FRNJ 30 Under 35 Top Young Latino Leaders of South Jersey: Class of 2022

By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

ATLANTIC CITY — The future is bright for Hispanic leadership as Front Runner New Jersey introduces its 2022 edition of the 30 Under 35 Top Young Latino Leaders of South Jersey.

Every year, FRNJ’s Front Runner La Prensa column seeks to recognize some of the young Hispanics who are making a positive difference throughout the region in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15-Oct. 15. The Class of 2022 is making an impact in a wide variety of fields — from the legal profession, education, the environment, grass-roots organizing, civil rights, and so on.

Front Runner New Jersey and Front Runner La Prensa spent months interviewing community leaders, elected officials, nonprofit executives, state and regional authorities, along with our own reporting and research, to develop our Class of 2022.

We can already feel the influence from the Class of 2022 in some areas. For others, their stars shine so bright was we can easily detect the impact they will make in the future. In the end, they are all already making South Jersey — and New Jersey overall — a better place for everyone.

READ: South Jersey Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month!

Front Runner New Jersey and Front Runner La Presna now presents the Class of 2022 of our 30 Under 35 Top Young Latino Leaders of South Jersey.

Armando Alfonso, NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection

Alfonso is the deputy enforcement officer in the Office of Enforcement Policy at the NJDEP and former Community Collaborative Initiative liaison for the City of Camden. Alfonso has been involved with the Hispanic National Bar Association and the Hispanic Bar Association-New Jersey and served as vice-chair of the Trenton Planning Board. He had practiced as an environmental engineer for close to a decade but just graduated from Rutgers Law-Camden to get his law degree to continue to promote environmental justice issues.


READ: Hispanic Heritage Month: Liz Villanueva Credits Mother for Worth Ethic


Jonathan Amira, Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office

Amira is the Special Deputy Attorney General/Acting Assistant Prosecutor in Gloucester County. Amira has a strong background in human behavior, domestic and international social issues, and trends in politics. His various professional experience includes policy research, higher education and the legal field. A graduate of Rutgers Law School-Camden, he is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the Board of Immigration Appeals and the United States District Court of New Jersey.

Rutgers Law School congratulates Jonathan Amira and Bryan Gonzalez-Mejia on being named to the list of 30 Under 35 Top Young Latino Leaders for 2022.

See Who Made Our Inaugural Class of 2021 and Their Biographies Here!


Soley Berrios, One X Studios

Berrios recently started a new job One X Studios under the URBAN One media conglomerate as a digital project manager. As the former director of community impact for Camden’s St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society, Berrios was involved with numerous community activities and has dedicated herself to making a difference for the residents in the Camden area. Born in Puerto Rico to non-English speaking parents, Berrios excelled in school and earned her bachelor’s degree from Rowan University after graduating from the Camden Public School system. Her activism and volunteerism earned her 30 Under 40 honors from Rowan University in 2020. At her current job, Berrios works closely with East Camden residents, where she was raised when her family moved to the city, and tries to serve as a connector by hearing their concerns and directing them to resources.


Francheska Caballero, Community Activist, Camden

A Camden native, Caballero advocates for families and children in the city where she aspires to be a voice to the soul who needs healing motivation and or inspiration. She founded her first nonprofit in late 2016. She said she named the organization Pretty Girls Rock because of all the “ugly” she endured before realizing the power in her pain and the purpose in the storm she endured and now helping others do the same. Caballero is also the co-founder of the nonprofit From The Soul Of A Child, created during the COVID-19 pandemic by her 13-year-old daughter. She is a board member of the Camden-based Queens Academy, which works to uplift the self-esteem of young girls of color.


READ: 30 Under 35 Top Young African American Leaders In South Jersey


Jose A. Calves, Labor Attorney, Westmont

An associate at Brown & Connery, Calves concentrates his practice in labor and employment and complex civil litigation. A member of the Rowan University Alumni Board of Directors, Calves also serves Haddon Township Planning Board and the Public Participation Task Force of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. He serves as treasurer for the New Jersey Hispanic Bar Association, as well as a Young Lawyer Trustee for the Camden County Bar Association. He graduated from Rowan with degrees in history and secondary education before attending The George Washington University Law School in Washington D.C.


Helen Cardoso, Advisor, Adelante Juntos, Rowan College of South Jersey

Cardoso received her bachelor’s degree from Rowan University, and her master’s in higher education from Wilmington University, wherein she joined 5% of Latinas who earn an advanced credential. She has worked at the Cumberland campus since 2019 as a student development advisor. In her current role, as an advisor for Adelante Juntos, she is passionate about helping students enter college and persist in earning their degrees and transferring to a four-year school.  As a first-generation college student herself, she understands the challenges and is passionate about being a role model for her students.

Rowan College of South Jersey congratulates Helen Cardoso for being named 30 Under 35 Top Young Latino Leaders for 2022.


Aleika Caban Cabrera, Puerto Rican Festival of Vineland

Cabrera is the youngest member of the Puerto Rican Festival of Vineland, which runs one of the largest celebrations of Puerto Rican culture in the state. The festival in July celebrated a successful return to its in-person festival with Cabrera playing a key organizing role alongside her elders. A graduate of Buena Regional High School, she currently attends Rowan College of South Jersey studying early childhood/elementary education.

Rowan College of South Jersey congratulates Aleika Caban Cabrera for being named 30 Under 35 Top Young Latino Leaders for 2022.


Maria Cortes, Real Estate Attorney, Atlantic City

A South Jersey native born to Puerto Rican parents, Cortes serves as the Atlantic and Cape May County trustee for the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey and real estate attorney for Holland & Knight. She is co-chair of the HBA-NJ’s M.E.N.T.E. (Mental Education and Nourishment Through Engagement) Conference and was selected to the 2022 class of Pathfinders for the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity. Cortes also has been selected to serve in the 2022-2024 Fellows Program established by the American Bar Association’s Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law.


Nancy Cruz, Environmental Protection Agency

The youngest of five siblings born who parents who migrated to Camden from Bayamoñ, Puerto Rico, Cruz learned from the determination of her family to never give up. Currently working on her master’s degree in public administration at Rutgers-Camden, she earned an associate’s at Camden County College and a bachelor’s at Rowan University. She currently is employed with the  EPA, Region 3 as a community involvement coordinator within the Office of Public Affairs and is looking forward to helping the EPA execute its mission to protect human health and the environment.


Alesha Figueroa-Falcon, Parents Invincible, Camden

Figueroa-Falcon is the director of operations for this non-profit, which seeks to connect parents with the resources to navigate the school systems to ensure students are receiving the best possible education. A self-described “proud Puerto Rican and Camden native” said she wants to help the city prosper. A graduate of Rutgers University-Camden with a bachelor’s in criminal justice and minors in legal studies and political science, she is currently enrolled in the university’s master’s in public administration program. She was elected to the Camden County Democratic Committee as a Ward 3 committeewoman and was appointed to the Camden City Housing Authority as a commissioner.


Yajaira Flores, Bilingual Recruiter, Rowan College of South Jersey

Flores graduated from Rowan College of South Jersey with her associate’s in liberal arts and bachelor’s from Wilmington University in organizational management. She currently works at Rowan College of South Jersey as a Bilingual NSF STEM high school recruiter. Flores is dedicated to helping first-generation students find their way thru college because she was a first-generation student as well.

Rowan College of South Jersey congratulates Yajaira Flores for being named 30 Under 35 Top Young Latino Leaders for 2022.


Denise Goga, Bridgeton Public Schools

A veteran realtor and instructional assistant in Bridgeton Public Schools, Goga has immersed herself into the community. She has worked in the Bridgeton Public Schools since 2017, collaborating with the teacher in enhancing classroom productivity and in creating an encouraging learning environment for bilingual kindergarten students. As a realtor, she provides equal and fair housing opportunities in the state of New Jersey, and provides bilingual real estate services to Spanish and English-speaking members of the community to assist them in transactions of buying, selling, renting, and investing in real estate property. She is also a volunteer builder for Habitat for Humanity.


Det. Clayton Gonzalez, Camden County Police Department

Mentors and fierce self-determination helped turn Gonzalez’s life around from being homeless at one time to the Juvenile/Missing Persons Detective with the Camden County Police Department. In that job, he works as an advocate to local juveniles and works first-hand with some students who are now where he once was. Gonzalez in 2020 won a seat on the Camden School Board. In this position, he is able to bring issues he sees on the streets to Camden to the public and create resources and policies that serve our families, to help expose and educate students and families, in hopes to continue to decline in poverty, increase graduation rates and create hope.


Elena Gonzalez, Teacher, Ocean City High School

Gonzalez, an Atlantic City native in spring was part of the inaugural class of Stockton University’s Engelberg Scholars program. A volunteer with the Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City, she is following her dream to influence young minds as a teacher at Ocean City High School. As a Stockton student, she honed her leadership skills by serving in several programs that helped prepare incoming students for the rigors of college.


Bryan Gonzalez-Mejia, Law Student, Rutgers-Camden, Stockton University

A 2019 graduate of Stockton University, Gonzalez-Mejia is a law school student at Rutgers-Camden where he works and supports immigrant cases. He had formerly worked at Stockton’s Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning where he taught history and civics to recent immigrants in naturalization classes sponsored by the center. Some of his students went on to take and pass the test to become United States citizens. He was the 2018 winner of the Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact in recognition of his work on campus promoting civic engagement and community involvement. As a student senator, he had been active in Stockton’s Political Engagement Project and American Democracy Project, encouraging people to learn more about their legislators and register to vote. He was also a member of the Model UN.


Amy Natasha Hernandez, Entrepreneur, Millville

Hernandez is the founder and visionary of CBH Enterprise, which includes CBH Travel LLC and CBH Digital Agency LLC. Together, the businesses help elevate brands online through attraction marketing. CBH has attracted clients from Ohio, Florida, Texas, Georgia, New York, New Jersey and even overseas in London. Their services include epic tap bio creation leading to increase following, engagement, strategy sessions, Facebook ads, content creation, website creation, and recently added business e-books, to aspiring and established entrepreneurs and business owners. 


Maria Jimenez, Bridgeton Public School

Before becoming a full-time counselor in 2021, Jimenez piloted a new dual language program in the district that emphasized developing students’ bilingual, bi-cultural, and bi-literate abilities. She now mentors students ranging from elementary to high school level in a variety of settings, focusing on at-risk students. She has excelled in cultivating and maintaining positive and productive relationships with all educators’ constituencies, including students, parents, administrators, and the community.


Robert Lamilla, Environmental Attorney, Haddon Township

Lamilla prides himself on tackling environmental issues because of its impact not only to the players involved in a case but on the public at large as well. He believes the most satisfying part of his practice of environmental law is to witness the remediation of contaminated sites as they transform from dangerous eyesores to their reimagined productive uses. Prior to joining his current firm Parker McCay, he served as a deputy attorney general for the State of New Jersey in the Environmental Enforcement and Environmental Justice Section. He obtained numerous successful outcomes in high-profile litigation, including a published appellate division decision in the State of New Jersey.


Jesus “Chu” Lopez, Student Leader, Salem Community College

Born and raised in Penns Grove, this sophomore’s leadership skills has already been highlighted by Penns Grove Mayor LaDaena Thomas, who appointed him to the Penns Grove Housing Authority board and selected by the Penns Grove superintendent to be part of the school district’s COVID-19 restart planning committee. He has been active in outreach to the local Hispanic community and earned the Seal of Biliteracy in Spanish from the New Jersey Department of Education. He served as class president while in high school and served as an intern for the previous Penns Grove Business Administrator Sean M. Brown this past spring. A four-year letter winner in soccer and tennis, he hopes to become a school superintendent in the future.


Dominic and Sebastian Mercado, Teen Philanthropists, Vineland

This is 30 Under 35 first tandem honor. Sebastian is a senior and Dominic is a freshman at the Cumberland County Technical Center. Dominic and Sebastian are the founders and organizers of his town’s annual “Pasta Party” which raised thousands of dollars and pounds of food for the Vineland Soup Kitchen, which has occurred on Dominic’s birthday. That event won praise from Gov. Phil Murphy during the pandemic and has grown ever since. They have been recognized by local, state, and federal officials for their volunteerism. Sebastian, who has a strong interest in the STEM field, is also an honors student and captain of the Vineland High School cross country team. His goal is to use his STEM education to develop 21st-century systems and technologies that will allow social services to better serve individuals and families facing poverty. Dominic was a member of the National Junior Honors Society while at Pilla School in Vineland as well as the Drama Club, Youth to Youth, Pilla Band, Morning Announcements, and Safety Patrol. He was the winner of the 2022 Guiliani Award for the Vineland Safety Patrol and is a swimmer. Dominic was the recipient of multiple awards namely the Sgt. Dominic Pilla Award for Most Outstanding student at Pilla Middle School and the Pilla School Citizenship Award.

Nancy & Jill Sungenis Congratulates Dominic and Sebastian Mercado for Being Named 30 Under 35 Top Young Latino Leaders of South Jersey for 2022

Congratulations Sebastian & Dominic from the New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association.

Irvin O. Moreno-Rodriguez, Sara & Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center, Stockton University

As the assistant director of the center, Moreno-Rodriguez’s research is focused on exploring the relationship between the experiences of African American and Latino soldiers during the liberation of concentration camps in Nazi-occupied Europe and the genesis of the civil rights movement in the United States. Moreno-Rodriguez received his bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from Stockton University in 2015 and his M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies from Stockton in 2022. He is chair of El Pueblo Unido of Atlantic City, an advocacy organization for immigrants in Atlantic County. He is also a founding member of the Hispanic Advocacy Committee for Equity and past secretary and advocacy chair of the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County. In 2021, Moreno-Rodriguez was appointed by Gov. Phil Murphy as a member of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education.


Dustin Robles-Garcia, AtlantiCare

Robles-Garcia is the director of laboratory operations at AtlantiCare and has been promoted five times since joining the healthcare company in 2013 as a medical technologist. Robles-Garcia has demonstrated an eagerness and ability to grow into leadership roles that allow him to make an impact on the people and communities around him. Robles-Garcia obtained his master’s in business administration and has completed multiple AtlantiCare leadership programs. He has been active with AtlantiCare Latinos Moving Ahead (ALMA) employee resource group, where he bridges the gap of language and culture to engage young students at health fairs, support vaccination campaigns for the Hispanic community, and more.


Joseph “Joey” Rodriguez, New Jersey American Water

Born and raised in Camden, Rodriguez is a member of the external affairs team at American Water where he supports the company’s commitment to being a good corporate citizen and contributor to the communities it serves. A self-described “proud graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School,” Rodriguez earned his bachelor’s degree from Rowan University in 2008. He has a deep commitment to youth development, serving 17 years at the Center for Aquatic Sciences managing the program he joined back in high school. He is a part of the Diversity and Leadership Development Fellowship program with ASTC and The Environmental Leadership Program. Rodriguez currently serves on the Board of Directors for three local organizations, is an advisory member of a college action committee, and participates on the Watershed Congress Conference planning committee.


Sandra Sanchez-Vasquez, Legal Assistant, Cooper Levenson, Atlantic City

Sanchez-Vasquez has been the personal injury department since May. A graduate of Atlantic Cape Community College and Atlantic City High School, she also worked as a legal assistant at Petro Cohen.  A first-generation college graduate, she calls herself a “proud daughter of immigrant parents,” she is bilingual and has been an active member of the local Hispanic community, volunteering for many local events. Cooper Levenson called Sanchez-Vasquez “a true asset” to their team. She credits her family for supporting her through her studies and hardships along the way.

Cooper Levenson congratulates Sandra Sanchez-Vasquez for being named 30 Under 35 Top Young Latino Leaders for 2022.


Virgen Silva-Mendez, Student Leader, formerly Rowan College of South Jersey

A native of Oaxaca, Mexico, Silva-Mendez has participated in many community service programs and even joined the New Jersey Health Initiatives’ Next Generation Leaders in Training program at Gateway Community Action Partnership. While at Rowan College of South Jersey-Cumberland, she became a tutor for business, math, and Spanish classes. She is on track to receive her bachelor’s in accounting from Wilmington University in the fall of 2022. Her goal is to set up a scholarship because scholarships have helped, especially since she did not qualify for federal aid.

Rowan College of South Jersey congratulates Virgen Silva for being named 30 Under 35 Top Young Latino Leaders for 2022.


Sunni Vargas, New Jersey League of Conservation Voters

Vargas is the League’s Offshore Wind Campaigns Organizer, responsible for leading, organizing, and growing New Jersey LCV’s offshore wind and Activist Leads campaigns. She is helping to expand the volunteer initiative, working to recruit, train and manage volunteers for effective collective action. She also works to collaborate with other staff organizers and allies to plan education, advocacy, and outreach events. She graduated from Monmouth University as a first-generation college student and credits her move to the Pine Barrens and the Jersey Shore as well as near the Oyster Creek power plant for instilling in her a passion for environmental protection. Vargas says she is passionate about policy research and analysis, democracy, social justice, grassroots organizing, and has worked in a number of political campaigns doing organizing and advocacy.


Jakob Vazquez, Student Leader, Rowan College of South Jersey/Rowan University

A native of Brooklyn, Vazquez graduated from Vineland High School in 2019. At RCSJ, Vazquez gained academic recognition honors while concentrating on mechanical engineering technology studies. He was selected to be a student speaker at his graduation from RCSJ in 2022. Vazquez is continuing his education at Rowan University, embarking on opportunities related to his field. He also enjoys music and art. 

Rowan College of South Jersey congratulates Jakob Vazquez for being named 30 Under 35 Top Young Latino Leaders for 2022.


Selena Vazquez, Journalist, Press of Atlantic City

Born in the Bronx and raised in Hammonton, Vazquez has worked as a staff writer for The Press of Atlantic City since December 2021 after serving as an intern. A graduate of Stockton University in Communication Studies, she received reporting accolades as the Program Distinction Award in News, Media and Politics from Stockton University and an NJPA award for an article she did in conjunction with Joe Martucci, The Press’ meteorologist, and Climate Central’s John Upton. She currently writes breaking news, local news and feature stories. Spanish was Vazquez’s first language since she comes from a Puerto Rican background and she strives to diversify not only her local newsroom but the community as well.


Daniela Carolina Velez, Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Velez currently works with entrepreneurial programs and administrative support with the chamber. A Venezuelan native, she recently earned two associate degrees from Rowan College in Burlington County, one in engineering and one in business administration. She also graduated from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, majoring in Public Policy and a minor in Women and Gender Studies, both from Rutgers University. Before that, she worked in the membership department for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.


The Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Congratulates Daniela Carolina Velez for Being Named as a 2022 30 Under 35 Award Recipient!


Oriana Weatherington, Puerto Rican Festival of Vineland Pagent Queen, Student leader

Weatherington, a graduate of Buena Regional High School, won the Puerto Rican Festival of Vineland crown in 2019 and has continued to be active with the festival and her community, influencing younger youth around her. A current student at Immaculata University, Weatherington is also a member of the cheerleading squad there. She is majoring in business and human resource management with pre-law and entrepreneurship minors.


Class of 2021

  • Tiffany Beltran
  • Melanie Braida
  • Diana Calle
  • Angelica Carrasco-Riley
  • Leticia Carrasco
  • Roger Castillo
  • Gabriel Chevere
  • Melanie Cruz Stokes
  • Ashly Estevez-Perez
  • Josefina Ewins
  • Illiana Figueroa
  • Josuel “Nube” Flores
  • Jessica Grullon
  • Falio Leyba-Martinez
  • Alejandra Londono Gomez
  • Gabriela Lopez
  • Tania Martinez
  • Lexxus Matos
  • Jetzaly Medina
  • Rebekah Mena
  • Iris Mendez
  • Victor Moreno
  • Jennifer Negron
  • Marisol Peralta
  • Roxana Perez Nieves
  • Felicia Reyes-Morton
  • Veronica Rojas
  • Nohemi Soria-Perez
  • Samuel Tuero

Place a “congratulations” ad next to the profile of your favorite winner. Contact us at clyde.hughes@yahoo.co to find out how.


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