The Puerto Rican Action Committee of Southern New Jersey will host its 45th Annual Gala on Friday, Oct. 14.
The event will be held beginning at 6 p.m. at the Centerton Country Club, 1022 Almond Rd., Pittsgrove Township.
PRAC will honor six individuals with its 2016 Hispanic Heritage Award. Three individuals — the prosecutors from Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties — will be honored with PRAC’s 2016 Diversity and Leadership Award.
The 2016 Hispanic Heritage Award honorees include:
Carlos Andujar is one of four children born to Carlos and Justina Andujar of San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico. He was born in Brooklyn and his family moved to Vineland when he was 12.
He was educated at Vineland High School, Stockton University, New York University, and Rutgers Newark Law School. After clerking for Justice John E. Wallace Jr. while on the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court he became an Associate at Basile & Testa in Vineland. He later became a Partner at Robinson & Andujar in Millville. In 2014 he returned to Vineland and began his very own practice with an office location in Vineland.
His practice is dedicated to helping people in criminal cases, DWI and other traffic cases, domestic violence, family court, and real estate matters. Recently in June he and Beatriz Andujar became the proud parents to their first child Carlos Miguel Andujar. They live in Vineland.
DR. LUIS F. AMBERTHS JR.
Dr. Luis F. Amberths Jr. is principal of the Penns Grove Middle School in Penns Grove.
Amberths was born to Luis F. Amberths Sr. and Carmen M. Amberths in Paterson. He is the eldest of three boys and one girl. The family has lived in Vineland since 1980.
He graduated from Vineland High School in Vineland in June 1992 and from Rowan University with a bachelor of arts in Spanish in May 2002. He spent a semester at the University of Seville in Seville, Spain in 2002. He went on to complete his master of arts degree in Education with a concentration in Administration and Supervision in August 2007 from the University of Phoenix. He remained at the University of Phoenix and completed his doctor of education degree in Educational Leadership by successfully defending his dissertation, “The Lived Experiences of Former Alternative Education Students: A Phenomenological,” in March 2014.
After completing his bachelor’s in 2002, he accepted a position as Spanish teacher at the Memorial High School in the Millville Public Schools until 2004. In 2003, he accepted a part-time position teaching Spanish in the Alternative School Program in the Cumberland Regional High District (CRHSD) in the evenings. In July of 2004, he accepted a position as Spanish/Social Studies Teacher at the Excel Program in the Bridgeton Public Schools until 2010. In 2010, he went to CRHSD fulltime to teach Spanish/ESL during the day and Alternative Program in the evenings. In June 2011, Amberths accepted the assistant principal position at the Pennsauken High School in the Pennsuaken Public School District until 2014. In 2014, he became the principal of the Penns Grove Middle School in the Penns Grove-Carneys Point Regional School District.
Amberths and his wife, Jasmine Amberths, are parents one daughter, Isabella Maria Amberths and a son, Luis Francisco Amberths III. He coaches baseball and basketball for his son’s local teams.
Hernando Perez, born in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, came to the mainland in 1972. He began his education in the Vineland School System. He joined a group called the “Medical Explorers” in 8th grade and that inspired him to go into the medical field.
He later honed his skills in the baseball field and this lead to an invitational tryout with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1984.
He was the president of the Spanish National Honor Society in 1985. He expressed his interest in education and wanted to become a pharmacist. His parents always championed education, so he enrolled in pharmacy school. In the spring of 1991, he graduated from Long Island University Pharmacy School in Brooklyn. After many job offers in New York, he decided to bring his talents and education back to the community that honed those skills. He immediately bought properties and worked for various companies like Thrift Drug, Acme, ShopRite, and other private pharmacies.
He was inspired by Steve Magaziner, a private store owner in Cherry Hill, to go to the next level and to have a greater impact in his community, a vision shared by his wife, Kimberley, a registered nurse.
In 2012 he opened Hernando’s Hometown Pharmacy in Vineland. He and his wife, along with their mascot and special dog Gatsby, have created “Cheers”-like atmosphere where customers are not just a number.
They are proud of being involved with numerous non-profit organizations, such as Wounded Warriors, SPCA, breast cancer fundraisers, World Vision (feeding hungry children), and sending medical supplies and over-the-counter medicines to missionary groups that go to South America and around the world.
They also provide free meters so customers can test their blood sugars. “I know diabetes is rampant in our community, and we don’t want anyone not being able to test because they don’t have a glucometer, so we give them out for free,” Perez said.
His pharmacy is the first Hispanic owned pharmacy in South Jersey and was named “Best of the Best” 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Leonides Negron was born in Utuado, Puerto Rico, in 1958. From the start he showed interest in being a communitarian working in church groups as well as working for the municipal in his hometown. He moved to Vineland in the 1970’s, working at Progresso, and than later became manager for Bally’s Park Place and Casino for 23 years.
Always a hard worker, Negron wanted to make his mark in his community. At 18 be began community work in Vineland for different organizations including the National Puerto Rican Festival and he was a member of Mission 51. Negron then involved himself with the Puerto Rican Festival of Vineland for over 30 years.
Through all this work, Negron found the love of his life, Felicita Negron, whom he then married in 1986. Negron says his greatest accomplishment and joy was and continues to be his children, Kathelinie Negron, Leonides Negron Jr., Marilee Negron and Jennifer Negron.
Today Negron is director of programs at WMIZ 1270 AM, a crossing guard for the City of Vineland, president of the Puerto Rican Festival of New Jersey and also president of the Holy Name Society at the Catholic Church, Divine Mercy Parish. Negron likes to live by the quote from President John F. Kennedy — “My fellow American, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what can do for your country.”
Maribel Santos was born in Utuado, Puerto Rico, and raised in Long Island, New York, and in her teenage years moved with her family to New Jersey. She studied and received her bachelor of science degree in Criminal Justice from Rutgers University.
She served as a probation officer in the criminal judicial system and state courthouse in Trenton for 13 years.
She married Arnaldo Santos, who is a retired New Jersey State Police detective, author, and deacon for the Diocese of Camden.
They have two children, Anjelica and Arnaldo Jr., currently in college.
In 2003, Santos incorporated her knowledge of the judicial system with her faith to form a youth ministry for girls. It started with three girls and began to grow to include boys. The purpose was to empower the youth to become leaders, continue their education, become stronger in their faith and steer them away from gang violence. Today, many children have enrolled in college, the military service, studying to become law enforcement officers, have received educational scholarships and are youth leaders in their community and church.
As of 2013, Teens for Christ youth group has helped over 350 youth and was formally recognized by Bishop Joseph A. Galante of the Diocese of Camden and also recognized by the Mexican Consulate for outstanding community service. She is co-owner of GAAP Consulting, LLC with her husband. GAAP (Gang Awareness and Prevention) program that trains state facility employees, schools, healthcare organizations, judiciary, law enforcement agencies, churches, families, and communities.
Santos was also presented with an award for Outstanding Presentation and effort to revitalize downtown Bridgeton from Bridgeton Main Street Association and an honor by Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly and Bridgeton City Council for securing women’s right to vote through the ratification of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women’s right to vote.
Around 2008, she began to work with her husband as a contributing writer of their intended book on how to keep families safe from criminal street gangs by recognizing the signs and becoming more proactive parents.
Wanting to change her career to spend more time with her family, she began to work for Bottino’s ShopRite in Cumberland County as a public relations coordinator. To date, she has been very successful in the community by bringing about a relationship between the stores and the Latino Community. She coordinated the effort to open two Health Care Centers named “RiteCare” for the underserved in both of the Bottino’s ShopRite stores located in Upper Deerfield and Vineland. She is active in Project Thanksgiving which feeds many families through The Salvation Army, and also connected Bottino’s ShopRite with Coats for Kids, an organization through the Green Flag Committee held every year at the New Jersey Motorsports Park during the Christmas Season to provide food, new coats, books, gloves, hats, and mittens to needy children in the Cumberland County area. She is also a Committee Member for the Barbara Cook Cancer Foundation and Bill Bottino Mud Run for Cancer. She also received and award for her tenacity in bringing about awareness, education, and fundraising for the cause. She also continues to bring awareness and education to seniors with programs such as chronic illness management, nutrition classes, and senior empowerment. She partnered with Perfil Latino through Bottino’s ShopRite.
REV. DR. BENJAMIN OCASIO SR.
Rev. Dr. Benjamin Ocasio Sr. is the senior pastor of the Rock of Salvation Church in Vineland. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he has been married to Naomi Ocasio for 37 years and they are proud parents of Rev. Benjamin Ocasio Jr. and daughter Stephanie A. Lopez.
He graduated from Vineland High School in 1977. In 1982 Ocasio was the treasurer and Sunday school teacher for Rock of Salvation Church. He also started the radio program “Dulce Melodias” from 1982-1984 at radio station WREY in Vineland. Ocasio was later installed as the assistant pastor of Rock of Salvation Church and also founded the Children & Youth United for Christ Parade in 1993. In 1995 along with his wife, they started a Christian block party on Grape Street in Vineland that has been very successful.
In 1966, Ocasio was ordained as a minister by Jameson Evangelistic Association and the following year he was installed as the pastor of Rock of Salvation Church. Ocasio received the degree doctor of divinity at Jameson School of Ministry in 1999. He also started the radio program “Tiempo de Restuaracion y Redencion” at radio station 1270 AM in Vineland. He started a TV program on Jan. 30, 2000 with the partnership of Tiempo de Actuar Ministries on Channel 2 in Millville and the program ended in 2015. Ocasio has been on missionary trips to the Dominican Republic in 2005 and 2006. In September of 2009 he started a radio program at LIFT FM 103.3.
Ocasio is involved within his community. He is a collaborator with the Broaden Your Horizons Youth Program in Vineland, Advisory Board for Cumberland county Law enforcement and radio program “Conversando con el Pueblo” every Friday. In 2003 he was elected the grand marshal of the Puerto Rican Festival of Vineland. He was a member of the Vineland Early childhood Advisory Council, New Jersey Cuidado Casero Hospice and member of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Traffic Safety Task Force.
Ocasio has received recognition from the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders on Jan. 17, 1998 saluting the Hispanic Clergy, Senate and General Assembly outstanding service to the community, Variedades 97-2000 Radio La Zeta personaje del mes, I Have A Dream Award in Jan. 15,2010, Fugitive State Surrender Program New Jersey Southern Region April 21-27, 2012, and Boys & Girls Club Hispanic Heritage Award on October 7, 2015.
The 2016 Diversity & Leadership Award recipients are:
Jennifer Webb-McRae is a native of Vineland and a proud graduate of the Vineland Public School System, Rowan University and Rutgers-Camden School of Law where she earned her law degree in 1994.
Webb-McRae is also a graduate of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers College in Macon, Georgia. She is admitted to the bars of the State of New Jersey, United States District Court and the State of Pennsylvania. She was an assistant deputy public defender for the State of New Jersey for six years.
She ventured into private practice between 2002 and 2009. Her practice concentrated in the areas of criminal and municipal court defense, business and real estate and wills and estates. She also served as Child Support Attorney for the Cumberland County Welfare Board, solicitor for the Fairfield Township Land Use Board and public defender for Maurice River Township.
Webb-McRae’s professional affiliations have included the Superior Court of New Jersey -Vicinage XV Minority Concerns Advisory Committee, serving as a trustee and officer for the Cumberland County Bar Association and being a member of the County Prosecutor’s Association of New Jersey and the Cumberland County Human Relations Commission. Prior to being appointed Cumberland County prosecutor, Webb-McRae was active in the community (as a past member of the Vineland Planning Board and Vineland Board of Education).
In January of 2010, she was nominated by Governor Jon S. Corzine to be the first African American and first female prosecutor of Cumberland County. In her capacity as prosecutor, Webb-McRae is the chief law enforcement officer of the county. She is responsible for overseeing the 110 person office which prosecutes indictable crimes throughout the county.
Webb-McRae preaches that while prosecuting crimes and keeping Cumberland County residents safe is her primary responsibility, helping people make positive choices is equally important. She has continued her work with the community by launching an Annual Back to School Initiative where the office attends 30-plus Back to School events per year to let parents know that the office has a Speaker’s Bureau that can educate them about topics that keep kids safe (such as Anti-Bullying, Internet Safety and Gang and Drug Awareness). Additionally, she oversaw the production of videos on both Healthy Choices for Youth and Domestic Violence and the creation of an Anti-Bullying educational curriculum. Finally, she has hosted a Youth Outreach Symposium, a Prescription Drug Abuse Symposium, an Anti-Violence Summit and Substance Abuse and Gang Awareness Conferences for School Professionals.
To date, Webb-McRae’s proudest accomplishment has been steering the move of the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office to its new home at 115 Vine Street in Bridgeton in August of 2014. The move consolidated 100-plus employees from five buildings to the renovated, historic Vine Street School and has increased productivity due to consolidation of resources.
Webb-McRae’s motto for her work is “I will go anywhere, at any time to help the citizens of Cumberland County make healthy, positive choices.”
SEAN F. DALTON
Sean F. Dalton is currently serving his second term as Gloucester County Prosecutor. He has served in this position since 2002.
During his tenure, Dalton has promoted a philosophy of community involvement within the law enforcement community. He has formed several public-private partnerships such as the Gloucester/Salem County Security Initiative, Gloucester County Anti-Crime Partnership and the Gloucester County Mental Health Committee. Prosecutor Dalton has also reopened old homicide investigations dating back to 1972 resulting in the arrest and conviction of individuals for the 1979 murder of Rose Twells and the 1998 murder of Charles Mosley.
Prior to his appointment as county prosecutor, Dalton was elected to the New Jersey General Assembly serving parts of Gloucester and Camden counties. In 1995, he was re-elected to the General Assembly, for a second term. He was elected by his colleagues as an Associate Minority Leader for the General Assembly. He has also served as municipal prosecutor for the boroughs of Glassboro and Paulsboro as well as first assistant county counsel for Gloucester County.
JOHN T. LENAHAN
John T. Lenahan has served as Salem County Prosecutor since July 2003. He was formerly a partner in the firm of Lenahan, Telsey & Puma in Salem City. He has served as the municipal solicitor for the Borough of Woodstown and the townships of Alloway, Pittsgrove and Lower Alloways Creek, as well as the municipal prosecutor in Salem, Pittsgrove, Alloway, Pilesgrove, Upper Pittsgrove and the Lower Alloways Creek-Elsinboro Joint Court.
Lenahan is a life-long resident of Salem County. He graduated from Woodstown High School and received an appointment to the United States Military Academy, where he subsequently graduated and served in the United States Army as an Airborne, Ranger, Infantry Officer. During his tenure in the Army, he received a master’s degree from Central Michigan University. After leaving military service, he obtained his law degree from Widener University School of Law and has practiced law in Salem County since 1989.
He lives in Woodstown with his wife, Cindy, who is a kindergarten teacher in the Woodstown-Pilesgrove Regional School District. He has two sons, Sean and Scott. Sean and his wife, Anne, have two children and live in Alexandria, Virginia. His son, Scott, lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
Information provided by the Puerto Rican Action Committee of Southern New Jersey.