundreds of people in the Berkshires. Her accolades include the BIC's Jane Addams Spirit Award and the Multicultural Competence Award from Multicultural BRIDGE, a Berkshire County-based organization that promotes mutual understanding and acceptance among diverse groups by serving as a resource to local institutions and the community at large. In fall 2014, Velez was honored at the Literacy Network of South Berkshire's annual gala with the organization's sixth Founders of America Award.

Reflecting on Thursday's events, Velez said, "I'm thankful for the opportunities to collaborate with members of our community to create extra seats at the table, opportunities for diverse voices to be heard and incorporate their dreams and aspirations into our collective hopes to upraise human dignity."

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