Winner of Eastern’s 2021 Social Justice Award

Gladys Vega Headshot
La Colaborativa staff image

Gladys Vega

Gladys Vega is the Executive Director at La Colaborativa – an organization that empowers Latine immigrants to enhance the social and economic health of the community, and to hold institutional decision-makers accountable to the community – and has been passionately involved in Chelsea for 30 years. Gladys is afro-latina and came to the United States from Puerto Rico at the age of 9. From receptionist to current executive director, Vega has been involved with La Colaborativa from its conception.

Recognizing the unique needs within the community, Vega has dedicated herself towards empowering Chelsea and its residents. Gladys has worked as an organizer and an advocate to ensure that the Latino community has a role and a voice in determining the ways its needs and concerns are addressed, and to ensure the survival and mobility of the Latine community. 

In 2007 and 2008 she was chosen by the Boston Globe and a group of Spanish newspapers as one of the 100 most Influential Leaders in Massachusetts. She served as a Democratic Delegate for the National Convention for Al Gore for President in 2000, but her passion for civics and the immigrant community did not end there. In 2007 Gladys led the locally elected city council to make Chelsea a sanctuary city, making Chelsea the third in Massachusetts. In 2011 she was chosen as Barr Foundation Fellow, which allowed her to travel to Haiti and serve the community. Gladys was a founding member of Centro Latino the only direct service agency for Latino in Chelsea and served as Board President of Centro Latino de Chelsea for 5 years. Gladys’ model leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic landed her the Bostonian of the Year award by the Boston Globe for 2020. Her activism and leadership have been spotlighted in The Atlantic, recognized by The Boston Foundation, and featured on WGBH and Latino USA. Gladys has received numerous awards and has been recognized worldwide for her advocacy, passion,  and work for immigrants in Chelsea and neighboring cities.

Gladys is passionate about the immigrant community and being a catalyst for lifelong change. She has been the architect for many programs at La Colaborativa including (but not limited to) tenants' rights, immigrant rights, anti-racism campaigns, and the food pantry. La Colaborativa’s pop-up food pantry that, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, formed at the front porch of her home. To date, La Colaborativa has given over 10,000 pounds of food to community members. 

Even with the obstacles that the past years have provided, Gladys Vega has led La Colaborativa into city-wide and state-wide action. The difference under her leadership continues to show and will show for years to come, and the gratitude the community has for her dedication to the Latine immigrant community will forever be felt. 


Past Recipients of Social Justice Award


Year Name Organization
2020 Robert Lewis, Jr. The BASE
2019 Ronald F. Ferguson The Basics
2018 Paula A. Johnson Wellesley College
2017 Chau-ming Lee Asian American Civic Association
2016 Marylou Sudders Executive Office of Health & Human Services, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
2015 John E. Rosenthal Meredith Management, Stop Handgun Violence
2014 Jeffrey C. Riley Superintendent of Lawrence Public Schools
2013 Mayor Thomas Menino City of Boston
2012 Rebecca Haag AIDS Action Committee
2011 Suzanne Kenney Project Place
2010 Eva Millona Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
2009 David Waters Community Servings
2008 Mindy Lubber Ceres
2007 Dr. Jim O'Connell Boston Healthcare for the Homeless
2006 Julie Marston & Dr. Cal Cohen Community Research Initiative of N.E. ("CRI")
2005 Carol Rose ACLU of Massachusetts
2004 Mary Bonauto Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
2003 Anne Peretz & Cheryl Vines The Family Center
2002 Dr. Julia Brody Silent Spring Institute
2001 Jonathan Scott Victory Programs
2000 Sister Barbara Whelan Bridge Over Troubled Waters
1999 Philip Mangano MA Housing & Shelter Alliance
1998 Robert A. Sable Greater Boston Legal Services
1997 Anna Bissonnette, Elsie Frank & Ruth Cowin Committee to End Elder Homelessness
1996 Kip Tiernan Rosie's Place
1995 Todd Summers AIDS Housing Corporation
1994 Sister Jeannette Normandin Ruah
1993 Westy Egmont Greater Boston Food Bank
1992 Loretta Davis Cambridge YWCA
1991 Jackie Jenkins-Scott Dimock Community Health Center
1990 Lisa Chapnick Public Facilities Department
1989 Richard Ring Pine Street Inn


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