“Knowing Lesli and knowing the type of person she was, it is so important to keep her memory alive in our community,” Aíssa Olivárez, an attorney at Community Immigration Law Center on Madison’s near east side, tells Madison365. “Lesli was a unique person who gave her heart and soul to everything she did. She never said ‘no’ when we needed her in the community and always showed up with a smile.”
Lesli Ann Jordán Vázquez touched many lives in Madison and beyond with her kindness and generosity and her tireless community involvement. Tragically, a year ago yesterday, on July 20, 2020, the 23-year-old died in a car accident in Puerto Rico. Her family and friends soon established — through the Madison Community Foundation — the Lesli Ann Kindness Fund to honor individuals and businesses who, like Lesli Ann, make a difference in the lives of others through acts of kindness that typically go unnoticed and unrecognized by the larger community.
“We want to recognize other people in the community who made great contributions like Les,” says Olivárez, who has been on the board of directors of the fund since April. The mission of this Lesli Ann Kindness Fund is to recognize kind-hearted individuals and organizations in the Madison community, as well as to support college dreams through scholarships.
Vázquez was an AVID Scholar, a member of MULTICO student theater troupe and a 2014 graduate of Madison West High School where she had served in the Restorative Justice Court. She was a volunteer at Oakwood Village Retirement Community and Easter Seals Wisconsin Camps and an AmeriCorps Schools of Hope volunteer at Chavez, Lake View, Sandburg and Hawthorne Elementary schools in Madison. Vázquez was a regular at events that celebrated the educational excellence of Madison’s Latinx population whether it be Sanchez Scholars or Centro Hispano of Dane County.
Olivárez says that recognizing community members thorugh the Lesli Ann Kindness Fund is so important.
“Especially right now with all of us still facing the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of us recognize and see things a different way now that we are starting to come back out into the community and recognize who our support systems are the people in our lives who have done kind things for us to get us through the pandemic,” she says. “There are so many students and people in our community who continue to support others regardless of how difficult things have been this last year. I feel like that would have been Lesli … and it’s so important to recognize people for their good heart and their generosity.”
Karen Pérez-Wilson, the youth program coordinator at Briarpatch Youth Services in Madison and a bilingual paraeducator in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District, was honored with the inaugural Lesli Ann Kindness Scholarship and plaque in June.
“Karen generously shares all her expertise with her community,” Lesli Vázquez, the mother of the late Lesli Ann Jordán Vázquez, said in a statement. “In addition to her tireless work with bilingual students and families in the Middleton School District, she is an active and compassionate volunteer, engaging in numerous campus and community initiatives where she offers her support as a fully bilingual/-bicultural individual who is passionate about issues of social justice.”
Pérez-Wilson is a 2019 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison who earned a bachelor’s degree in legal studies and plans to pursue a law degree at UW.
“Karen embodies all of the things that we want to highlight that Les was all about,” Olivárez says. “Being the inaugural person to receive this award, I think she sets the bar really high. We were so happy to be able to have a small ceremony to recognize her. Karen was very surprised and very grateful. We look forward to recognizing many, many more people just like Karen and just like Les.”
The Lesli Ann Kindness Fund board of directors, led by Board Chair Gerardo Mancilla and Vice-Chair Nancy Saiz, also selected two businesses for Community Sunshine Awards: The Jomago Company of Madison and Aztlan Mexican Grill of Mt. Horeb. They also awarded an additional Kindness Scholarship to Alan Tecalero of Sherman Middle School, as well as Kindness Recognition to four students from the Madison area elementary, middle and high schools including Mia Walters of Verona High School, Sriveda and Thanish Lankella of Spring Harbor Middle School, and Martin Runde of Huegel Elementary.
Tax-deductible donations can be made to support the Lesli Ann Kindness Fund, by clicking here.
“This is a unique opportunity to remember Les, keep her legacy alive, and to also promote and recognize the great people in our community who are doing really good things,” Olivárez says.