MAPS will honor six local community activists

By 
Elizabeth Fabiani
Apr. 25, 2007

Round-trip airfare to Portugal, a three-night stay in Provincetown, and a baseball autographed by Alex Cora of the Boston Red Sox are just a few of the more than twenty items to be auctioned off at The Massachusetts Alliance for Portuguese Speakers' (MAPS) Awards Gala this May.

The annual gala will honor members of the Portuguese community who have made a positive impact and have devoted their time to battling challenges within the community. The gala will also raise funds for the numerous social services that the alliance provides to Cape Verdeans, Brazilians, Portuguese and others.

The alliance is a private, non-profit organization that serves over 8,400 of the 60,000 Portuguese speakers living in and around Boston. The population of Portuguese speakers now outnumbers the population of Spanish speakers in Massachusetts and the demand for services to assist this emergent population is high. In Dorchester alone, the organization serves 2,000 Portuguese.

The alliance provides support, prevention, clinical, and educational services. This can include anything from domestic violence prevention to HIV testing and English or citizenship classes.

"One of the biggest challenges facing Portuguese speakers in the Boston community is the language and cultural barrier," said Executive Director Paulo Pinto, who has worked at the alliance's Uphams Corner office for over 13 years. "Another huge issue is immigration and documentation status."

With the increasing numbers of Brazilians, Cape Verdeans and Portuguese immigrating to Boston, the group must grow its capacity to support an expanding population of people new to life in the United States. MAPS employs 35 staff members and receives additional help from volunteers and local community activists in order to maintain and operate its six Massachusetts offices.

This year's 14th annual gala will honor six local activists who have helped MAPS continue its philanthropic work. Dorchester's Isaura Mendes will receive the event's highest honor, person of the year, for her leadership in fighting violence and substance abuse in Boston's Cape Verdean community.

Mendes moved with her family from Cape Verde to Boston at the age of 15 in hopes of greater opportunities. She married and had four children, though only two have survived. In 1995, Mendes' oldest son Bobby was fatally stabbed after trying to break up a fight in the neighborhood. Eleven years later, Mendes' son Matthew was murdered in a drive-by shooting.

These tragedies have led Mendes to become a fervent antiviolence activist. She works for peace within the community by organizing neighborhood crime watch groups and fundraising for her charitable, non-violence work.

"We can't do it alone," said Pinto. "We want to thank our supporters who impact people's lives. [This gala] is a 'thank you, thank you, thank you.' It speaks to what we do on a daily basis."

Dorchester's Adelina Alves, the community health advocates supervisor at Upham's Corner Health Center, will also be honored. Alves has helped patients access services, medical care, and government agencies for over twelve years.

Daily, she galvanizes her team to walk the streets of Dorchester and knock on doors to ensure that families have health insurance and a primary care provider. Ultimately, her goal is to have patients oversee their own healthcare.

Four other local community activists will also be honored for their dedication and commitment to their respective communities: Father Jose Ferreira of Cambridge, Jose Carlos Barros of Cambridge, Jose Gomes of Malden, and Marcony Almeida of Boston.

The black-tie optional event will be held on Saturday, May 5 and is expected to raise $80,000 to fund the alliance's services. Tickets cost $50 per person and raffle tickets cost $10 each. Reservations may be made at many of MAPS' offices or online at maps-inc.org.

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