Our Executive Director, Helena DaSilva Hughes, was born in Madeira, Portugal, and immigrated to the United States at the age of 10 with her family. After working at the Immigrants’ Assistance Center (IAC) and with the immigrant community for over 32 years, she was promoted to Executive Director in 1996. Ms. Hughes is bilingual and bicultural in Portuguese, and she also has a strong knowledge of the Spanish language. With a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and a minor in Paralegal Studies from Newbury College, she is also a graduate of SouthCoast Leadership Academy in 2009.
Ms. Hughes is committed to researching immigrant needs and developing programs to enhance the community potential. She has a working knowledge of community issues and legislative processes, serving as translator and interpreter. With a solid background in marketing and program development from concept to ongoing operation, her extensive experience in needs analysis and research, as well as her ability to effectively apply findings to specific projects, has been invaluable.
Ms. Hughes developed and implemented the first information exchange on forcibly repatriated Portuguese citizens between the United States and Portugal in April 2006, and expanded the program in 2008 to include Cape Verde. This exchange of information is regarding legal, permanent residents that were being deported, due to the severe immigration laws that were enacted in 1996.
Ms. 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.
In 2009, Ms. Hughes was instrumental in the development of the AMIGOS project, due to the concerns about the High School drop-out rate among students where English was not their first language. In April of 2009, the AMIGOS project was implemented at Roosevelt Middle School and in September 2012, the AMIGOS project was expanded to New Bedford High School and Hayden McFadden Elementary School.
Ms. Hughes has been selected several times by the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition, to inform and educate Congress about issues pertaining to the immigrant population. She has also been invited to lecture at Sarah Lawrence College, Salve Regina, Simmons, Bridgewater State College and UMass Dartmouth, on the impact of severe immigration laws. Ms. Hughes was the keynote speaker at various conferences in Washington, D.C., Azores and Lisbon, on the topic of the impact of deportation on US Families.
Ms. Hughes is a co-founder of the Women Immigrant Support Hub (WISH), which is a support group that was established by mothers, sisters and wives, to express their anger and grief over unjust deportations.
Ms. Hughes serves on the following Boards: Workforce Investment Board, the Governor’s Advisory Council on Immigrants and Refugees, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy, the New Bedford Advisory Board of the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), New Bedford Economic Development Council, Greater New Bedford Vocational High School Advisory Board, the Adult Learning Education Advisory, Portuguese American Citizenship Project Board of Directors, co-founder of Our Sister School, the Portuguese American Women’s Association, Leadership SouthCoast, Inc., SouthCoast Hospital Community Benefits Advisory Board, the Offshore Wind Task Force and New Bedford Regeneration Committee.
Ms. Hughes has been the recipient of numbers awards throughout her professional career, including SouthCoast Woman of the Year (2002); Woman of the Year from the Portuguese American Women’s Association (May 2001); the Recognition Award from the Prince Henry Society (2001); Commonwealth of Massachusetts Legislative Heritage Day Award (2001); Liberty Award for Outstanding Professional Contribution (2002); and Hispanic Recognition Award (2003). Ms. Hughes received the Outstanding Citizen Award in 2013, which was given by the “Voice of the Immigrant” and the Women of Distinction Award, awarded by the YWCA. She received the International Women Recognition Award by the Cape Verdean Association in 2014 and the Merit of Order, Commander Level, by the President of Portugal, Cavaco Silva, in June 2015.