BY CLYDE HUGHES | AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY – In talking to and learning about our Class of 2023 Top Young Latinos of South Jersey honorees, one theme continued to stick out over and over again.
Regardless if they were community organizers, city officials, educators, business leaders, creatives,and even professional athletes — all had this strong sense of community and wanting to give back. If the future can be seen in our young people, the local Latino community appears to be in good hands.
Today ends our year-long search that started immediately after the end Hispanic Heritage Month last year and ended just hours ago (Yes, really, we can talk about that later), to find our Class of 2023. In the end, Front Runner New Jersey.com is proud of the Class of 2023 for blazing their own trails in giving back to their communities and South Jersey as a whole.
This recognition serves as an introduction. You will be hearing more about many of them, what they are doing and how they are changing their corner of the world in future stories.
Front Runner New Jersey introduces Class of 2023 30 Under 40 Top Young Latinos of South Jersey:
EDUARDO ALVAREZ, Mural Artist, Sicklerville
Eduardo Alvarez, a native of Ocean City, is an inspirational mural artist whose work, solo and collaborative, can be seen in Atlantic County and around South Jersey. He has been involved with the Atlantic City Arts Foundation and has contributed his talent to numerous wall murals around the area. He experienced personal tragedy with the tragic loss of his brother Irving Mayren-Guzman last year and has contributed his artwork in rallies for justice in his name.
RAFAEL ARANGO, Multicultural Specialist, Atlantic City
Known as the “go-to” guy for many local nonprofits, Rafael Arango started his community work as an outreach coordinator at an elementary charter school working closely with Latino families. He was promoted to communications officer ensuring a strong relationship between the school and the community that it served. After five years, Arango was hired at his current position. A native of Oaxaca, Mexico who attended Rowan University, he serves as public relations officer for the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County, a board member of the Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation and has served on the Atlantic City Early Childhood Advisory Council. He has also pursued his passion in digital media, marketing, and photography gaining various clients from across the United States. In addition to his business, Arango never lost sight of his original goal of giving back to the community. Arango has worked on Hispanic Heritage Month programming, the AC Latino Festival, Jazz Festival, back-to-school drives, food distributions during the COVID-19 pandemic, toy drives, and more.
CHARISSA BURGOS-PATEL, Enrollment Professional, Rowan University, Glassboro
Charissa Burgos-Patel specializes in guiding college-bound seniors through the intricate process of admission and enrollment, making their transition to higher education smoother. Burgos-Patel knows the ground well, earning a bachelor’s degree in finance, a master’s degree in higher education administration, and a certificate in career counseling all from Rowan University. Her passion lies in understanding each student’s unique aspirations, talents and challenges, so that incoming students feel empowered to reach their educational/career goals by finding the best-fit major, support systems, and resources as a college student. During her time at Rowan, she has overseen the admission process for the New Jersey Education Opportunity Fund Program (EOF) and is committed to working with first-generation students, ensuring that underrepresented students have access to a quality educational experience.
LIZABETH CASTRO-JAMES, Director, Atlantic Cape Community College Worthington Campus, Atlantic City
Born in Ecuador, Lizabeth Castro-James is a first-generation student, the first to have graduated college in her family. At a young age, Castro-James often translated for her family members who had a very limited knowledge of the English language. She spent many hours at the Spanish Community Center, which played a vital role in fostering her love for the community. She earned her associate degree from Atlantic Cape Community College in 2009 and bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in forensics and criminal justice from Stockton University in 2012. In 2009, Castro-James, then 24, started a local nonprofit; then another at 26, that focused on youth advocacy in Atlantic City. She spent the past 10 years employed by the Atlantic City Board of Education. The last six of those years were spent as the Atlantic City School District Community Parental Involvement Specialist for the preschool program. She also served as a Title I ESL teacher where she taught English to students from many different cultural backgrounds.
CHRISTINE COLON, Specialist, Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG), PathStone, Vineland
Christine Colon has dedicated much of her career to working with at-risk youth, helping them find the guidepost to their own future. In her current job, she has married two programs dedicated to youth without high school diplomas get their GED and inspiring them to create a new, positive path. It is something she has been passionate about since working in her first youth program at Robin’s Nest, now Acenda Integrated Health. Colon has worked for PathStone for the past five years and is involved in various programs from youth to farmworker initiatives. A graduate of Vineland High School, a wife and mother of three, Colon said her interest in social works goes to back to growing up with a supportive and encouraging family, which has now motivated her to give back to the community, especially those most challenged and to give them hope.
VICTOR CRUZ, Board Member, CompleteCare Health Network, Vineland
As a board member of CompleteCare Health Network, Victor Cruz helps set policy for one of the largest community health systems in all of New Jersey, which has its roots in helping farmworkers in Cumberland County since the time of its creation. A graduate of Cumberland County College, now Rowan College of South Jersey, Cruz is a former farmworker and has also taught computer literacy and acted as a GED teacher. Cruz has worked with local media outlet Perfil Latino TV, Inc. and had volunteered for the nonprofit National Hispanic Council on Aging to help inform seniors about Medicaid fraud. The graduate of Vineland High School has also helped open and run his family’s local restaurant.
JAMIL DEMBY, Offensive lineman, XFL’s Las Vegas Vipers
A former Vineland High School football and academic standout, Jamil Demby is known for his contributions to the community as well as being a professional football player. He is the first person to make FRNJ’s Latino and African American 30 Under 40 list. He became an ambassador/partner with RAIR Causes, a local nonprofit to help with fundraising for their cause. Their mission is to eliminate the financial and transportation barriers preventing the under-represented youth from participating in artistic, athletic, educational, and other activities that lead to a healthy lifestyle. His first project with RAIR was the creation of a personal logo which was printed on t-shirts for sale. All proceeds went to RAIR causes. Just recently RAIR Causes hosted a “My Cleats VMFL edition” showcase event. Local artists volunteered during the painting workshop, personalizing cleats for the Vineland Midget Football League (VMFL) players. Jamil came home for the weekend to be a part of this spectacular community event. The former Super Bowl champ with the Los Angeles Rams also started making music in hopes that it could relate to and inspire others. His music page can be found on Instagram @jamilthereal.
KAYTLEEN J. DORSEY-CASTILLO, Student, Stockton University, Atlantic City
An active student leader, Kaytleen J. Dorsey-Castillois a member of Los Latinos Unidos and the Pilipino American Students Association of Stockton. Her interaction with young people in the community and family inspired her to pursue a career as a STEM educator. She volunteered for multiple programs at the Atlantic City Boys and Girls Club. She spent her time during COVID-19 quarantine volunteering for Friends in Action, another nonprofit organization in Atlantic City, where she passed out food to families on a weekly basis. She is a current member of the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County. She has spoken out at such events as the local Stop Asian Hate vigil and Martin Luther King Day events. Her main goal is bringing the community together and emphasizing youth development.
MARIA ESPINAL-MENA, Executive Assistant, RE Films, Camden
Maria Espinal-Mena was born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to the United States when she was 12 years old. She attended Camden County College, where she obtained her associate degree in business administration and later finished her bachelor’s degree at Rutgers University with honors. Her prior experience includes administrative work, accounting, management, and bookkeeping. Maria is currently working for an accounting firm, where she has different roles as an administrative assistant and serves as treasurer of Movimiento TriColor.
RONALD ESTEVEZ-PEREZ, NFL Films, Camden
Ronald Estevez-Perez is a filmmaker born in the Dominican Republic who migrated to the United States when he was still a child. With the desire to keep a connection with his culture, he developed a passion for filmmaking. Today, he is a seasonal producer for NFL Films, where he works on films and shows such as Hard Knocks, Peyton’s Places, Top 100, and NFL Presents. Estevez-Perez is also the founder of RE Films, a production company based in the greater Philadelphia area. When he founded his own film company, his first mission was to highlight the positive aspects within the disadvantaged and underserved community of Camden, where he grew up. Now, he is invested deeper into all aspects of the community. Estevez-Perez values the importance of leading such a significant medium and spends his time working alongside small businesses, foundations, musicians, and all crucial components of the communities.
ISABELA MOREIRA FERREIRA, Peer Mentor. Dancer, Rowan College at Burlington County, Mount Laurel
Isabela Moreira Ferreira is involved with RCBC’s Student Government Association and is an officer in the school’s International Club. She is very involved on campus and maintains a 4.0 GPA student while studying psychology and arts at Rowan College at Burlington County. She danced with Nicaragua’s National Ballet Company until 2018 while attending the country’s national ballet school and is now dancing for the American Repertory Ballet. She has applied to attend Columbia University after graduating from RCBC after next semester. She stated that understanding “all the hardship in the ballet world” has led her to her field of study.
ANGEL FLORENTINO, Movimiento Tricolor, Camden
Angel Florentino is a Camden native who grew up in McGuire Gardens. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University in marketing with a minor in digital studies and concentration in social media. He has a background in sales and marketing. His prior experiences include working as a freelance consultant and influencer coordinator. He currently serves as an executive officer for the nonprofit Movimiento TriColor.
APRIL GOMEZ, Student Development Advisor, Rowan College of South Jersey, Vineland
April Gomez was born in Brooklyn to Puerto Rican parents. Her role as a leader began at a young age. Gomez worked hard to maintain good grades throughout her education though that would not come easily. She has had a job since the age of 15 and has worked while attending school ever since. She found being a first-generation college student overwhelming. Navigating the college landscape and working full-time made doing well a challenge. Fast forward, Gomez has earned her master’s degree in higher education. Her passions lie with assisting students with every aspect of their college careers. Gomez uses her life experiences and education to bridge that gap between dreams and reality. In free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two boys, serving God at Higher Places Ministries.
SUSAN HUACCAMAYTA, Division of Civil Rights, NJ Attorney General Office, Northfield
Susan Huaccamayta was born and raised in Lima, Peru. In 1999, she along with her three younger brothers immigrated to the United States and she settled in Atlantic City. Susan graduated from Atlantic City High School, earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree, becoming the first person in her family to earn a degree in higher education. Huaccamayta is currently a senior bilingual civil rights investigator and supervisor for the Intake Unit for the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General in the Division on Civil Rights. In addition, she is a licensed realtor serving South Jersey as a referral agent. Huaccamayta is a huge believer of paying it forward and aims to be involved in her community by supporting her sorority Chi Upsilon Sigma National Latin Sorority and the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County. She has served as the treasurer and scholarship committee chair for HAAC.
KATALYNA LORICK, Occupational Therapist, Seton Hall
A native of Northfield and Mainland High School, Katalyna Lorick is currently entering her second year as an occupational therapist, working in pediatrics in a specialized school for children with disabilities. She is also in her third season as an assistant coach for Seton Hall University Cheerleading. She earned her bachelor’s degree in social and behavioral sciences from Seton Hall University, where she also served as a cheerleader. After graduating Magna Cum Laude, she went on to earn her master’s in occupational therapy from Seton Hall. Lorick completed her clinical rotations with Hackensack Meridian Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and graduated as a member of the Alpha Eta Honor Society for Allied Health Professions.
LILIANA MORALES, PhD Candidate, Social Work, Westville
Lilliana Morales graduated in May from Stockton University with her master’s degree in social work and traveled to South Africa this summer to conduct independent research reviewing social issues, social policies, and the child welfare system in South Africa. She has analyzed current social work interventions being done to address the high dropout rates of children and the social factors that contribute to this. While there, Morales was able to observe firsthand what interventions are being done and how effective their child welfare agencies and non-profits are in providing services. From 2021-23, Morales served as the students’ representative on the Stockton University Board of Trustees.
CRISTIAN MORENO-RODRIGUEZ, El Pueblo Unido of Atlantic City Y Pueblos Cercanos
Cristian Moreno-Rodriguez is simply one of the top community organizers in South Jersey and one of the best in the state. An Atlantic City native and proud son of immigrant parents from Putla Villa de Guerrero, Oaxaca, Mexico, he is conscious of his Chicano background. Moreno-Rodriguez is deeply passionate about equality, justice, and inclusivity in order to ensure that the voice of the Latino and Immigrant community is always heard at the “decision-making table.” He has dedicated his heart and soul to organizing the community over the past several years. Previously, he has helped fight for equal access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and has advocated for equal Latino representation within local governments, local boards of education, and local police departments. He organized alongside the Mayren-Guzman family in the fight for justice for Irving Mayren-Guzman. Cristian has also previously served on various executive boards, including as Chair of the Advocacy Committee for the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County, Vice-President of Organizacion Azteca, the Atlantic City Police-Citizen Advisory Board, the statewide Latino Action Network and as the Student Representative on the Stockton University Board of Trustees. Cristian now serves as the Founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit organization, El Pueblo Unido of Atlantic City y Pueblos Cercanos.
JENNIFER NEGRON, Sheriff Deputy, Cumberland County, Vineland
Jennifer Negron has been active in Vineland’s Latino community years before she ever became a Cumberland County sheriff deputy as one of the youngest members of the Vineland Puerto Rico Festival committee, which oversees one of the oldest and largest celebrations of people from the Puerto Rican diaspora in New Jersey. Her entry into law enforcement is a detour from her original plans of going into the educational field. Negron stated that she felt she couldn’t pass up an opportunity to serve her community through the public service route after learning about an opening in the sheriff’s office. “This gives me a chance to be out with my people every day,” Negron told Front Runner New Jersey in July while working at the Puerto Rican Festival. “It’s something I love to do.” Negron has been part of working and planning the festival for the past 15 years.
PIETRA MARIELA ARAUJO DE OLIVIERA, Digital Forms Developer, Rowan College at Burlington County, Mount Laurel
A Brazilian international student, Pietra Mariela Araujo de Oliveira is a full-time RCBC employee and former student. She plays a vital role in digitalizing forms and documents at school and contributing to the unique Baron Rides Research, a project that aims to provide affordable, safe, and reliable transportation, by being responsible for its own web app development. She said her journey from Brazil to RCBC fueled her passion for bridging cultures through technology. She said that she is excited to continue making a positive impact locally and globally. She revived the RCBC International Club, which now has more than 100 students representing countries around the world. She earned her associate’s degree last year in computer science from RCBC and was recognized on the NJ-All State Academic team in 2022.
JOCELINE ORTIZ, Director, PRAC Hispanic Women’s Resource Center, Vineland
Joceline Ortiz engages women from PRAC’s resource centers in Salem, Cumberland, Atlantic and Cape May counties. The center’s focus is helping Latinas gain workforce development skills including, but not limited to, English language classes, job readiness preparation and training; which includes resume preparation; interviewing skills, and computer training. Ortiz had served as PRAC’s outreach coordinator for breast health awareness. She has her associate’s degree in social services from Cumberland County College, now Rowan College of South Jersey. She started working for PRAC as a staffer in 2014 where she first worked part-time as a caseworker for their multi-service department. In her free time, Ortiz had empowered and taught others at Praise in Action Ministries, a school for the worship arts that she co-founded.
ISIAH PACHECO, Running Back, Kansas City Chiefs
The Vineland High School and Rutgers University product Isiah Pacheco made his hometown proud with an impressive performance this past February in the Super Bowl with the sixth-best running total for a first-year player in Super Bowl history. Locally he gives back to the community with the Vineland Blitz Isiah Pacheco Super Bowl Champion Football Camp. The City of Vineland held a parade in his honor in April to inspire local young athletes.
RAY PADILLA, Rowan University Police Officer, Glassboro
During the fall of 2019, Ray Padilla an Arthur P. Schalick High School and Rowan University graduate was pursuing his dream of becoming a police officer when he was presented with the challenge of a lifetime: He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer. Over the coming months, he endured hospital stays, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Then while having a compromised immune system he had to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. After long treatments, he was declared cancer-free after two years and started training to become a police officer. After facing the intense academic and physical challenges of the police academy, on June 26, 2022 in front of many family, friends and dignitaries, Padilla graduated from the Gloucester County Police Academy and achieved his dream as the newest member of the Rowan Police Department. Ray has become an inspiration to many people facing dramatic life challenges. His journey is a testament of “never give up pursuing your dream.”
YOELY QUEZADA, Chelsea Economic Development Center, Atlantic City
Yoely Quezada is the outreach coordinator for the Chelsea Economic Development Center, a nonprofit organization that focuses on the beautification of the Chelsea neighborhood while also partnering with local businesses to uplift the community and increase economic opportunities for residents. Quezada moved to Atlantic City a decade ago from the Dominican Republic and has stayed in Chelsea ever since. Known for her positive energy and welcoming smile that builds relationships in the community, she started by volunteering to help the community as a street captain. That opportunity brought her to network and connect with CEDC President Elizabeth Terenik where her connection with C EDC grew. She is now one of the most visible faces of the organization.
Chelsea EDC congratulates Yoely Quezada for being named to FRNJ’s 30 Under 40 Top Young Latinos of SJ. Thank you Yoely, for successfully connecting all of Chelsea’s diverse communities to resources, improving quality of life, and expanding economic opportunity. – Adv.
KARINA RAMIREZ, Clinical Director, Spanish Community Center, Atlantic City
A first-generation college student, Karina Ramirez earned her associate’s degree from Atlantic Cape Community College and her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Rutgers University. As a licensed social worker, she works as a clinical director and bilingual parenting educator with a commitment to serving underserved populations, particularly within the Hispanic and Latino communities in southern New Jersey. Her expertise lies in providing essential mental health services and ending the stigma surrounding mental illness and therapy. Some of her short-term aspirations include establishing a private practice while continuing her work at the Spanish Community Center under Lydia Munoz. Ramirez said she wants to continue helping other young aspiring professionals by providing supervision to future MSW students. She said that she wants to provide a positive impact in the lives of underserved populations, break down barriers, and advocate for meaningful policy shifts.
ELIEZER RODRIGUEZ, Deputy District Fire Chief, City of Vineland
This year, Eliezer Rodriguez was elected deputy chief of Station No. 1, which is made up mostly of Latino firefighters. A graduate of Vineland High School, he started his career being assigned to Station No. 4 and was elected lieutenant after three years and later captain. Rodriguez said he loves being a firefighter as a way of serving his community. Rodriguez was born and raised in Puerto Rico but moved to Vineland at the age of 12 with family. Outside of the fire department, Rodriguez works for an environmental company as a project manager. There, he oversees all the emergency spill responses for the City of Philadelphia as well as many other contracts in and out of the state. He said that he is mostly inspired by his sons Eliezer, 11, and Alexander, 3.
ESTEFANY “STEF” RODRIGUEZ, Educator, Pennsauken
Estefany “Stef” Rodriguez is a Latina artist and art educator from the Dominican Republic who is on a mission to ignite artistic inspiration in the next generation, using art as a means of healing and growth. Currently teaching painting at Pennsauken High School and sharing her expertise at the Princeton University Preparatory Program (PUPP), Rodriguez thrives on collaborative community art projects. She is an artist in residence at the Camden Fireworks Gallery where she runs her small art business Stef’s Creation and mentors high school students in artmaking. With a specialization in painting and ceramics, she is also pursuing her master’s at Drexel University, channeling her passion for the arts into leadership and education.
JENNIFER RODRIGUEZ, Movimiento TriColor, Camden
Jennifer Rodriguez is dedicated to mentoring and providing opportunities for youth to succeed. Besides her fieldwork, she is involved in a pre-college access program where she helps manage mentoring sites at participating high schools. She also prepares college visits to provide added exposure to the students. Jennifer is also Movimiento Tricolor’s secretary and has participated in coordinating events like the Independence Day Gala and the yearly Restoration Day event.
CINDY SCARDILLI, ESL Educator, Hammonton
An educator at the Hammonton Public Schools, Cindy Scardilli uses her experience as a former Hammonton elementary student learning a second language from Puerto Rico to teach and guide her students in the classroom to help them not only learn the language but to excel inside and outside the classroom. A member of Hammonton’s Puerto Rican Civic Association, where her father Edwin Negroni serves as president, she has long embraced the local Latino community through the example set by her parents and family. Scardilli was born and raised in Puerto Rico before moving with her family to Hammonton when she was young.
BRIANNA E. SMITH, Advisor, Adelante Juntos, Rowan College of South Jersey, Vineland
Brianna E. Smith, as a student development advisor for the Adelante Juntos (Moving Forward Together) at RCSJ, provides career coaching/advising including career assessments, major and career exploration, job/experiential opportunities, graduate school career planning and search, as well as professional skill development. Born to Neyda Nieves and Richard T. Smith, she said that she is proud of coming from a loving family who thrive off their hearts of servitude. Smith was previously employed for the Bridgeton Board of Education and the Vineland Board of Education. She has also enjoyed volunteering for the Daniel’s Den Community Center. She graduated with a bachelor’s through Fairleigh Dickinson University.
JESUS VILLANUEVA, Mentor/Advocate, Credible Messenger NOS, Vineland
A native of Puerto Rico, Jesus Villanueva has dedicated himself to engaging young people to positively impact their lives and for them not to make the same mistakes he made. Formerly incarcerated, Villanueva is part of The Credible Messenger Mentorship Movement, a nonprofit founded to help youth and families break the cycle and long-term impact of justice system involvement by supporting and advancing credible messenger initiatives in the communities across the nation most impacted by the justice system. He works as a hospital violence reduction specialist and is a member of the local Youth Service Advisory Board.
30 Under 35, Class of 2021
*Melanie Cruz Stokes
*Josuel “Nube” Fuentes
*Alejandra Londono Gomez
*Roxana Perez Nieves
*Felisha Reyes Morton
30 Under 35, Class of 2022
*Aleika Caban Cabrera
*Amy Natasha Hernandez
*Jesus “Chu” Lopez
*Dominic and Sebastian Mercado
*Joseph “Joey” Rodriguez
Daniela Carolina Velez
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