click to enlarge

Immigrants’ Assistance Center Executive Director Helena Hughes was recently presented with the 2018 Distinguished Citizens Award by Bristol Community College in recognition of her commitment to serve as a resource for immigrant needs and developing programs that contribute to the community’s collective prosperity.

“Your limitless skills, commitment and energy have strengthened our region with inclusivity, diversity, hope and light,” reads the award presented to Hughes on June 2 during the 51st commencement ceremonies at the college.

The Distinguished Citizen Award is presented annually to an outstanding local citizen whose character and achievements have enriched the life of the community, or to an individual who has made distinguished contributions in the fields of health, education, business, industry, labor, government or the arts.

Under Hughes’ leadership, the Immigrants’ Assistance Center has tripled in size, currently providing services and advocacy to about 9,000 individuals per year.

In 2006, the center implemented the first information exchange on forcibly repatriated Portuguese citizens between the United States and Portugal and expanded it two years later to include Cape Verde.

Hughes initiated the first student immigrant high school program that was focused on citizenship and civic involvement. She also spearheaded and implemented a successful Native Language Citizenship tutoring program in Portuguese and Cape Verdean Creole.

She was also instrumental in the development of the AMIGOS program, which was implemented at several New Bedford schools to help lower the language barrier between school staff and students and their immigrant families. Through the program, IAC employees not only provide interpretation and translation when needed, but they also connect the students with outside services.

According to BCC officials, Hughes’ character, leadership and sensitivity illustrate the effects that one woman can wield on society’s most challenging issues.

“It is through your vast professional knowledge and compassion that you have spent your career fighting for people whose voices may not otherwise be heard,” reads the Distinguished Citizens Award. “Your exemplary heart and spirit reflect the best of our region. You have made an indelible impact on our community and the lives of those you help.”

Hughes, a native of Madeira who came to the United States at the age of 10 with her family, told O Jornal she is honored and humbled to have been selected as this year’s recipient of the prestigious award, which she dedicated to her father’s memory.

“I am very fortunate that I was able to find my mission in life at a very young age, which has allowed me the privilege to make a tremendous impact in people’s lives,” Hughes said. “I feel that it is my responsibility more than ever to stand up for the immigrant population that unfortunately does not have a voice.”

This story first appeared in OJornal / Fall River Herald on June 22nd, 2018 – HERE