HCLF together with WEWI celebrate with a Year-End Gala.
Casino Night Event with Theme of Female Strength
Jersey City, New Jersey — On Thursday, December 5th from 6-10 pm at Battello
in Jersey City; two non-profit organizations, Hudson County Latino Foundation
(HCLF) and Women Empower Women, Inc (WEWI) will come together to
collectively celebrate their year-end gala and to honor women who exemplify
female strength. The evening will feature live music by Flying South, a Latin Jazz
Band, casino games, raffle prizes, and more. General Admission Tickets include
an open bar, playing chips and dinner. VIP Tickets will include a Meet & Greet
with the Keynote Speaker and a signed book by the author.
The Keynote Speaker for the Gala will be the award winning author, Esmeralda
Ms. Santiago was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She came to the United States
at thirteen, the eldest in a family that would eventually include eleven children.
Ms. Santiago attended New York City’s Performing Arts High School, where she
majored in drama and dance. After eight years of part-time study at community
colleges, she transferred to Harvard University with a full scholarship where she
graduated magna cum laude in 1976. In 1977, she and her husband, Frank
Cantor, founded CANTOMEDIA, a film and media production company, which
has won numerous awards for excellence in documentary filmmaking. Her
essays and opinion pieces have run in newspapers like The New York Times and
The Boston Globe, in magazines like House & Garden, Metropolitan Home, and
Sports Illustrated, and as guest commentary on NPR All Things Considered and
Morning Edition. Ms. Santiago was hailed in When I was Puerto Rican as “…a
welcome new voice, full of passion and authority,” by the Washington Post Book
World. América’s Dream was an Alternate Selection of the Literary Guild.
“Thrilling and page turning, the fabulous story of América Gonzalez…is laid out
masterfully,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
Almost a Woman, received an Alex Award from the American Library
Association. Her adaptation of the memoir into a film for MASTERPIECE | PBS was
awarded a George Foster Peabody Awards for excellence in broadcasting. The
Turkish Lover, described as “an earthy, heartfelt tale of liberation, desperation,
and the crippling grip of love” by Booklist. Ms. Santiago is co-editor of the
anthologies, Las Christmas: Favorite Latino Authors Share Their Holiday Memories
and Las Mamis: Favorite Latino Authors Remember their Mothers. She is also the
author of the illustrated children’s book, A Doll for Navidades. In addition to her
literary endeavors, Ms. Santiago is an active volunteer. She is a spokesperson on
behalf of public libraries. She has designed and developed community-based
programs for adolescents and was one of the founders of a shelter for battered
women and their children. She serves on the boards of organizations devoted to
the arts and to literature and speaks vehemently about the need to encourage
and support the artistic development of young people.
Her community activism was cited when she received a Girl Scouts of America
National Woman of Distinction Award in March 2002. Ms. Santiago has earned a
Master of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and Honorary
Doctor of Letters from Trinity University, Pace University, Metropolitan College
and from Universidad de Puerto Rico – UPR. Esmeralda is currently at work on a
novel and cannot wait to meet you at our Year-End Gala; celebrating female
strength and honoring women making a difference in our community. We
couldn’t think of a better speaker for this engagement! For more information on
Esmeralda, please visit her website at www.esmeraldasantiago.com.
Both organizations will honor 3-4 women with honorary awards, recognizing
these honorees for exhibiting female strength and making an impact in their
The Hudson County Latino Foundation will honor four (4) women:
1. Marie Blistan, President of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA)
and a high school special education resource center teacher in
Marie founded the New Jersey Special Education Stakeholders Coalition, is a
trustee for the Brain Injury Association of New Jersey, serves as a member on the
EMERGE NJ Board as well as the Women’s Political Caucus of NJ, is a member of
the NJ Hall of Fame Board of Commissioners. Marie was a founding member of
the New Jersey Labor Management Collaborative and helped lead a statewide
effort to pass teacher leadership legislation. Marie currently sits on the governing
board of the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning, and she has been
selected to join the New Jersey Council on Juvenile Justice System
Improvement’s Education Subcommittee. Furthermore, Marie was appointed by
Governor Phil Murphy to serve on his transition team for education. Marie was
ranked 21st out of 100 of the state’s most influential leaders on 2018 Insider’s NJ’s
“Power 100 List” and 13th out of 100 on the New Jersey Globe’s 2018 Power List.
Marie was further honored by Kidsbridge with its 2018 Humanitarian Award. In
2019, Marie was awarded the Evangelina Menendez Trailblazer Award, which
recognizes women, from the state of New Jersey, who promote equal rights for
all and champion the rights of women, families, and children, by US. Senator
Robert Menendez. Marie and her husband, Bob, a retired high school special
education teacher in Washington Township, live in Harrisonville, they have two
sons, a daughter, and five grandchildren.
For more info on Marie Blistan, visit www.njea.org/about/leadership/president.
2. Jennifer Aitken, Director of Specialized Services at New Jersey City
Jennifer has more than twenty years of experience working in the field of
disability services in high education and is the Director of Specialized Services at
NJCU, she also serves as the chair of the ADA Compliance Committee and is a
member of the University’s Commencement Committee and Conduct Board,
the President’s Diversity Council, and as the Co-advisor for the NJCU LEADS Club
(Leadership Education and Advocacy for Students with Disabilities). Jennifer
served two terms as President and one term as Secretary of the New Jersey
Association on Higher Education and Disability (NJ AHEAD). Jennifer is a Past
President and current Board member of the Rotary Club of Jersey City, a trustee
of the Jersey City Rotary Foundation, and serves as chair of Jersey City Rotary’s
Youth Service Committee. Jennifer recently submitted a grant on behalf of the
Golden Door International Film Festival and is working with the organization to
enhance and complete its three-year ADA Accessibility Plan. Jennifer is also a
proud board member of two non-profit organizations; Round 2 Resources, an
organization committed to protecting the environment by recycling donated
items and redistributing them to community members in need and Jersey City
Write on Sports, an organization engaging middle school students by fostering
their love of writing through sports. Jennifer is also a member of the Hudson
County Office of Disability Services Advisory Board, Hudson County and Jersey
City Workforce Development Board Disability Committee, CarePoint Health
Bayonne Medical Center Community Advisory Group and Hudson County
Schools of Technology Foundation Advisory Council.
3. Lucia Alexandra Sollitti, Zumba & Spin Instructor
Lucia was born in Tulcan, Ecuador; the youngest of seven siblings. Like so many
first-generation immigrants, she looked to the United States for opportunity and
the prospect of a better life. She is the loving wife to her husband and mother to
their two children, Daniel and Gianna Maria. Like so many women who carry
children, Lucia gained 50 pounds with her son. Feeling depressed and
unhealthy, she decided to act. In the cold weather, she pounded out miles on a
basement treadmill and in the warmer weather, she pushed the stroller for miles.
Slowly and steadily her prematernal figure returned, along with her confidence.
Eventually, she joined a local gym and physical activity became her lifestyle. It
was when Lucia heard the pounding beat of Latin music, she found her calling
as a Zumba instructor. As her son grew, Lucia was ready to return to the
workforce but wanted to transition to a more meaningful and satisfying career.
Her husband gifted her with a certificate on Mother’s Day for Instructor Training
Course. In 2010, after becoming certified, she began subbing other instructors’
classes. Soon thereafter, Lucia broke from her shell and began teaching classes
of her own across Hudson and Bergen County, as well as in New York. She went
on to continue her fitness education becoming certified in ZUMBA Toning, Aqua
ZUMBA, ZUMBA Sentao, ZUMBA Gold and ZUMBA Step. Throughout her work as
an Instructor, she has inspired many women, just as she had herself.
4. Rev. Tinia Bland, a certified Chaplain, Minister and Pastor of St. John
Rev. Bland is a certified Chaplain with the International Latin and African
American Chaplain Association (LACA). Rev. Bland received her Minister license
with Revolving Doors Ministries and is ordained through Three Doors Ministries.
Rev. Bland is one of the three ordained Pastors with St. John Baptist Church,
where she is also the Director of Community Programs and Services. Rev. Bland
created the Astor Community Garden, which more than just a community
garden, is a teaching tool for youth and adults, teaching community harmony
and aiding in the elimination of community hunger. Rev. Bland is the
President/CEO of B.I.T.E., the Black Interest Team Enterprise, a coalition of experts
addressing the social, economic and educational issues which impact the
community by building wealth and ending disparity. Programs include forums,
debates, an annual Maker’s Day, but most notably a free daily breakfast and
lunch distribution offered seven days a week, serving 200 people per day, as
well as a weekly food distribution on Saturdays. Rev. Bland was the Director of
an International Accounting Firm on Wall Street for thirteen years and a Superior
Court Mediator for more than twenty years. Rev. Bland’s work includes NAACP’s
Legal Redress Chairperson and NAACP Past Chairperson of the Political Action
Committee (PAC). Rev. Bland was the former co-host of Go Pro Radio’s, “In the
Spotlight” with Earl Morgan. Reverend Bland is accredited by the U.S. Press
Association, a Literacy Volunteer and Member of the Hudson County Medical
Marie Blistan and Jennifer Aitken will be presented proclamation/citations from
the County and Lucia Sollitti and Rev. Bland will be presented
proclamations/citations from Jersey City.
HCLF, gala proceeds will go towards advancing the Foundation’s core
programs of Financial Literacy, Healthcare awareness and Professional
Development workshops for college bound high school seniors.
WEWI, gala proceeds will go towards interactive workshops that bring local
minority women together to find solutions to their own difficulties, creating the
sense of empowerment that comes with greater self-reliance. Mentorship and
educational opportunities via our communities’ professional network.
Scholarships, computers, and book vouchers to propel scholastic success in
colleges and/or advanced educational institutions. Services including Financial
Literacy courses, Immigration assistance, education, community development,
Barnes & Noble will have a limited supple of books available for purchase.
Subsequent to the gala, Barnes & Noble will also host a fundraiser for HCLF in
Our gala is made possible through sponsorships and charitable donations. We
would like to thank, New Jersey City University (NJCU), the NJCU Foundation, the
NJCU Ascend program, New Jersey Education Association, Liberty Savings
Federal Credit Union, First Republic, BCB Bank, NJ Hispanic Bar Association
(NJHBA), Hispanic American Law Enforcement Association (HALEA), Foot &
Ankle Premier Specialists, Jadoo & Zalenski LLP, Hershey’s Sub Deli & Catering,
GMA Electric Corporation, D’Arcy Johnson Day Lawyers and Jersey City Rotary,
with donations by Barnes & Noble, New York Giants, New York Jets, and New
York Red Bulls.
Visit www.hclatinofoundation.org or www.wewiconnect.com for more