Remembering Leonila


As DCA’s executive director from 2005 to 2012, Leonila Vega was a visionary leader , guiding DCA through its foundation as a nonprofit organization and establishing its direction and its signature programs, including the Voices Institute that is now named for her. The following tributes are excerpted from messages shared between her friends and colleagues in the days immediately following her passing on November 19, 2012.

I’m sorry to say that early Monday morning Leonila died peacefully in her sleep from the effects of the cancer she called “the Monster.” I believe she decided to fight “the Monster” another way by going to a better place where there is no illness and disease, where she can watch over all of us and continually reach out to us through our memories of her and how she envisioned and communicated ways to make sure that the DCA remain the greatest advocate of direct care workers in the country.

I will miss Leonila tremendously, as I am certain you all will. For the twenty-five years I’ve known her, I always knew that she was one of a kind.

— Brad Nelson, Leonila’s partner and caregiver


Leonila believed in me before I believed in myself. I remember the first time I met her. I was in awe of her confidence and knowledge of the issues direct care workers face. I sat quietly in that meeting. I kept seeing her at meetings and I kept sitting quietly. Then I attended the first Voices Institute. I can remember having to write a speech, and I was scared to death. I was fortunate enough to be in the group who gave our speeches to Leonila. She planted a seed that day and continued to encourage me at every opportunity.

— DCA Board Chair and home care worker Tracy Dudzinski

Read more tributes from Leonila’s friends and colleagues

7 Responses to “Remembering Leonila”

  1. Peg Ankney says:

    Leonila was always there for the ‘underdog.’ The first time I had contact with Leonila was during a meeting of direct care workers. I was standing on the sidelines by myself. She came up to me and acknowledged the importance of my position and made me feel like I was the most important one in the room. We came to meet several times over the years and she always made a point to come over and talk to me, remembering where I worked and addressing me by name.
    -Peg Ankney
    Pennsylvania Direct Care Worker Association

  2. Meriam Jawhar says:

    Lioness, fierce, courageous, amazing, relentless, that was Leonila Vega. She has left this earth and I believe she’s in heaven still inspiring those who need her.
    -Meriam Jawhar
    New Mexico Direct Care Givers Coalition

  3. I first met Leonila when DCA was just becoming an independent organization and I was a law school student. She had heard I was interested in issues affecting the care giving workforce and encouraged me to pursue that interest after law school. She continued to encourage me, and then became a partner and colleague when I joined NELP.

    NELP and DCA have worked together on the fight to extend minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers and NELP was always impressed by her dedication, perseverance, and her ability to articulate our coalition’s arguments so wisely and coherently. Even more importantly, she helped prepare home care workers to step forward and speak for themselves about their experience and the importance of the companionship reforms.

    I last saw Leonila in person at an NDWA Care Congress in DC in the summer of 2011. She got the whole audience to its feet with a moving tribute to Evelyn Coke. My NELP coworkers and I sorely miss her.
    -Sarah Leberstein
    National Employment Law Project

  4. Noel Mendez says:

    Warm and friendly
    Committed to the cause.
    Always reaching out, always caring
    Inspirational in her calm, driven ways,
    Never to be forgotten.
    -Noel Mendez
    Voices Institute graduate

  5. Jim Locke says:

    –Literary & scholastic attainments
    –Energy to use one’s talents to the fullest
    –Truth, Courage, Devotion to Duty, Sympathy for & protection of the weak, Kindness, Unselfishness, & Fellowship
    –Moral Force of Character & instincts to LEAD, and to take an interest in one’s fellow beings

    The first time I read those words, they struck me as being a perfect description of Leonila. But the preceding is actually the core list of criteria that are used in evaluating applicants for the Rhodes Scholarship. The fact that they describe Leonila so well would come as no surprise to anyone who had the opportunity to get to know her. She led not just our organization to a position of respect and esteem, but also a young immigrant from the countryside to the same. Lanny led herself to college, law school, and even briefly to Harvard Business School. It’s her strength & leadership, and her belief in all of us, that has shown us what we can — and must — do with our gifts.

    You are much missed, Lanny.

    -Jim Locke
    Direct Care Worker
    Former Direct Care Client
    Former DCA Board Member

  6. Muhannah S. Kakish says:

    A fighter for the worker and a true commitment to having Direct Care Workers being looked at as professionals.

    I will never forget meeting Leonila in New York just by chance since I’m from Minnesota about going to the Voices Institute. The minute we met we knew we would have a everlasting connection.

    Hay Leonila I did it opened EyEs Limited up and promise to be a support to the DCA movement!! A lot of work still needs to be completed.. I will help get a Minnesota chapter opened as we had talked about. I will always have office space for the DCA chapter in Saint Paul, Mn available anytime in your HONOR!

    Thanks for being an Angel to us.. I often think about how you touched my life with so much inspiration.

    sEEing the world differently,
    Muhannah S. Kakish
    Former DCA & DSP still Volunteer in the field
    EyEs Limited
    Founder and President

  7. Tracy says:

    WE DID IT!! Leonila would be so proud of all the workers who stepped up and out of their comfort zone to make this happen. This was for you Leonila my friend and mentor. Miss you always!!!!

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