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FOCUS 56th Anniversary Gala Dinner @ Nanina's In The Park
Wednesday from 6:30 PM - 10:30 PM EDT
Join a night of celebration for the FOCUS 56th Anniversary Gala Dinner! All of the proceeds goes towards our programing! Tickets are non-refundable. We are thankful for your support! Cocktail hour 6:30 pm-7:30 pm. We will have OPEN BAR ALL NIGHT & LIVE ENTERTAINMENT!
Provide community leadership by developing a variety of health and human development initiatives which advance the community toward self-sufficiency, growth, empowerment, and a better quality of life.
Seeks to empower the community to achieve its economic needs, oppose inequality, promote advancement, and change the perceptions of under-represented populations.
Committed to helping the community obtain resources and education, providing services with compassion, and empathy while earning the trust of those we serve and providing leadership and collaboration
Determined with a dedicated staff, and Board of Trustees to bring change to the community promoting perseverance and resilience.
Dedicated to inspiring clients to accept responsibility for their growth while benefiting fully from the services provided and becoming a contributing member of society.
FOCUS Hispanic Center Community Development, Inc. is excited to celebrate our 56th Anniversary Gala Dinner. FOCUS is extremely happy to celebrate the impact of 56 years of service in the community! On November 1, 2023, at Nanina's In The Park, FOCUS's goal is to raise $150,000 to help continue our amazing impact by highlighting community leaders who believe in the work we are doing for the community.
Honoree: A. Zachary Yamba, Former President of Essex County College and President Emeritus at Essex County
A. Zachary Yamba, President Emeritus at Essex County College in Newark, NJ, stepped down as the longest serving college president in New Jersey on March 31, 2010. Affiliated with the college for four decades, he joined the humanities faculty when the college opened in 1968 and served as Dean of Faculty prior to his appointment as president in May 1980.
He holds the title of Regent Emeritus on the Board of Regents of Seton Hall University, his alma mater, which has also inducted him into its Athletic Hall of Fame and awarded him an honorary degree. He also holds honorary degrees from Rutgers University and the University for Development Studies in Ghana
Honoree: Sara Peña, Director of External Affairs at PSEG
Sara Peña has two decades of initiating and delivering sustained results across a wide range of industries including healthcare, private entities, and government. She currently serves as the Director of External Affairs at PSEG. In her current role she develops and implements strategic outreach in support of critical organizational priorities and directs the activities of Senior and Regional Public Affairs managers.
Ms. Peña received her bachelor’s degree in Management Science from Kean University and her master’s degree in Public Administration from Rutgers University in Newark. Sara is a proud mother to Anthony, who inspired her to start her own non-profit, Boys to Leaders Foundation in 2013. In response to her commitment to her community and most importantly her son, she decided to create an organization that will benefit young men, giving them a strong sense of direction to enhance their achievement and demonstrate her commitment to them and her community.
Honoree: Craig Drinkard, Executive Officer at The Victoria Foundation
Craig Drinkard is the Executive Officer of the Victoria Foundation, assuming the role in April 2022. He served as co-director leading the foundation staff and trustees to its recently adopted strategic framework that focuses on Strengthening Community Power, Fostering Economic Justice, Youth Self-Determination, and Responding to Pressing Needs. He is responsible for implementing this framework through a racial equity lens and for deploying approximately $15 million annually in grants and other investments in Newark, New Jersey from the Foundation’s $300 million endowment. Craig was born and raised in Newark and the first Black person to lead the Foundation in its 98-year history.
Craig was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey and is product of the Newark Public School system. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Business Finance from Bloomfield College and received his MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Craig currently lives in West Orange with his wife and two daughters.
Honoree: Dr. Mary Ellen Clyne, President & CEO, Clara Maass Medical Center
Mary Ellen Clyne, Ph.D., is President and Chief Executive Officer of Clara Maass Medical Center, an RWJBarnabas Health facility. Prior to becoming President and Chief Executive Officer, she was the Medical Center’s Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Operating Officer. She has a long and distinguished career having served as a nurse executive at Passaic General Hospital Center, and holding various nursing leadership roles at the Hospital Center at Orange and Overlook Hospital. Dr. Clyne is the first person to earn undergraduate, graduate and terminal degrees in nursing at Seton Hall University, where she has served as a clinical and adjunct professor.
Besides demonstrating excellence in health care management, Dr. Clyne has led initiatives to improve patient safety, eliminate disparities in care, and promote diversity. Her work in addressing health disparities includes the establishment of the Center of Excellence for Latino Health (CELH) at Clara Mass Medical Center. First of its kind in the area, CELH works to remove language barriers and cultural factors that place Latinos at a disadvantage and addresses Latinos' most pressing unmet healthcare needs, including primary, emergency, and preventive care, health information, and education on the healthcare system. CELH has also established a network to coordinate direct outreach, wellness education, and health screenings through the CELH Community Advisory Board. This network includes area civic, educational, faith-based, business, social, Latin American Consulates in NJ and public service organizations.
Honoree: Jeffrey Petit, Esq., McCarter & English
Jeffrey Petit, a real estate finance partner with McCarter & English, LLP, assists lenders, borrowers, and investors to help them structure commercial real estate financings, development investments, and acquisitions and dispositions of various property asset types. Jeff also assists investment banks, commercial banks and insurance companies in closing on loan transactions ranging from construction loan financing to co-lending arrangements to mortgage loan workouts. While Jeff closes on financing connected to properties or developments nationally, he has been involved with a number of commercial real estate deals in Newark, including One Theater Square and redevelopments of the former Hahne department store as well as the New Jersey Bell building.
Jeff advises commercial investor clients on various aspects of their large real property portfolios. His experience in this area includes representing a purchaser in a multibillion-dollar acquisition of more than 200 properties, a multinational financial services company in financing a multimillion-dollar construction loan for the development of a 22-story, 245-unit multi-family, mixed-use apartment complex, a lender in a $105 million loan secured by 14 hotels, and a seller in the sale of two office buildings with an aggregate sales price of $268 million.
Honoree: Dr. Jennifer Bucalo, Director of Partnerships & Engagement, Rutgers, Academic Foundation Center
Jennifer (Rodriguez) Bucalo, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Strategic Initiatives at Rutgers University-Newark and the Director of the BOLD Women’s Leadership Network. She is passionate about increasing college retention for underrepresented students and creating community partnerships with universities for future change agents.
Jennifer teaches Health Disparities: Impact on Urban Communities for the Department of Urban Education. She has published and presented research on cancer prevention as it correlates to the HPV vaccine among Latina mothers in urban, low-income areas.
Jennifer has over 15 years of professional service which includes developing an after-school mentoring program at Barringer STEAM High School, facilitating the Women of Color discussion groups, co-founding Healing sounds of Newark a monthly platform which honors incredible sounds and talent from students and community members. In addition, she co-founded ImVisible an initiative that focuses on expressing the migrant experience through music, art, and poetry. Most recently, she serves as a member for the Women@NJPAC Leadership Summit, Let’s Talk Women’s Health and Wellness Foundation of NJ, North to Shore, and the Branch Brook Park Alliance. She has worked with artists to develop the creation of three murals found throughout downtown Newark.
Jennifer earned her Ph.D. from Rutgers University-Newark. She was the featured student during 2019 Commencement. Her groundbreaking research, College Persistence, Resiliency, and Factors Contributing to the Latina Collegian Experience resulted in being the national recipient of the 2019 Latinx Research Honorable Dissertation Award.
Jennifer has been married for 21 years, has two teenage children, and a rescue dog.
Kent E. Hansen, Senior Staff Attorney at Pro Bono Partnership's New Jersey
Kent began his work at Pro Bono Partnership in 2011 as an office volunteer. He became a Senior Staff Attorney in 2013. He is also on the Board of two of Pro Bono Partnership’s clients.
Kent has many years’ experience as a corporate generalist. He previously served as Executive Vice President, Administration, General Counsel, and Secretary of Fedders Corporation, a New York Stock Exchange listed company, for more than twenty years. In addition to the law department, Kent led the company’s Human Resources Department and the real estate and insurance functions. Prior to his position at Fedders, he held in-house positions at another company and was a judicial clerk in the Bergen County District Court. Kent is a graduate of Rutgers University and St. John’s University School of Law. Kent has been active in his community as a member of the board of education and several other community boards and as president of his local community association.
Honoree: Yesenia Lopez, Director of the New Jersey Hispanic Research & Information Center (NJHRIC) at The Newark Public Library
Yesenia Lopez became the first Latina archivist in the State of New Jersey when she received her master’s degree in Library & Information Science with a Certificate in Advanced Studies in Archives and Records Management from Long Island University.
Ms. Lopez is now Director of the New Jersey Hispanic Research & Information Center (NJHRIC) at The Newark Public Library where she previously served as Head Archivist of the Puerto Rican Community Archives (PRCA).. Under her direction, the PRCA collected over 55 historically valuable collections from the Puerto Rican communities of New Jersey. She’s also mentored over 30 interns, volunteers, work/study and independent research students. As Director, Yesenia has focused on increasing the knowledge of NJHRIC resources and services across the State.
Honoree: Angel Mercado, Retired US Deputy Marshal
Angel Mercado received his education from the Newark Public School District and graduated from Barringer High School. He is a proud product of the FOCUS after school program. He attended the program for approximately four years. He serves as proof that programs like FOCUS help mold our students into great professionals and provide the tools students need to achieve a successful future.
In 1991, he became a soldier stationed in Cayey, Puerto Rico. He served as active duty status from 1992-1996. In 1998, he became a Correctional Officer. Angel then returned to his home, Newark, NJ and served the National Guard until 2003. Thus, becoming a U. S. Deputy Marshal from 2003- 2020. He culminated his military career with the rank of Staff Sergeant.
Honoree: Maria T. Melendez, Executive Assistant/Human Resources at FOCUS Hispanic Center for Community Development, Inc.
Maria Melendez was born in Villalba, Puerto Rico. Raised in Newark, she graduated from Barringer High School in 1982. After graduation, she attended Robert Walsh Business School in Union, where she received a Certificate as Executive Secretary. In 1997, she enrolled in Kean University, where she received an Administrative Assistant Certificate.
She joined FOCUS on November 2, 1983, as a part time secretary with the Cuban Entrance Program and performed other duties in the Administration Department. After two years, Maria was promoted to Executive Secretary where she had the privileged to work directly with Dr. Jose Rosario, "El Viejo".
In 1984 she received the FOCUS Certificate of Achievement for her superior achievement and excellent job performance and in 2004 she received the “President’s Award”. In 2013, she received the “Employee of the Year Award”.
Maria feels that her 40 years’ experience at FOCUS has been productive and rewarding. She is a tireless supporter of the FOCUS programs and serves as a role model for dedication to community service.
Maria resides in Newark, New Jersey, with her husband, Jaime, her daughter Jaimarie, her granddaughter, Aria Isabel Ramos, and her son-in-law Irson Ramos.