Lee Woman Receives Latinx Excellence on the Hill Award

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LEE, Mass. — Lee resident Eleanore Velez was honored by the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus during a State House ceremony on Thuesday. 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 G. Hinds.

"I know Eleanore to be passionate about education and her community," Hinds said. "When the MBLLC 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.

"I'm proud that she is here with me at the State House today, surrounded by her son and students, to be recognized for all that she does in our community. Congratulations, Eleanore, and well done!"

The MBLLC hosts Latinx Excellence on the Hill to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month and the leaders who make our communities thrive. It is billed as a celebration of Latinx culture, excellence and achievement in the commonwealth. The honorees are known locally for their dedicated work in civic engagement, education, business and other fields.  

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

"Eleanore is a whirlwind of energy; donating almost all of her free time to local causes, nonprofits and supporting her community. 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," wrote Michelle Lopez, executive director of the Berkshire Immigrant Center. "Eleanore's love for the Berkshire County community, her students, and commitment to advancing the lives of immigrants through education is awe-inspiring. I cannot recommend anyone more highly for this award than Eleanore Velez."

Velez was born in and grew up in Mexico City, Mexico. As a girl, she spent 13 summers at Chimney Corners Camp, a YMCA camp in the Berkshires. She later became a counselor and then the Youth Travel Programs director. After working for the YMCA in New York City, she 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.

At Berkshire Community College, she has assumed a leadership role in fostering a welcoming and engaging campus for students from ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds so that they are able to thrive and achieve their full potential. She also serves as a liaison and advocate with community agencies and various college offices to enhance the dialogue that leads to deeper community integration.

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 Berkshire Immigrant Center'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 both local institutions and the community at large. In the fall of 2014 she was honored at the Literacy Network of South Berkshire (LitNet) annual gala with the organization's sixth annual Founders of America Award, which pays tribute to immigrants who have made important contributions to American society in general, and to life in the Berkshires in particular.

"Being raised with strong values of respect and appreciation for all people gave me a good start in life," Velez said. "Having opportunities to convivir [live with, share experiences and struggles] with people with a wide range of backgrounds allowed me to value diversity. My education at Berkshire Community College and Mount Holyoke College allowed me to understand the historical struggles of our shared humanity.  I have been inspired by amazing leaders in classrooms, community gatherings, at church and by leaders like Dolores Huerta, Cezar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Mary Lion, Frederic Douglas, Susan B. Anthony and Dorothy Day, to name a few."


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Lee Bank Establishes Foundation to Build on Community Reinvestment

LEE, Mass. — Lee Bank has created the Lee Bank Foundation and project distributing $250,000 through the Foundation, a more formal entity for community donations. 
"Lee Bank's community contributions stretch back to its origins in 1852, but establishing Lee Bank Foundation sharpens our focus even further," said Chuck Leach, president of Lee Bank. "The Foundation also simplifies the application process for organizations doing meaningful work to support our Berkshire community."
The recently renovated Marble House will house the foundation along with the new financial wellness service, for which hiring is under way.
In recent years, Lee Bank has typically set aside at least 5 percent of its annual net income for the support of area nonprofits. This giving has been on the rise: in 2020, Lee Bank contributed nearly $179,000 to community nonprofits; in 2019, $145,000 and in 2018, $120,000. Last year, Lee Bank's distributions included $50,000 to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund for Berkshire County.
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