Here are the latest winners of Carlos Vega Fund awards to promote social justice

Carlos Vega Park, Holyoke

The Carlos Vega Park in South Holyoke. (Dennis Hohenberger Photo)Dennis Hohenberger / Special to The Republican

HOLYOKE — The Carlos Vega Fund for Social Justice has awarded four mini-grants to organizations in the Holyoke area fighting injustice, oppression and poverty. The fund provides financial support to grassroots initiatives and organizations.

The 2023 recipients: Give with Love’s Back to School Drive; Holyoke Health Center’s expanding children’s book program; El Colibrí/Amherst Shelter’s pilot program; and an “appreciation grant” to Beyond Walls for their mural work in Holyoke.

The recipients will each receive a $1,000 award during a May 12 ceremony at the Holyoke Heritage State Park Visitor Center.

Give with Love’s Back to School Drive will provide backpacks and school supplies to children in need. Holyoke Health Center will expand its children’s book program to provide age-appropriate graphic novels banned or challenged in communities to preteens ages 10-12 at well-child visits

El Colibrí/Amherst Shelter’s pilot program offers monthly passes to the Holyoke YMCA for unhoused women, giving them access to showers, health and fitness classes and other services to promote physical, mental, and emotional wellness.

“We are very grateful to the Carlos Vega Fund for Social Justice board members for recognizing this initiative. This project seeks to return dignity to women living on the streets of Holyoke, most of whom do not have access to showers or bathroom facilities,” said Kevin J. Noonan, El Colibrí’s president.

Noonan added that helping women fulfill their basic needs is challenging.

Beyond Walls’ grant will support an engagement program. The group of artists painted murals celebrating the Puerto Rican community and its heritage.

The fund was established in 2010 to honor the legacy of Carlos Vega, the former executive director of Nueva Esperanza in Holyoke. Vega championed social justice causes and worked on behalf of South Holyoke until his death in April 2012.

A South Holyoke park bears Vega’s name and is within a short walk from Nueva Esperanza’s Main Street locale.

A statement said the mini-grants address injustice, oppression and poverty in the region, particularly for those marginalized by society. The fund promotes self-help and economic, political, and social justice.

Since its inception, the fund has given $66,570 to 52 regional organizations. Past awardees include The Gray House, Enchanted Circle Theater, Homework House, Holyoke Safe Schools Initiative, Western Mass Elder Care, and Holyoke Public Schools. Visit the fund’s website for more information

The Carlos Vega Fund also welcomed new advisory members: Amber Black of Easthampton, Iris V. Crespo of Chicopee, and Courtney Joaquin, granddaughter of Carlos Vega, who recently finished a social work degree at Elms College.

“I am thrilled to have three new members join the advisory board. Their experience and enthusiasm are energizing to all the board members. I am especially excited to have my daughter Courtney join and be part of her first board experience,” Aaron Vega said.

In 2022, Neftali Duran, a noted chef and teacher, was named the Carlos Vega Social Justice Award recipient. Duran, a native of Oaxaca, Mexico, was honored for his commitment to nutrition and alleviating hunger in the community.

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