Carmen Salavarrieta was born in Sevilla, Colombia, in November 1950. She moved to Bogotá, where she lived with an adoptive mother, through whom she immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1960s. She settled in Plainfield, met and married her husband, and they started their family. She has worked a variety of jobs over the years, at American Cyanamid, in factory work, childcare, and housecleaning, and in service to the communities around her.

Salavarrieta started volunteering at the Plainfield Health Clinic and served on the clinic's board for over thirty years. She joined the board of El Centro Hispanoamericano, a nonprofit organization in Plainfield. Working on disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd led Salavarrieta to challenge Bound Brook’s discriminatory housing policies that were adversely impacting Hispanic residents. Salavarrieta discusses her role in bringing attention to the rash of violent beatings of Hispanic men in and around Plainfield in 2004.

In 2009, Salavarrieta and Jody Wood founded Angels for Action, a Plainfield-based nonprofit agency that provides services geared toward immigrant populations. The organization provides social services, immigration services, and computer and language classes, and coordinates special programs. Several such programs include the community ID program and COVID-19 vaccine clinics. She takes yearly trips in which she brings donated goods to children in poverty-stricken communities in Central America.

Salavarrieta is the recipient of numerous awards recognizing her service, including the Plainfield Excellence Award for “Service to the Latinx Community,” the Women's History Month Award of the Plainfield Chapter of the NAACP, the Union County Women of Excellence Award, and the Jefferson Lifetime Service Award.

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