By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY – They are often described as “our future,” the “leaders of tomorrow.” In actuality, they are making a difference in our neighborhoods, our communities and our lives right now.
Any “inaugural” list is special because those who on it become the standard bearers for all others to follow. There will become the measuring stick for the other honorees in the future. That is why our 2021 Front Runner New Jersey/La Prensa’s 30 Under 35 SJ’s Young Top Latino Leaders will always be special.
From elected officials, teachers, nonprofit leaders, educators and even YouTube stars, our first Hispanic leaders in and from South Jersey have already charted a course to positively impact the world around them. FRNJ salutes their hard work and effort during Hispanic Heritage Month.
Nominations for this honor came from public officials, educational leaders, nonprofit presidents and a wide range of community influencers and advocates throughout South Jersey. We tried to leave no stone unturned in recognizing the outstanding young Latinx leadership here.
Now, we introduce our inaugural FRNJ/La Prensa 30 Under 35 SJ Young Top Latino Leaders:
Business Leader and Real Estate Agent
Tiffany Beltran is an entrepreneur and multi-million dollar producing Real Estate Agent licensed in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. She is also a proud Puerto Rican and South Jersey native, born and raised in Millville. Beltran graduated with honors from Rider University in 2014, earning her bachelor’s degree in public relations. Two years after graduating, Beltran embarked on her real estate journey at the age of 23, and has consistently scaled her business since. Expanding throughout south and central New Jersey into the Philadelphia surrounding areas, Tiffany has proven to be a powerhouse in the real estate industry. Her Goal is simple: To be the bridge to the community for all things real estate, health, wellness, and wealth-building. Beltran is also a proud Sister of Chi Upsilon Sigma National Latin Sorority Incorporated, fitness junkie, and newly vegan. To learn more about Tiffany you can follow her on her social media accounts on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tiffanyamberbeltran/ or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/celebrityrealtor/
Rowan College at Burlington County
Melanie Braida is the clinical coordinator/assistant director for the diagnostic medical sonography (DMS) program at Rowan College at Burlington County. Braida first joined the RCBC community as an adjunct instructor for the DMS program in the Fall of 2018. She instructed the Diagnostic Medical Sonography students in their Sonographic Interpretations course, which is a course that aids the student’s knowledge by preparing them for their abdomen and ob/gyn registry examinations. The first cohort of students that she instructed, had a 100% first time pass rate for their Abdomen and OB/GYN registry exams. Born in England at Lakenheath Air Force Base where her mother was stationed and moved to New Jersey when she was two years old. She was the first in her family to graduate from college and obtain a degree when she graduated from Gloucester County College at 20. Braida’s family immigrated to the United States in the 1950’s from Puerto Rico.
This year, Calle joined the Center for Hispanic Policy, Research and Development as an alumni coordinator along with her full-time duties with Union County. Calle received her master’s degree in public administration from Kean University in 2015 and her bachelor’s degree in public administration and psychology from Kean University in 2012. In 2020, Calle completed the Leadership Collaborative through Support Center for Non-profit Management Inc. She was inducted into the National Honor Society for Public Affairs and Administration, Pi Alpha Alpha and elected to Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. In 2014, she was also selected to participate in the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) National Internship Program in Washington, D.C. Calle has remained active in the community by serving in various organizations such as the Hispanic Latino Alumni Council (HLAC), Union County Young Democrats and Boys to Leaders Foundation.
Angelica Carrasco- Riley
Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office
Angelica Carrasco-Riley is currently the Section Chief for the Special Victims Unit at the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office. In her role, she oversees all investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults, child endangerment and child pornography. Carrasco-Riley leads her unit in actively prosecuting all crimes related to the aforementioned, along with holding the responsibility of training the county and state law-enforcement agencies in continuously improving sex-based investigations. Carrasco-Riley has worked for the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office since 2016. She has tried before a jury on a variety of cases ranging from gun possession and narcotics, distribution, and homicides. Carrasco-Riley’s mission is to provide a compassionate and empathetic voice to our county’s most vulnerable victims.
Bridgeton Public Schools
Leticia Carrasco is a Master Teacher for second grade at Indian Avenue School in Bridgeton. In her position, she works with parents, administrators and fellow teachers to improve students’ experiences and meet teaching objectives. Carrasco graduated from Rowan University with a dual bachelor’s degree in Spanish and History. She holds her teaching certification from Stockton University, and has a master’s degree in reading education. She is also certified in bilingual and bicultural studies. Her drive for working with English Language Learners stemmed from her own experience as a bilingual student. Carrasco’s experience as a student in Bridgeton, has helped her develop an educational philosophy that is anchored on providing quality education to all students despite language barriers. She also is the chairperson for the Bilingual Parent Advisory Council in her school district. (Yes, Angelica Carrasco Riley is her sister.)
Deputy Attorney General, State of New Jersey
Roger Castillo is a Woodbine native and a Millville High School graduate who excelled in the classroom at Rowan University, where he graduated and made the dean’s list. Castillo went on to earn his law degree from Rutgers University-Newark. On June 11, he was sworn in as deputy attorney general, one of the few Hispanics in the department in charge of representing the State of New Jersey.
Officer Gabriel Chevere
Atlantic City Police Department/Business owner
A family man first and foremost, Chevere said he prides himself on being consistent, respectful and hardworking. A 30-year-old Puerto Rican attended Our Lady Star of the Sea in Atlantic City and graduated from Holy Spirit High School where he was a member of the Atlantic City PAL program since 12. He trained for boxing and represented the Atlantic City Police Department in bouts. He has been a police officer for six years. He said when Lt. Wilber Santiago became the first Latino named to his rank, it motivated him pursue a similar path. He jumped started his landscaping business in the mist of the COVID-19 pandemic offering affordable landscaping and construction services. Chevere said aside from my children, there is nothing more I love than serving his community and giving back. He donates his services to local homeowners and businesses, provide meals and help provide jobs for the homeless or those recently released from being incarcerated.
Melanie Cruz Stokes
New Jersey Civil Service Commission
Melanie Cruz Stokes, an investigator trainee at the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, recently graduated from Rutgers University-Camden with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a legal studies minor. Cruz Stokes dedicated her coursework and outside activities on inequality, human rights and immigration. Last year, the Camden County native and Cherry Hill West H.S. graduate was among 135 international scholars selected for a prestigious Humanity in Action Fellowship. The yearlong fellowship allowed her to learn with and from global leaders and to examine the historical and contemporary challenges to human rights. She is the former Rutgers-Camden chapter president of Define American, a national organization that advocates for undocumented students. Cruz Stokes has volunteered for the Rutgers Immigrant Community Assistance Project, a Rutgers Law School program to provide immigration legal services to Rutgers students; and she participated on the Camden County Juvenile Conference Committee, an organization that works with the courts to help first-time juvenile offenders.
Legislative Correspondent, U.S. House of Representatives
As a first-generation immigrant from the Dominican Republic who grew up in Camden, Estevez-Perez experienced the social, economic, and political issues affecting communities and populations like hers. From the safety in neighborhoods to the quality of education, her first-hand experiences made her interested in effecting change in her community. She founded Movimiento Tricolor, a non-profit organization focused on increasing the social and economic opportunities for the Dominican community. As an at-large committeewoman for the City of Camden and as president of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc.-Rho Chapter, Estevez-Perez organized, executed, and fundraised for various cultural and educational activities to uplift the community. After completing her master’s in public administration in May 2021 from Rutgers-Camden, she started work on Capitol Hill in the immigration and criminal justice realm.
Josefina M. Ewins
A first generation Afro-Panamanian senior double majoring in political science and philosophy, with a minor in legal studies and a participant of the Accelerated-Degree Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) Program at Rutgers University–Camden, focuses on ensuring an equal and equitable community through policy and activism. While on campus, Ewins is a part of the Institute for Leadership and Action, the student project leader in the Bonner Civic Scholar’s racial justice and equity project, the Treasurer of Tri-Alpha First Generation Honors Society, a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Society, and the Student Governing Association’s Executive Senator. Outside of her school obligations and extracurriculars, Ewins is an UnidosUS Afro-Latinx Lideres Avanzando Fellow, focusing on bringing awareness to the Afro-Latinx community.
Vineland High School
A freshman at Vineland High School, Illiana, one of the youngest member of the Top 30 inaugural class, has inspired children and adults around the country as the co-host of the popular YouTube show “ToyQuest 101” with her father Miguel Figueroa. Illiana, who has been diagnosed with autism, has helped encourage and influence others through the show. “ToyQuest101,” which started roughly three years ago when Illiana was a middle school student, reviews new toys from around the country with her father from the basement of their Vineland home. The show has garnered 61 million views from around the world and has more than 130,000 subscribers. “ToyQuest101” has received the YouTube Play Button Award and the Points of Light Award, which was George H.W. Bush for outstanding charity and volunteerism work in their communities year round. “We are also working on getting her into the Special Olympics in swimming to represent kids with Autism,” Miguel Figueroa said told Front Runner La Prensa recently. “That’s huge goal of hers but we are in middle of creating the team and paperwork it’s a lot. She has one of the coaches involved his been helping out with the entire process.”
Josuel “Nube” Fuentes
Music producer/Song writer
Son of former New Jersey state assemblyman and current Camden councilman Angel Fuentes, the younger Fuentes started making music during a trip to Puerto Rico in 2007. He started professionally recording in 2018 and recorded vocals in ProTools for a diverse roster of talent ranging from Atlanta, New York City, Philadelphia, and all over New Jersey. Currently with over 15+ years of piano experience and over 500+ hours of “bilingual” recording experience, he is sought after for his unique sound quality and his ability to translate his charismatic and motivational energy in the studio. On a personal level, Fuentes has volunteered in food distributions and neighborhood cleanups alongside Mayor Victor Carstarphen in the city of Camden. His goal is to inspire those around him to reach their full potential and hopefully future generations in urban communities to follow their passion in the arts; and believe in themselves; and to put forth hard work and consistency to reach their goals.
As a member of Stockton University’s Division of Enrollment Management leadership team, Grullon is associate director of admissions services, responsible for supervising the various functions which support the enrollment objectives of the university, including executing recruitment strategies, overseeing day-to-day recruitment functions and managing, mentoring and cultivating recruitment staff who play an integral role assisting with applications and the guest experience. She oversees the Admissions Ambassador Organization as well as supports international student recruitment as a Designated School Official. Grullon is an alumna of Stockton, earning her bachelor’s in communication studies in 2009. She earned her master’s in higher education from Drexel University in 2013. She has more than 12 years of experience in graduate and undergraduate admissions including strategic enrollment management, marketing and recruitment. She serves as vice president for the UNIDOS faculty and staff organization, the faculty/staff advisor for the Los Latinos Unidos student organization, founding mentor for TogetHER a retention initiative for womxn of color.
Camden School Board
Leyba won a seat on the Camden school board in 2019. Since then, he’s been part of several district initiatives that he has supported, including a safe zone resolution to assure immigrant parents that it is safe to send their kids to school and that personal information won’t be shared with ICE and the Imm Schools program to help immigrant families find grants and scholarships available to help their kids go to college. He is also proud that the Camden school board is now the first in New Jersey to have a live simulcast of its board meetings in Spanish. “You can’t be part of the conversation if you can’t understand the conversation,” he says about why it’s so important to have these Spanish-language broadcasts of the meetings. Leyba also found success in restarting Little League baseball in East Camden after too many years without such an outlet for kids in the neighborhood.
Alejandra Londono Gomez
Center for Law and Social Policy
Before recently moving to Washington, D.C., Londono was an avid volunteer for the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County with its various activities. The South Jersey native graduated from Stockton University in 2018, and is completing her master’s degree in international relations at American University. She has worked as a bilingual family service specialist for the Department of Children and Families, Division of Child Protection and Permanency in New Jersey. In this role, she advocated for the families on an array of issues and learned how policies impact families’ ability to access supports and services firsthand. Londono spends her free time as a volunteer of the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County, where she was previously an executive board member. In her current position, Londono analyzes childcare and early education policies that are not meeting the needs of low income and marginalized communities of color.
Licensed Professional Counselor
Over the past seven years, Gabriela Lopez has specialized in treating depression, anxiety and trauma in teens and adults in Galloway. I firm believer in “self-care,” she learned of the term through her own experiences as a full-time student, mother and employee “just trying to survive my responsibilities.” She learned many therapeutic skills in school on how to change negative thoughts and continued to educate herself on other factors that influence mental health such as nutrition, sleeping patterns and daily exercise. As a licensed counselor, raising three children, and building her own practice, she is more energized than ever before, making mental health a priority for clients and everyone around her.
Tania Martinez, an out-of-state student from Springdale, Ark., is a senior at the School of
Arts and Sciences and Honors College at Rutgers-Camden. She is pursuing a bachelor’s
degree in political science, philosophy, and global studies as well as a minor in Spanish.
Martinez has been a deeply passionate advocate for immigrant rights ever since she was in
high school. On campus, she works at the digital studies center where she founded her own podcast “Voices of Immigration” to uplift student immigrant stories in a contemporary context. Tania is president of the Immigrant Justice Association. She is also president of the College Democrats where she serves on the College Democrats of America’s Immigration and Refugee Caucus Board. She is a Bonner Foundation scholar, a recipient of the Robert Packard Memorial Award for Academic Performance and Campus Service, and a recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Civic Engagement.
Officer Lexxus M. Matos
Pennsauken Township Police Department
The 26-year-old proud Puerto Rican American works in the traffic division of the Pennsauken Township Police Department. She was a standout student-athlete at Camden Catholic High School and earned her bachelor’s degree in humanities and social sciences in criminal justice at Rowan University, graduating Summa Cum Laude in 2017. She earned his master’s degree with honors at Rowan in 2019 and served as president of the Alpha Phi Sigma Honor Society. Matos graduated from the Police Academy in Camden County in 2019 and received The Captain Thomas J. McDonnell Award there. The award was given to her for the highest overall achievement and core values that exemplify the standard goals of the Law Enforcement Profession while working on her master’s degree in tandem.
Jetzaly Medina recently won The Engelberg Leadership Scholarship as a sophomore, a major scholarship and leadership development program supported by a $1 million commitment of Alfred Engelberg. A graduate of Atlantic City High School, devoted herself to helping her community and volunteered for numerous groups. Medina, a Mexican-American, said she is motivated by her background and reminded of her grandfather migrating to the United States to cultivate fields in California for a better life for him and funder generations. She is also being honored in October with the Nuestro Pueblo Awards given by the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County and Stockton Undios for her leadership and work and academic accomplishments on campus.
City of Atlantic City
A passionate communications professional, Rebekah Mena serves as the public information officer for the Executive Office of Mayor Marty Small, Sr. in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Mena oversees the internal and external communications efforts for the seaside gaming and resort capital of the East Coast, which hosts over 27 million visitors a year. She utilizes social and traditional media, community engagement, and public facing websites to communicate steady-state and emergency information to help residents and visitors make informed decisions. Prior to returning to her home state, Mena served as the deputy chief of public affairs for the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. Mena holds a bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology from the Florida Institute of Technology and master’s degree in communication management and public relations from the University of Denver.
Iris L. Mendez
Business owner/ILM Healing So(u)lutions
The Camden native graduated from Rowan University in 2011 and is a former psychotherapist and licensed social worker in Pennsylvania, a yoga teacher, and Breath, Body, + Energy coach. At ILM Healing So(u)lutions, LLC, she aligns with her clients to co-facilitate healing through alternative healing practices including yoga, mindfulness, reiki energy, Solution-Focused Coaching, and spiritual and intuitive guidance. As a leader in the field of social work, Mendez additionally instructs as an adjunct professor for the University of Denver online at the MSW@denver program and has taught at Widener University adjunct for the online MSW program.
Atlantic Cape Community College
Victor Moreno is the manager of community outreach at Atlantic Cape Community College. Based out of the college’s Worthington campus office in Atlantic City, Moreno told Front Runner La Presna back in February that the position was a “perfect match” for him. Raised by a single mother in a family of six, the family migrated from Oaxaca, Mexico when Moreno was 7. Moreno is passionate about family, education and community as he advocates for higher education as a pathway to a better life. “This is something that I love doing and I am very much passionate about,” Moreno said. “This position is the continuation of the work that I was already doing out in the community as a community leader and advocate. I get to continue to support my community through different programs and inactivates that truly create an impact in the lives of others.”
Cumberland County Guidance Center
A 2014 winner of the Vineland Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year, Jennifer Negron serves today as an access counselor for the Cumberland County Guidance Center and an intensive in-community-licensed social worker at A Better Me. Former Boys & Girls Club board President Shirley Santos said Negron has continued to her hometown activism and has done “a ton of great things” in the community. A graduate of Vineland High School, Negron earned her master’s degree and bachelor’s degrees in social work from Stockton University and her associate degree from Cumberland County College.
Business Owner, Rowan College at Burlington County
According to Marisol Peralta, family always comes first. As a mother of two small boys and a small business owner (Baking Life SWEETER, LLC), Peralta knows how to strike a delicate balance between family life and career. Although she started cooking at a young age, on a stove that had to be lit via match and paper towel, Marisol has kindled that flame and passion for culinary arts through her adult life. She chose to pursue her culinary and baking certificate at Rowan College at Burlington County due to the accommodating class schedule and reasonable cost. Peralta experience includes work as a pastry chef in the heart of Nashville at the Music City Convention Center and doing freelance work for different athletic stadiums. She’s produced, from scratch, desserts for parties as small as 20 people to military balls as large as 1,000 people.
Roxana Perez Nieves
Roxana Perez Nieves is the lead academic and career counselor at Stockton University’s GOALS GEAR UP Program, where she works to empower and equip Atlantic City and Pleasantville youth with life skills to enter and complete postsecondary programs. The proud daughter of immigrant parents and her hometown of Atlantic City, Perez is passionate about uplifting disadvantaged communities. She has dedicated her time as a certified college and career counselor, first-generation graduate, and mental health advocate to support communities holistically and with humility. In addition to her work, Roxana is an active board member of the Hispanic Alliance of Atlantic County and UNIDOS at Stockton University. Perez was educated in Atlantic City Schools and received her bachelor’s degree from Stockton University. She is actively pursuing her master’s in clinical mental health counseling at Stockton to become a bilingual licensed therapist.
Felisha Reyes Morton
Camden City Council
This representative of Camden’s Fourth Ward has quickly developed a reputation as a fearless independent advocate for the city and her district who is not afraid to speak truth to power. Raised in Camden, her family migrated from Puerto Rico to the mainland in the 1960s. She lost her parents to the ills of incarceration and drugs and was raised by her grandmother. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University where she was a member of the Chi Alpha Epsilon National Honor Society and the National Society of Leadership and Success. Before taking a seat on council, she became vice president of a local community non-profit organization, Concerned Citizens of North Camden. Together with the president, Bryan Morton, they identify funding to help the organization plan and implement neighborhood improvement projects. Reyes Morton worked for Rowan University’s Upward Bound ESL Program from 2008 to 2010 and served on the Camden City School District board.
Veronica Santina Rojas
Local teen community service advocate
Rojas, 13, has learned at an early age the importance of helping people in need. She believes that as compassionate and caring human beings, young people need to step up against racism, sexism, heterosexism/homophobia, anti-Semitism and respecting others different from themselves. She views human beings as children of God who desire warm, close relationships with each other. She likes to say that all human beings, regardless of their different personalities, cultures, ethnicities, religious beliefs, or colors, were created for a reason. This is one of many reasons Veronica encourages students to share and learn about one another’s backgrounds. She wants young people, like herself, to think about other people besides themselves, to build a sense of community. She has been working to increase personal and social responsibility, communication, and a sense of caring for others who are discriminated against and attacked because they are different.
Incoming Camden City Council
After winning the Democratic Primary earlier this year, Nohemi Soria-Perez is poised to make history as the first Mexican American to sit on Camden City Council. The first-generation Mexican American and Camden native started working for New Jersey’s 5th Legislative District and in 2014 after graduating from college. Soria-Perez currently chief of staff for the Office of the Fifth Legislative District of Senator Cruz Perez and Assembly members Spearman and Moen. On Feb. 2, 2016, Soria-Perez was sworn-in as a commissioner for the Housing Authority of the City of Camden. Currently, she serves as vice-chair and is a member of the HACC development committee and HACC finance committee. Soria-Perez is a former regional coordinator of the NJ Hispanic Leadership Association/Summit, former board member of Latinas United for Political Empowerment PAC (LUPEPAC), former South Jersey Vice President of LUPE Action, a current Environmental Leadership Fellow and has served on various boards.
Samuel M. Tuero
A recent graduate of Rutgers University-Camden with a degree in political science, Samuel Moises Tuero was born in New York City and raised in North Bergen, N.J. He is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic whose experience as newcomers to the United States shaped his passion for public service. Committed to engaging with the campus community by organizing students, Samuel served as vice president of the Student Government, the Political Science Society and founded an immigrant-rights student organization called Define American. Samuel received the Rutgers-Eagleton Washington Internship Award, which allowed him to intern on the House Committee on Education and Labor in D.C. He’s also interned and worked for multiple national non-profits and political campaigns such as New American Leaders, Mi Familia Vota, the Phil Murphy for Governor campaign, Andy Kim for Congress, and most recently, the coordinated campaign for Joe Biden in Pennsylvania. Samuel currently works full-time at Precision Strategies as an associate on the digital team.
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