Skip to main content

James Baber of Bayonne is Superman. A law clerk by day, by night this 24-year-old became a Super Hero by saving the life of a 72-year old woman who tripped and fell onto the tracks as a PATH train approached the Journal Square Station. James, who was on his way to classes at Seton Hall School of Law, spotted the woman from an overhead walkway above the platform. Instinct and adrenaline kicked in. Although passengers were waving their arms to get the train to stop, James jumped onto Track 3 and pulled the woman to safety before the train reached the station. The victim was hospitalized. James took his quick action in stride. A co-worker alerted a daily newspaper to his deed. James risked his own life to help someone he didn’t know.

Robert Clark founded YouthBuild Newark in 2003 and is the organization’s executive director. It is modeled after a national program of the same name. Robert is the first YouthBuild graduate to start a YouthBuild program. A graduate of YouthBuild Boston, he has more than 17 years of experience in youth and organizational development. From a storefront in downtown Newark, YouthBuild Newark gives youth ages 16 to 24 a second chance. The students in the program are high school drop outs, have been incarcerated or have other issues that prevent them from reaching their potential. This intensive year-long program helps them earn a high school equivalency diploma, teaches important life skills and the value of hard work. They receive training and a certificate for construction trades; 83 percent of students who graduate from the program become gainfully employed or pursue post-secondary education. The success of the YouthBuild program in New Jersey has prompted the state to allocate funds to Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy to research the program as an exemplary support system for disadvantaged youth.

James Credle of Newark has led a life of activism and advocacy. He is a leader within the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning communities since 1980. As early as 1969 as a Rutgers-Newark student, he stood in solidarity with the Conklin Hall black student movement. He and his Scarlet Raiders teammates refused to play the scheduled games until campus administration met student demands for institutional change. James was drafted and served in the Vietnam War for three years as a medic. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Vietnam Cross for Gallantry and a Purple Heart. He then worked to obtain justice for Vietnam vets who had been exposed to Agent Orange. In 1987, 25 percent of men living with HIV/AIDS were gay. James assisted in creating the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention, the first national HIV prevention program directed at black men and men of color. Continuing to work and serve where he lives, James cofounded the Newark Pride Alliance in 2003 in the aftermath of the murder of Sakia Gunn, a 14-year-old lesbian who spoke back to a street harasser. As an Alliance Board member, he leads the organization’s mission to offer safe space to LGBTQQ youth. He’s also embarked on an anti-bullying campaign, Stop Hate, Report Bullying that focuses on community groups.

Regina Coyle of Little Ferry brought comfort and a sense of normalcy to her Little Ferry and Moonachie neighbors after flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy destroyed hundreds of homes there. As leader of the St. Margaret of Cortona Church Parish Council, and a trained Certified Emergency Response Team member, Regina organized the Parish Hall to become an emergency shelter. The shelter was stocked with food, cots and blankets in advance of the hurricane to shelter residents known to be in flood zones. About 100 residents took shelter in the Parish Hall. As the storm moved through and a storm surge overtook tidal gates that had never been breached, the Parish Hall was evacuated. Regina, working with the Office of Emergency Management, evacuated the shelter, removing some people by boat. Four hundred families were displaced as a result of the tidal surge. With the temporary shelter flooded and the supplies there ruined, Regina returned to clean up the site and restock the shelves. Within hours of the water receding, she began to provide emergency assistance in the form of food, clothing, cleaning supplies, blankets and information about where families could turn for assistance. She helped serve 250 to 300 residents a day. Regina received support from FEMA, the National Guard and UPS. The Parish Hall became the central spot for help in the community. Regina and her volunteers kept the Parish Hall opened for weeks after the storm. She continues to help residents rebuild with a warmth and compassion that has enabled those who have never asked for help to do so.

Jack Fanous of Marlton is the founder and executive director of the G.I. Go Fund. For almost seven years, this organization has helped homeless war veterans in Newark. The vets can be found along Heroes Highway, a derisive name given to a stretch of Market Street near Newark’s Penn Station. Jack and a dozen volunteers, including his brother James and their friend Alex, go on night missions to Penn Station when it is empty of commuters and the vets are easier to locate. They identify struggling war veterans and help them secure jobs, financial assistance, benefits and shelter. Jack views veteran homelessness and hopelessness as an epidemic and has expanded the program to Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC. What the vets have in common is that they often congregate at transit hubs and rarely seek assistance. Newark Mayor Cory Booker gave the G.I. Go Fund an office at City Hall. At least 10,000 veterans have attended G.I. Go Fund job fairs and the group has helped establish housing in the city’s South Ward. Veterans are connected with representatives from Newark’s Health Department, the regional Veterans Affairs office and retrained for full-time employment. They also are given food and clothing provided by Operation Gratitude, a California non-profit organization. Jack admits that in the beginning it was frightening. However, the G.I. Go Fund’s constant presence has made him and his volunteers a part of the train station’s homeless community.

Estelle Goldsmith of East Brunswick is president of the East Brunswick Arts Commission. She strives to foster awareness and appreciation of the arts in the community and enrich the lives of her neighbors. Through the East Brunswick Arts Council, Estelle brought world-renowned music and dance artists to the community. Later she worked with the mayor to establish the East Brunswick Arts Commission, of which she has served as president since the 1970s. Estelle has sought to represent and engage the many ethnic and religious groups in her community. And, she also sought to engage young people and worked with public schools to create the Young Musicians Project, now in its 29th year. For more than 50 years, Estelle has committed her life to the enhancement of her community and the arts and by preserving East Brunswick’s heritage and history, evident in her role in the celebration of the township’s 150th anniversary. She continues to work tirelessly to enrich the lives of the residents of East Brunswick, while making it a culturally rich community.

Adele Katz of Glen Ridge founded and is executive director of the Sister to Sister Teen Mentoring Program. With the motto “saving the selves of adolescent girls,” Sister to Sister is a source of support, nurturing, guidance, enrichment and development for young women. Students are matched with trained mentors and programs include guest speakers, organized educational, cultural and recreational activities and ongoing support for educational pursuits. The mentors offers tools for strengthening self-esteem, academic performance, goal setting, relationship skills, leadership abilities, accountability and ways to meet the challenges of personal and academic lives. Sister to Sister is proud of its 100 percent high school graduation and college enrollment rates for women who would have otherwise been at risk for less positive outcomes. Established in 1998, this program has served more than 300 young women, involved more than 100 adult mentors and sponsored over 60 special events. Sister to Sister was created to serve students at Montclair High School. It has since been expanded to Montclair’s three middle schools and two elementary schools. In 2007, Brother to Brother was formed to meet the demand for similar opportunities for young men at Montclair High School.

Jennifer Papa of Ringwood founded City Green in Clifton in 2004 with $2,500 of her own money. City Green is an organization that established urban farms and gardens in northern New Jersey to provide enrichment and education. After one year of operation, Papa created a vegetable garden in Paterson that was tended by 30 women and also served as a learning garden for 50 children enrolled in a summer day camp. Now, more than eight years later, she has expanded her efforts to Passaic, Newark and Jersey City where she teaches adults and children to grow their own gardens. They also learn what it means to eat fresh, healthy food. City Green touches the lives of more than 7,000 people a year. Many know hunger and live in homes where three meals a day is not a given. Papa has done a great deal with little money and plenty of volunteers to provide home-grown vegetables to those who have not been to a farm or who can’t afford farm-fresh foods. For Papa, the reward is watching someone make something grow and experience the power to nurture and to succeed.

In 1992 Richard Pompelio of Sparta left his law practice and established the New Jersey Crime Victims’ Law Center in Parsippany after his 17-year-old son, Tony, was murdered. A high school senior, he was killed when he helped a girl who was being threatened. Richard and his family were distraught over the harsh treatment victims of violent crime encountered in the criminal justice system. He vowed that he would dedicate the rest of his life to making sure victims were given a voice in the criminal justice system, always at no cost to victims and their families. The Center is supported by grants, donations and fund raising events. The lawyer also wrote a book that he does not charge for used as a reference tool for judges, prosecutors, attorneys, advocates and victim service providers. In his work he helps victims regain confidence, embrace the empowerment inherent in standing up for one’s self and losing the anger and bitterness entwined with the details of the crime. Senator Loretta Weinberg wrote that the New Jersey Crime Victims’ Law Center is the only direct legal service victim’s rights law center in New Jersey and considered to be the leading one in the country. Rich has impacted the lives of over 10,000 people in the Center’s 20 years of existence and helped draft the state’s Victim’s Bill of Rights.

Five years ago at the age of 12, Alec Silverman of Fort Lee collided with another player on the baseball field. He was taken to Hackensack University Medical Center. It was quite a hit. Alec suffered a skull fracture, orbit fracture, multiple facial fractures and a brain bleed, injuries that needed to be closely monitored. Alec survived his injuries and the summer following the incident he visited the Emergency Room and the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit with a pile of wrapped Curious George stuffed animals and a note of encouragement to be given to children who had been injured. He calls his efforts 22K–his favorite number and baseball reference– and would like to be able to incorporate it as a charitable organization. His mission is to pair his donations and speeches into a program that educates youngsters and their parents about the severity of concussions and second impact syndrome. He is a spokesperson for The Brain Injury Alliance of NJ and continues to visit the hospital units each Christmas and on the anniversary of his accident, always toting Curious George stuffed animals. The high school junior has aspirations to play college baseball.

Suzanne Stigers of Andover doesn’t just shop smart for her family. She works with food pantries to buy discounted food products to stock their shelves and teaches clients how to budget their money by using coupons. Suzanne’s organization, Coupons for the Community, was established in 2009. Twenty-five volunteers use donated manufacturer coupons and shop for 27 food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and local service agencies in five counties. Over the past three years and using thousands of coupons, Coupons for the Community has purchased more than $300,000 worth of food and toiletries for about $60,000. In 2010 they adapted the 100th Day of School penny program to have students bring in toiletry items not covered by food stamps. Through the Harvest Hope program, local farmers donate their surplus of fresh produce on a weekly basis. In 2011 Cooking with Coupons was started to teach families in a homeless shelter how to shop with coupons, budget their money and cook healthy meals. The goal is to teach a family of four, living on food stamps, how to eat for $50 or less a week.

Ann Wagner of Wyckoff is the founder of Oasis: A Haven for Women and Children in Paterson. With a motto of providing a “hand up, not a hand out,” Oasis is dedicated to assisting impoverished families who strive to achieve economic independence. The organization offers educational programs to provide women and children with the skills to become self-sufficient. Among the programs are Adult Education classes, educational enrichment for at-risk youth and ESL, GED and computer classes. Oasis also provides child care and meals, more than 65,000 each year. The programs, offered free of charge, are designed for the women to succeed in the workplace and their children in school. All of this is possible because Ann believes that every woman deserves a chance. She has retired from her position as director of Oasis but remains on its Board of Directors.