25th Anniversary Celebration Spotlighted Community Leaders

The Northern New Jersey Community Foundation (NNJCF) honored community leaders at its 25th Anniversary Celebration. The festivities took place on Thursday, October 26, 2023 at AURA Restaurant & Bar in Hackensack.  The sold-out festivity honored community leaders.  The event also featured signature cocktails and delicious food.  In addition, tons of laughs echoed with improv comedy troupe, Howdy Stranger, hosting a “Who Said It?” game show-style awards ceremony and trivia contest.  The celebration’s net proceeds support the Foundation’s work.  This work covers the arts and culture, creative placemaking, and environmental protection.  In addition, the proceeds support civic engagement, public health and local education in North Jersey communities.

“The festivity brought together many people from North Jersey to celebrate our 25th anniversary.  We were overwhelmed by the show of support for the Foundation’s work in the region,” said Leonardo Vazquez, Executive Director, Northern New Jersey Community Foundation.

25th Anniversary Celebration Honored Community Leaders

The NNJCF honored these local heroes for their vision and civic leadership:

• Michael Shannon, Community Visionary Award. Shannon, a resident of Englewood, has served as president and co-founder of the Northern New Jersey Community Foundation. He was honored for his vision to bring people together across communities and sectors to collaborate on challenging issues with the development of a nonprofit organization that became the Northern New Jersey Community Foundation.  Furthermore, his leadership of the NNJCF helped the organization move from a small volunteer-run group focused on Englewood to a regional philanthropic institution that benefited several communities, nonprofit organizations and individuals in North Jersey.

Community leaders were honored at the 25th Anniversary Celebration. Photo Credit: Josh Passaretti | Jmp Media

The Foundation’s staff and board of trustees joined the leaders honored at the 25th Anniversary Celebration. Photo Credit: Josh Passaretti | Jmp Media

•Albert Dib, Civic Leadership Award. As the City of Hackensack’s Director of Economic Development and Redevelopment, Dib has been a catalyst and leader in the municipality’s redevelopment and use of creative placemaking. Before joining the City of Hackensack in 2004, he worked as a commercial litigator for several years.  In his work with the city, he has served in many roles, including Information Technology, providing legal and administrative support.

Dib, a lifelong resident of Hackensack, has held several leadership positions.  He was the executive director for the Main Street Business Alliance.  In this capacity, he oversaw the Special Improvement District.  During that time, the Alliance and the City laid the groundwork resulting in the transformation of the downtown.  Dib is also a member of the City’s Planning Board and the Performing Arts Center Board.  In addition, he serves on the Environmental Commission and as the city liaison to the Main Street Business Alliance.

Community Leaders in the Arts and Environment

These leaders were lauded for their contributions to the arts and the environment:

•Monica Chavarria-Malin, Arts Leadership Award. As president of the Hackensack Art Club and Curator and Art Director of Club Colombia USA of Hackensack, Chavarria-Malin has promoted the arts in Bergen County. With over 24 years’ experience as an art teacher, her curriculum includes an interest in the preservation of nature and human values.  Chavarria-Malin, who grew up in Colombia surrounded by trees and flowers, is also called by many “The Tree Lady” for her painting of surrealistic trees that take on a human form.

For over 30 years, she participated in several art exhibitions and cultural events.  Among her work, she painted murals for the cities of Hackensack and Paterson.  A resident of Teaneck, she is also a member of several organizations, including the Fort Lee Artist Guild, the Art Educators of New Jersey, and “Colombian Leaders Working for a Better Colombia”.  In addition, she joined the NNJCF’s Green Infrastructure for Environmental Justice initiative’s Hackensack leadership team.

• Jennylyn Brown, Environmental Leadership Award. Brown, a resident of Hackensack for 16 years, emigrated from Grenada and grew up in New York City. She was recognized for her leadership to create a greener future for Hackensack and its residents.  Brown has held several community positions, including president of the Hackensack Garden Club, and chairperson of the Hackensack Environmental Commission, as well as co-leader of Girl Scout Troop 95880.  Among her leadership roles, she also serves on the advisory board to the City Council concerning matters of open space, water resources, and pollution control, and environmental issues.


A range of sponsorship levels were available for individuals and businesses to participate in the 25th Anniversary Celebration.  Funds raised from the sponsorships benefited the NNJCF’s new and ongoing programs.  These include the arts and culture, creative placemaking, environmental protection, and civic engagement.  Sponsors for the event were Hornrock Properties/ Ivy & Green, The Algrant Family, Print House, Garden Communities/The Jefferson, and Room & Board.  In addition, Winne Banta Basralian & Khan, M&T Bank, and The Vanacore Family were sponsors.  Other sponsors included AURA Restaurant & Bar, bergenPAC, and Steven T. Cirillo CPA, LLC, as well as Mary Call Blanusa, Chris Percopo, and Spiro Harrison & Nelson Attorneys.  In addition, Suburban Consulting Engineers, Arohnson Weiner Salerno & Kaufman P.C., Hackensack Regional Chamber of Commerce, Leslie J. Lipka, and Newark Science and Sustainability Inc. became sponsors.

People, who were unable to attend the 25th Anniversary Celebration, may support the organization with a donation online.  Donors may also send their contribution by check made out to The Northern NJ Community Foundation (NNJCF).  Send checks to 1 University Plaza Drive, Suite 128, Hackensack, New Jersey 07601.

Celebrating 25 Years in the Community

With the motto ‘What can we do together, that we can’t do alone?”, the Foundation helps communities in North Jersey.  The NNJCF helps them become better places to live, work, and enjoy by bringing people together to address pressing issues.  These issues include public health, environmental protection, civil society and education.  Founded in 1998, the NNJCF has awarded over $1 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and scholarships to local residents.  Through its ArtsBergen initiative, opportunities exist for artists, designers and makers.  This also leverages the power of the arts and creative placemaking to enhance communities in Bergen County.  Furthermore, the Foundation’s Climate Action Mobilization Project (CAMP) helps Hackensack and neighboring communities become more resilient in northern New Jersey.  To get involved in the Foundation’s work, call 201-568-5608 or send an e-mail to nnjcf@nnjcf.org.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.