Celeste Fernandez. Photo courtesy of Fernandez for Freeholder Facebook.

By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

PLEASANTVILLECeleste Fernandez said helping others is in her blood and she cannot stay silent while injustice swirls around her.

It is the reason why she has worked as an activist in the Atlantic County area for the better part of two decades and the Dominican Republic native said it’s the reason that she would be a strong freeholder for the Jersey Shore region.

From humble beginnings as a bartender and waitress in Atlantic City casinos, Fernandez has become an organizer, a champion for the marginalized and a small business owner in Pleasantville. She worked at various casinos like the Trump Plaza, Trump Marina and Trump Taj Mahal, mostly while she was single mother.

That led to her working for Unite Here Health benefits office for the union representing local casino workers. She was laid off in 2015 when the Atlantic City casino industry collapsed.

Fernandez said she has not only seen, but lived the struggles of the middle class.

“While working at the casinos industry, I saw the need of protecting the casino and restaurants workers’ rights, to protect their benefits, when I saw the great need of having a well-crafted health care plan that serves them and their families,” Fernandez recently told Front Runner New Jersey.com.

“I knew I needed to get involved to ensure that we protect those benefits. I know firsthand what it is like to raise a family while working at the casino, especially being a single mother. A lot of people do the work just for the benefits because their life or their loved ones lives depend on it,” she added.

Running to Serve

Fernandez is running for the Atlantic County freeholder at-large seat as a Democrat against Republican incumbent John Risley in November’s general election. She came within percentage points of unseating Republican incumbent Frank Formica for a freeholder seat in 2018.

If she wins, she would be the lone Latin American member on the Atlantic County board, despite Hispanics making up nearly 20 percent of the county’s population, according to latest U.S. Census figures.

Fernandez and her at-large Democratic running mate, incumbent Caren Fitzpatrick, ran unopposed in the Democratic Party this month.

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“It has been very special to come to this country and be able to represent my community in South Jersey (Atlantic County) where there is little to no representation, especially in the positions of power when it comes to the minority or the Latino community,” Fernandez said.

I See ‘My Brothers and Sisters’

“I take [being a role model] very seriously. We are talking about people’s livelihood and well-being, their family’s well-being and future. I do not see people as residents, constituents or just people; they are my brothers and sisters. My constant call is for us to live in unity with dignity and respect. I believe that we live as one nation under God where we cannot be divided, where there is freedom and justice for all,” she added.

Fernandez came to the United States 25 years ago with her then husband. They had one child at the time but she is now divorced.

“I am the first generation of my family in this beautiful land. I am one of the youngest of eight children,” Fernandez said. “It was a little hard leaving all I knew behind, but I took a leap of faith and I came to the U.S. to achieve the American dream at a young age. I finished high school in the Dominican Republic where I graduated in philosophy and literature.

“I pursued my associate of applied science AAS degree, office systems technology at Atlantic Cape Community College. I am a multi-lines and multi-states licensed insurance agent; a notary public. I am a former licensed real estate agent, and also a former licensed mortgage agent,” she added.

‘Experience of a Lifetime’

Fernandez called running for freeholder “the experience of a lifetime.” She said the experience will only be eclipsed by getting on the board of chosen freeholders and working for the people of Atlantic County.

“I ended up with 45,300 votes where the election results were held up for two weeks due to the vote-by-mail ballots review/count,” Fernandez said. “I was the first Latina that accomplished this milestone in Atlantic County. I am running to represent the hard working middle class residents of Atlantic County, to be the voice of those that cannot speak for themselves.

“We are a diverse county and for many years the freeholder board has not reflected the community it serves like it is supposed to. I am running to bring the most needed changes, to empower our people, to better our social-economic conditions and to protect our environment. I would like to help to create a place that our residents will be proud to hand on to their children and their children’s children,” Fernandez continued.

Fernandez said she always had a passion for helping and serving others.

“I was born for it,” Fernandez said. “I can’t remain silent and do nothing when my brothers and sisters, my family and my rights are taken away, I never liked it growing up when people were mistreated or abused. I’ve always had that urge to do something to help. If I can better someone’s life every day, I am happy. I care about others and their wellbeing.”

On Her Own

Fernandez touched on several other subjects in her interview for Front Runner New Jersey/Front Runner La Prensa.

FRNJ: What led you to start a business in the insurance field?

Celeste Fernandez: I always wanted to have my own business, but I wanted to offer something that people needed, not something that they just wanted. My office is a multi service where document processing, translation and notary is done, as well as helping those ready to become U.S. citizens who can come and fill out the forms for the paperwork process. We also offer small business services and work with a big network of professionals. Our work covers people’s needs, offers protection and peace of mind while serving the community. 

FRNJ: What advice would to give others trying to start their own business?

Celeste Fernandez: My advice is to continue working hard to achieve your goals, believe in yourself and your dreams. Look for guidance and available resources. Having your own business is hard. It is not easy, but it is worth it. Small businesses are the engine that moves our economy.

FRNJ: Who has and continues to inspire you?

Celeste Fernandez: My mother is my inspiration; my three children continue to inspire me every day. As tough as it is out there, they continue fighting through it and moving forward, empowering themselves and others. The people that have to endure the everyday struggles who put their hopes and trust in me, the over 45,000 people that gave me the chance in 2018 and are still by my side willing and ready to do it all over again, my life never has been the same after that. I have more than forty-five thousand reasons to get up and fight every day. I am grateful.

FRNJ: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Celeste Fernandez: I see myself coaching, building and delivering, helping to create and change laws and resolutions. I will be traveling around the world motivating and empowering people, sharing my experiences, developing leaders and serving others.

FRNJ: Anything else you would like to add?

Celeste Fernandez: I call for “UNITY.” I want to ask everyone to please remember that the fight in this life is not against each other, not against our flesh and blood. We are brothers and sisters. Let’s take care of each other and continue to work together for a better future. God bless you all and God bless the United States of America.

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