UNION, N.J. – Hundreds of New Jerseyans joined U.S. Senator Bob Menendez on Sunday at Kean University for his Ninth Annual Women’s History Month Celebration, which honored seven outstanding New Jersey women with the Evangelina Menendez Trailblazer Award for their exceptional achievements.
“Today, we honor incredible women from across New Jersey with the Evangelina Menendez Women of Distinction Trailblazer Awards. And let me tell you something about this year’s honorees: they are trail-blazers, glass ceiling-breakers, and history-makers who make New Jersey proud,” said Sen. Menendez.
This year’s ceremony honored seven pioneering women who have made significant contributions to the Garden State and our country in education, health care, political activism and women’s advocacy:
New Jersey’s First Lady Tammy Murphy served as this year’s keynote speaker. Bergen County Freeholder Germaine Ortiz served as the mistress of ceremonies.
The Evangelina Menendez Trailblazer Awards were created in tribute to the Senator’s mother, who came to the United States from Cuba to give her children a better life. She passed away in 2009 after a long, courageous fight with Alzheimer’s disease.
“My mother was my trailblazer in every sense of the word. Her name – Evangelina – harkens back to Eve, the first woman, and Angel, for the angel she was,” said Sen. Menendez. “And I couldn’t be prouder that my daughter, Alicia, a talented trailblazer in her own right, decided to name my granddaughter Evangelina. At two years old, we do not yet know what her future holds. We do not know what trails she’ll blaze. But here’s one thing we do know: Evangelina will grow up in a nation that is stronger, fairer, more just and more equal thanks to the work of the extraordinary women we honor today.”
"We are honored to hold this important event here at Kean, where we prepare all of our students to be leaders in their chosen career paths," said Dawood Farahi, Ph.D., president of Kean University. "The women being recognized at this event serve as an inspiration to all of us about working hard to achieve positive change in today's world."
“As President of the NJEA, Marie draws upon her years of experience as a high school special education resource center teacher in Washington Township public schools,” Sen. Menendez said of Marie Blistan. “Marie has devoted her career to strengthening our public schools, empowering teachers, and making sure every child has the opportunity to reach his or her potential.”
“Through [JOLT USA’s] community arm RidgewoodJOLT, Cathy has connected everyday citizens with opportunities to get more involved in the issues that matter to them, including by having JOLT cosponsor events like the Hackensack March for Our Lives, the Town Hall on Gun Safety and Keep Families Together,” Sen. Menendez said of Catherine Brienza. “During the 2018 election cycle, Cathy built a passionate team who reached tens of thousands of voters, and recently launched JOLT’s sister site 15mins4change, which helps citizens make daily action calls to public officials."
“I don’t think it would surprise anyone here today to know that within three months of arriving [at Metropolitan Family Health Network] she was named President and Chief Executive Officer,” Sen. Menendez said of Joan Dublin. “This April, Joan will begin serving as Chair of the New Jersey Primary Care Association, and I can’t wait to see what she achieves on behalf of families and patients.”
“Nadia is a lifelong activist focused on empowering marginalized communities. Today, she leads MomsRising’s work on maternal health, mass incarceration reform, and police reform,” Sen. Menendez said of Nadia Hussain. “The daughter of a U.S. servicemember, Nadia grew up in many communities across America before graduating from Rutgers University and adopting New Jersey as her home. We’re lucky that she did.”
“As President of BlueWave NJ, Marcia is a passionate advocate for progressive policies who has mobilized thousands of voters behind causes like universal health care, environmental justice, and marriage equality,” Sen. Menendez said of Marcia Marley. “Blue Wave has helped hundreds of progressive candidates across New Jersey at every level of government.”
“She initiated the inaugural Women’s March in Trenton in January 2017 and remains deeply involved as lead organizer for the 2018 and 2019 Women’s Marches,” Sen. Menendez said of Elizabeth Meyer. “Beyond the Women’s March, she’s helped organize major demonstrations throughout New Jersey over the past two years like the People’s Climate Rally and the Families Belong Together March, and was an advisor for students who organized the March for Our Lives NJ in Newark.”
“A believer in the school’s unique approach, Jennifer prepares her students to pursue careers in social work, child psychology, and education, including with real-life experience at an on-site preschool and engagement with experts in the field,” Sen. Menendez said of Jennifer Skomial. “Looking at Jennifer’s career, we are all reminded of the incredible work teachers do every single day.”
Full bios of this year’s honorees:
Marie Blistan, President of the New Jersey Education Association
Harrisonville, Gloucester County
Marie Blistan, a high school special education resource center teacher in Washington Township public schools, is the president of the New Jersey Education Association. Blistan previously served as NJEA’s vice president (2013-17) and secretary-treasurer (2009-13). She was elected to a two-year term as president effective Sept. 1, 2017.
At NJEA, Blistan is chair of numerous NJEA committees, including NJEA’s Political Action Committee (PAC), the Executive Committee, the Delegate Assembly, the County Presidents Council, the Staff Pension Committee, the Full Time Release Presidents’ Committee, and the Strengthening Local Associations Committee.
As an officer, Blistan plays an active role in working with other special interest groups including the Women’s Political Caucus of NJ, the Governor’s Committee on Special Education Task Force and including Student NJEA and the Higher Education Association. She also founded and chairs the New Jersey Special Education Stakeholders Coalition.
Blistan served as president of the Gloucester County Education Association (2005-2009) and was active in NJEA since early in her career. She has held co-chair positions on the Gloucester County Government Relations committee as well as the Gloucester County Legislative Action Team (2008).
Catherine Brienza, Founder & President of JOLT USA
Ridgewood, Bergen County
Catherine Brienza is the Founder and President of JOLT USA, a prominent Bergen County non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to the activation of an educated citizenry.
Since its inception, JOLT, through its community arm RidgewoodJOLT, has engaged members through outreach including monthly post card and educational events and raised public awareness in Bergen County through co-sponsoring rallies including the March for Our Lives, Hackensack, Town Hall on Gun Safety and Keep Families Together.
JOLT built a strong GOTV team of passionate and dedicated activists, which reached tens of thousands of voters and was instrumental in the 2018 Congressional elections.
Cathy is also the founder of JOLT’s sister site 15mins4change, which is dedicated to daily calls to action to legislators and public figures. In addition, Cathy is a member of the Ridgewood Green Team and the Board of Directors of Alpine Learning Group, a pre-eminent center for those on the autistic spectrum.
Prior to her advocacy work, Cathy practiced Commercial Real Estate Law at Winston & Strawn (formerly Cole and Deitz) and Palmer and Dodge, Boston. She’s been married to Dr. Patrick Roth for 28 years and has two wonderful children.
Building on JOLT’s tenant that education is empowerment, Cathy is also the founder and president of the newly formed NJ Civics Outreach, an organization formed to engage high school students in a living civics lesson, so as to have an educated and empowered younger generation.
Joan Dublin; President & CEO, Metropolitan Family Health Network
Union City, Hudson County
Joan Dublin is the primary administrator for Metropolitan Family Health Network, overseeing the work of the organization’s nearly 100 staff members. Under her leadership Metropolitan has: quadrupled the number of patients it serves; added a third site for care; provided weekday evening hours; extensively increased outreach efforts; initiated an Electronic Health Care system; initiated a 340B pharmacy; and opened a state-of-the-art Dental Suite. In addition, Ms. Dublin has been responsible for beginning and maintaining relationships and collaborations with leading organizations such as Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health - Jersey City Medical Center (Medical Resident Rotation program), Lutheran Health Center and NYU Langone Health (Dental Resident Rotation program) and CarePoint Health.
Ms. Dublin’s extensive experience includes serving as Assistant Director of Clinical Services at Jersey City Medical Center, and as Senior Director of Patient Care Services and Acting Executive Director of the Jersey City Family Health Center. In September of 2007, Joan assumed responsibilities as Chief Operating Officer of Metropolitan Family Health Network, and three months later she was named President and Chief Executive Officer.
Ms. Dublin holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Jersey City State University (now New Jersey City University), and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Seton Hall University. She is a certified member of the American College of Healthcare Executives and the Vice Chair of the New Jersey Primary Care Association Board of Directors. In April 2019 she will begin serving as the Chair of the New Jersey Primary Care Association.
S. Nadia Hussain, Maternal Justice Campaign Director at MomsRising & Co-Founder of the Bangladeshi American Women's Development Initiative
Bloomingdale, Passaic County
Smita Nadia Hussain is a lifelong activist and advocate who aims to connect grassroots work to systemic change and reform while increasing the political involvement and power of women and marginalized communities.
She is the Maternal Justice Campaign Director for the national mothers and families advocacy group, MomsRising, where she leads their work on maternal health, mass incarceration reform, and police reform. Nadia is co-founder of the Bangladeshi American Women's Development Initiative (BAWDi), a NJ-based organization that empowers and advocates for Bangladeshi American women and girls throughout the state. She serves on the National Board of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and on the Board of Trustees ACLU-NJ.
Nadia is a founding advisory board member of Inspiring South Asian American Women (ISAAW), a group that empowers South Asian women in NJ to run for office and be civically engaged and is on the advisory board of the League of Women Voters NJ. She serves on the Economic Development Commission and Mental Health Stigma Task Force in her town of Bloomingdale, NJ. In January 2018, she was selected to be on NJ Governor-Elect Phil Murphy’s Law and Justice Transition Committee.
Nadia is a proud 'adopted' Jersey girl. She graduated with a BA in Political Science from Rutgers University but grew up in different parts of the country due to her father serving in the U.S. military. She credits her family's love and their struggles as new immigrants as being foundational to her drive to make her county a place that can better deliver on its promises of freedom, liberty, and justice for all.
Marcia Marley, President of BlueWave NJ, Succeed2gether
Montclair, Essex County
Marcia Marley is the President of BlueWaveNJ and Succeed2gether, two non-profit organizations based in Montclair NJ. Through these two organizations, she has devoted her life to advancing progressive policies and candidates as well as improving the opportunities and resources available to income-constrained families in Essex County.
Under Marcia’s leadership, BlueWaveNJ has become a highly respected, effective organization dedicated to direct advocacy. It has mobilized thousands of voters to advocate for universal health care coverage, marriage equality, economic and environmental justice, racial and gender equality, voting rights, as well as the non-violent resolution of conflicts at home and abroad. The organization has helped elect hundreds of progressive candidates in local and national races through grassroots efforts.
Alarmed by the increasing difficulties faced by low-income families, Ms. Marley started Succeed2gether in 2009, an organization committed to reducing the achievement gap and providing for families in need through a multitude of interconnecting free programs. This nonpartisan charity has quickly become recognized as a resource for families in and around Essex County. During the school year, its after-school tutoring program carefully matches dozens of trained volunteer tutors with underperforming students from low-income families. The organization also provides a long list of academic and enrichment workshops throughout the school year including violin, algebra, and coding classes.
As well as directing the activities of BlueWaveNJ and Succeed2gether, Ms. Marley serves or has served on the Boards of Citizen Action, The Montclair International Film Festival, Ceasefire New Jersey, Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey, New Jersey Policy Perspectives, Emerge NJ, National Housing Institute and Essex County Community Land Trust. She is also a member of the Democratic National Committee.
Elizabeth Meyer, Founder & Lead Organizer of the Women’s March on New Jersey
Branchburg, Somerset County
Elizabeth Meyer is the founder and lead organizer of the Women's March on New Jersey. She initiated the inaugural march held in Trenton, in January 2017, and continued in the lead organizer role for the Women's March on NJ in Morristown in 2018 and in Trenton in 2019.
In addition to the Women's marches, Elizabeth has served as a lead organizer of the NJ March for Science and Families Belong Together NJ march, served as the lead adviser to the students who planned March for Our Lives NJ in Newark, and was a steering committee member of the 2018 NJ March for Science and the 2018 People's Climate Rally. Elizabeth has been a speaker at a multitude of events, including the "Because Women Can" series hosted by Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman and as a keynote speaker at the Women's Political Caucus of New Jersey's "Inspiring Women to Lead" initiative.
She is a New Jersey native who grew up in Wayne and now lives in Central New Jersey with her husband and two young daughters. She worked for four years in the radio industry in the New York and New Jersey markets as a producer, news reporter, and on-air personality. Elizabeth has twelve years of experience as a middle school educator in both urban and suburban districts, teaching history, reading, writing, photography, theater, and character education.
Jennifer Skomial, NJ State Teacher of the Year
Roxbury, Morris County
Jennifer Skominal is a Career and Technical Education Teacher at Morris County School of Technology and the 2018-19 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year. Jennifer, like many others in the profession, has always wanted to be a teacher. Her earliest memories include “playing school” with her younger brother, whom she needed to bribe to be a willing student. Not a day went by she wasn’t eagerly practicing what she believes has been her life’s purpose.
Upon graduation from Morris County School of Technology, Jennifer earned her bachelor’s degree in English-Secondary Education (2008) from Montclair State University. She completed her student teaching at Costley Middle School in East Orange and then began her career there teaching Language Arts. The following year, she was hired at her former High School, Morris County School of Technology, where she went on to teach English for five years. She earned her Master of Arts in Teaching (Special Education) from New Jersey City University in 2013.
Jennifer, who was named the 2018-19 Morris County Teacher, is responsible for preparing her students to become teachers, child psychologists, social workers, and guidance counselors at the Morris County School of Technology. Rather than a traditional classroom setting, students in Jennifer’s classes are coached as they prepare and teach lessons in an on-site preschool, attend guest speaker lectures and field trips to a variety of educational settings, and study child development, and other education-related topics.
April 22, 2021