UNION, N.J. – Nearly 1,000 people from across the Garden State joined U.S. Senator Bob Menendez yesterday at Kean University for his Eighth Annual Women’s History Month Celebration, which honored six outstanding New Jersey women with the Evangelina Menendez Trailblazer Award for their exceptional achievements.
“We come together to celebrate Women’s History Month at a time when women across America are rising up, speaking out, and making history each and every day,” said Sen. Menendez. “The outcome of the 2016 presidential election was in many ways a shock to the collective conscience of our country. Yet it was women across America who united and gave us hope at when so many of us felt hopeless. It was women who turned defeat into defiance, despair into resistance and together reminded us of our democracy’s resilience.”
New Jersey’s Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver served as this year’s keynote speaker and Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin (LD-29) 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 and who passed away in 2009 after a long, courageous fight with Alzheimer’s disease.
“My mother, Evangelina, for whom this award is named, showed me the meaning of courage, integrity and the importance of fighting for what’s right, every single day of her life,” said Sen. Menendez. “She blazed that trail for me and I will continue to honor her and all of the women whose strength, wisdom and tireless determination to stand up for the people they serve make our country and our state a better, safer, cleaner place to live, work and raise a family.”
“Kean University educates its students to be active and contributing global citizens,” said Lauretta A. Farrell, D.Litt., director of the Human Rights Institute at Kean University. “The exceptional women receiving Trailblazer Awards remind all of our students that there are many ways to make a difference, if they persevere.”
This year’s ceremony honored six pioneering women who have made significant contributions to the Garden State and our country in the arts, military, law enforcement, education, and women’s advocacy:
“She is a beloved teacher at Ocean City High School who embodies equity and excellence in teaching,” Sen. Menendez said of Amy Anderson. “She’s proof that great teachers are those who inspire students to find strengths and passions they never imagined for themselves. It’s no wonder why the New Jersey Education Association made Amy Anderson their Teacher of the year.”
“There’s no better definition of a trailblazer than someone who started out as a teller and eventually went on to become Assistant Vice President of Banco Popular,” Sen. Menendez said of Mayor Diaz. “It’s leaders like her that inspired me to introduce a resolution in the Senate honoring Latina women for their remarkable contributions to women’s history.”
“When I hear that Uyen describes herself as an accidental activist, I would say her success leading ATNJ is no accident at all,” said Sen. Menenedez of Uyen Khuong. “From immigrant to accidential activist, to citizen leader of a leading grassroots organization, Uyenn represents the American promise in women leading the way.”
“From uncovering bias in our politics to inspiring women to run for public office, Ms. Mandel has helped make American democracy more inclusive for all,” Sen. Menendez said of Ruth Mandel. “She’s legendary for her roles in empowering women into the public and political system.”
“Above all, what I have appreciated about Audrey [Meyers] is her insights into how we can make our health care system more effective, deliver high quality health care while creating greater accessibility and affordability for those who need a lifesaving institution,” said Sen. Menendez of Audrey Meyers. “She’s a leader that speaks to the issues of our time.”
“It is an honor to recognize a proven leader who is literally blazing trails for women and girls around the world,” Sen. Menendez said of Rev. Tiffany Williams. “Her vision is to bring Esther Empowerment Centers to every continent, connecting and empowering women throughout the world to pursue their dreams and I’m pretty sure she’s going to do it.”
Full bios of this year’s honorees:
Amy T. Anderson; 2018 NJEA Teacher of the Year, Ocean City High School
Cape May Courthouse, Cape May
Ms. Andersen is a National Board Certified teacher of American Sign Language (ASL) at Ocean City High School, who embodies equity in education and the belief that a nurturing classroom fosters academic achievement. A teacher of the deaf for eight years in Boston, before moving back to New Jersey in 2004, Ms. Andersen promoted strength in diversity. She celebrated students' differences by organizing field trips to various schools in Boston, where her students presented to hearing children about ASL and deaf culture.
She began the ASL program at Ocean City High School with 42 hearing students, seeing enrollment increase to 138, while teaching ASL 1, ASL 2 and ASL 3 Honors. In 2015, Ms. Anderson’s program was highlighted on an Emmy-award winning program when her students’ ASL anti-bullying video went viral. Ms. Andersen takes students beyond the classroom by arranging paint nights with world-renowned deaf artists, and signing opportunities with the National Association of the Deaf. Her students have interpreted for Michelle Obama and Madonna, often pursue deaf education with 65% testing into college-level ASL 3 after graduation.
ASL is an integral part of Ocean City because Ms. Andersen has galvanized the entire community into becoming the “deaf-friendly” town of South Jersey. She reinforces that every voice has value, and it is our human right to communicate. Her students find a purpose, strengths they never imagined, and the realization of how that passion can lead to a meaningful and fulfilling life.
Mayor Wilda Diaz; Perth Amboy
Perth Amboy, Middlesex County
Wilda Diaz was re-elected in November 2016 to her third, four-year term as Mayor of the City of Perth Amboy. Not only is she the first woman to hold that office, she is also currently the only elected Latina mayor in the State of New Jersey.
Prior to taking office, Ms. Diaz spent 20 years in the banking industry where she started as a teller after graduating from Perth Amboy High School. She quickly rose through the ranks and was an assistant vice-president with Banco Popular when she first won the mayoral seat in May 2008.
As Ms. Diaz marks her tenth anniversary serving Perth Amboy, she remains at the forefront of issues such as expandin g programs for children, youth and families; maintaining an open and honest government; increasing business expansion and economic development; creating jobs; and preserving the city’s history. Additionally, she helped lead Perth Amboy’s recovery from Supertstorm Sandy, investing over $17 million for renovations and storm mitigation to create a state-of-the-art waterfront, which has received exceptional awards for design and completion.
In 2015, NBC Latino and NBC Nightly News released a feature story on Ms. Diaz, as the “First Woman Mayor of a Changing New Jersey Town.” She also received the 2015 Latino Justice “Latina Trailblazers” award for public service. In 2014, Mayor Diaz was honored as “Community Leader” by the Hispanic American Law Enforcement Association and “Humanitarian of the Year” by The Coalition of Hispanic Physicians. Ms. Diaz was earlier recognized by El Diario La Prensa as “Mujeres Destacadas 2012” and was featured in Real Simple Magazine as “The Accidental Politician,” among only four female mayors nationwide.
Mayor Diaz is a life-long resident of Perth Amboy and a graduate of Perth Amboy High School. She and her husband Greg have two children.
Uyen (Winn) Khuong; Co-Founder, Action Together New Jersey (ATNJ)
Madison, Morris County
Uyen Khoung, whose first name is pronounced “Winn,” immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam as a child in 1980, and would later co-found Action Together New Jersey (ATNJ), one of the state’s leading grassroots organizations, with 20 county chapters and 18,000 members.
Her first foray into politics came in grade school, when she wrote a letter to and received a response from President Ronald Reagan. She then became an accidental activist for New Jersey during the 2016 Presidential election when thousands of engaged New Jersey voters came together on Facebook to support Hillary Clinton.
Ms. Khuong serves on Governor Murphy's Diversity and Inclusivity Council and is a Board Member of the League of Women Voters N.J., and serves on the Board of Advisors for N.J. State Unity. She has been honored in Washington, D.C. as a “We Are Emily Award” recipient from EMILY’s List for her work in grassroots organizing with ATNJ and with the Breaking Barriers Award from CAIR-NJ (Council of American Islamic Relations). Through her leadership, ATNJ has also received the Community Service Award from the American Muslim Council.
Ruth B. Mandel; Director, Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University
Princeton, Mercer County
Ms. Mandel has been the Director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics since 1995, during which time, Eagleton launched new research and education initiatives in youth political engagement, immigrant political behavior, governors and state executive leadership, science and politics, and ethics in government. Eagleton's education programs for Rutgers graduate and undergraduate students have grown, and the Institute has expanded its state and national outreach and service with visible public programs and social media communications.
Ms. Mandel founded Eagleton's Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) and served as its director from 1971 through 1994, where she built a national center with multi-faceted research/education/public service and information programs about women's political participation. She remains affiliated with CAWP as a senior scholar, teaching and writing about leadership, with emphasis on U.S. women's political history, women as political candidates and officeholders, women's political networks, and the "gender gap."
From 1991 to 2006, Ms. Mandel held a presidential appointment to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the governing board of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. She was named vice chairperson of the Council by President Clinton in 1993 and served in that capacity until 2005. She chaired the task group charged with proposing a governing structure for the new museum and also led the process to create the museum's Committee on Conscience, which was established in 1996 with Ms. Mandel as its founding chair.
Audrey Meyers; President & CEO, Valley Health System
Ridgewood, Bergen County
Audrey Meyers began her career at Valley in 1980 as a Planning Associate, and served in several administrative positions throughout her tenure, including Director of Planning, Associate Vice President-Medical Staff Administration, Vice President Administration, and Senior Vice President for Administration and Chief Operating Officer. In 1999, she was named President and CEO of The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood.
Ms. Meyers served as a trustee and past-chair of the New Jersey Hospital Association. She has previously served as Director of VHA Empire-Metro, LLC, as a Member and Delegate for the American Hospital Association Regional Policy Board 2, and a Board Member of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey.
In 1998, Ms. Meyers was honored with the Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Healthcare Executives of New Jersey in recognition of her significant contributions to the healthcare field. She received the Senior-Level Healthcare Executive Regent’s Award in 1999 from the American College of Healthcare Executives and that same year was also honored with the Tribute to Women and Industry (TWIN) Award from the YWCA of Bergen County.
In 2014, Ms. Meyers was named as one of the Best 50 Women in Business by NJBIZ Magazine, and was included in State Senator Loretta Weinberg’s Women’s Power List for 2014 through 2017. In recognition of Women’s History Month, Ms. Meyers was honored by the Bergen County Commission on the Status of Woman for her trailblazing efforts in the field of labor and business.
Rev. Tiffany Williams; Founder, The Esther Project
North Bergen, Hudson County
Rev. Williams is a passionate advocate for the advancement of women and girls globally, and the founder of The Esther Project, leading women on an annual journey to discover their life purpose and launch a platform for global impact. The project includes a global leadership academy, retreats, summits and an annual empowerment conference.
As the Global Esther Ambassador, Rev. Williams established a footprint for The Esther Project in North America, Central America and Africa. Her global vision is to establish an Esther Institute—a public policy and civic engagement institute—and Esther Empowerment Centers on every continent, connecting and empowering women throughout the world to launch their life purpose.
Ms. Williams believes that her successes are attributable to a personal belief that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” She serves faithfully as the Pastor of Outreach & Evangelism at the Upper Room Full Gospel Church in Edison, under the spiritual oversight of her parents, Pastors Bruce and Phyllis Williams. She is a former judge, federal prosecutor and Seton Hall University law professor, and is currently the New Jersey Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. She previously served as Deputy Chief Counsel to Governor Corzine, and as Chief Counsel to the Speaker of the N.J. General Assembly.
April 22, 2021