September 6, 2023

KITTY RESCUE: Saving kittens in the wild, or sometimes even pursuing them into a dumpster, is just one of many different jobs that Princeton Animal Control Officer Jim Ferry performs in a day’s work of caring for Princeton’s residents and its domestic and wild animals. (Photo courtesy of Jim Ferry)

By Donald Gilpin

Jim Ferry, Princeton animal control officer (PAC) since 2018, has been training for this job since he was a young boy growing up with his family in the Ozark Mountains in north central Arkansas, where he interacted closely with nature and wildlife almost every day.

His family lived in a wooded area at the end of a three-quarter-mile-long driveway. “Growing up in the Ozarks, I believed in being one with nature,” he said. “There is no animal control out in Arkansas, so if you had an issue with an animal on your property or nearby, you had to handle it by yourself.” more

August 16, 2023

KEEPING THE SWIMMERS SAFE: Community Park Pool Head Lifeguards Sofie Fitzgerald and Liam Gray.

By Donald Gilpin

The Community Park Pool (CPP)— four pools actually — off Witherspoon Street in the heart of Princeton, with its expanse of greenery and blue water, with swimmers of all ages active in the pool or relaxing nearby, is an idyllic setting on a beautiful summer afternoon. 

But Sofie Fitzgerald and Liam Gray, two of the pool’s head lifeguards, are on the job — along with a large contingent of fellow lifeguards — keeping close watch to ensure that the thousands of CPP patrons from Memorial Day through Labor Day can enjoy the beautiful setting without fears for the safety of all.

The number of young children drowning in the U.S. has been rising. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that more children ages 1-4 die from drowning than any other cause of death, and every year in the U.S. there are an estimated 4,000 drowning deaths, an average of 11 per day. But Fitzgerald and Gray are determined to not let that happen at CPP. more

January 18, 2023

By Donald Gilpin

Luigi Prete

For the past 32 years, Luigi Prete has presided at Luigi’s Shoe Repair, his 600-square-foot domain behind a storefront in the Montgomery Shopping Center. Thousands of soles and heels, many miles of stitching, and acres of polishing and stretching, sometimes pocketbooks or belts, sometimes zippers — for 10 hours a day, six days a week he’s been welcoming a wide variety of customers with their shoes and leather goods.

“I like my job,” said Prete, who had already been in the shoe repair business for 23 years, first working for his uncle in the Princeton Shopping Center, then in his own shop in Twin Rivers, before coming to his present location. “If you don’t like what you’re doing, don’t do it. I’ve been doing it for 55 years, and it’s the only thing I know how to do.”

He continued, “I’m relaxed when I come over here. You know why? I deal with the customers. I’ve seen most of them before. I talk to the customers. Time goes by. I’m busy.”

When he’s not interacting with customers in the front of his compact store, with its counter and shelves covered with shoe boxes and shoe polish and a wall of family photos, he’s operating the stretching, or sewing, or trimming, or polishing, or finishing, or nailing machines in the workroom behind.

“I do whatever comes first, whenever I get a chance,” he explained. “You know, the shoes for Monday or Tuesday first. You’ve got to break it up. I don’t want to be working on work that has to be done for next week and get behind on work that needs to be done for tomorrow. You’ve got to stay on top of things.”

The pace of activity and the challenges of the job vary greatly at Luigi’s. “It’s not a heavy duty job,” he said. “Shoes don’t weigh too much, but you’ve got to know what to do. You’ve got to know how to operate the machines. You’ve got to know how to put on the soles and the heels. And you’ve got to know when to put the glue on and how to finish them up. You have to have a little bit of patience and a lot of skill.” more

January 26, 2022

“PAYING IT FORWARD”: Pammie Vandermark, left, transportation coordinator and bus driver for the Princeton Public Schools, and Transportation Supervisor Donna Bradin make sure that Princeton’s students are delivered to school every morning and brought back home safely in the afternoon. (Photo courtesy of Pammie Vandermark)

By Donald Gilpin

Pammie Vandermark found her calling about 30 years ago. She’s a school bus driver and transportation coordinator for the Princeton Public Schools (PPS), and for her and her sisters, “it’s a family affair,” she said. One of her sisters is also a bus driver for the district and the other sister is a school bus assistant who works in the cafeteria at Riverside Elementary School between bus runs.

Vandermark, a Princeton native who now lives in Ewing, described how she got started as a school bus driver. She continues to drive the buses frequently, as needed, though she has progressed from aide to driver to transportation assistant and, since 2015, transportation coordinator.

“My children had started school and I was home all day, and I needed to talk to people, and the job of bus aide fit the hours of my children being in school,” she said. “I got home just in time before my children got home, and I got benefits and health insurance for my family.”

Vandermark started work with the transportation department as an aide on a bus run with special education students. She quickly realized how important her work was to the children and their parents. “My heart went out to the families,” she said. “The first week I cried the whole week. My boss asked, ‘Are you going to make it?’ To see these children with disabilities and to see what the parents had to go through every day broke my heart.” more

December 22, 2021

By Donald Gilpin

Liz Dyevich (“Nurse Liz”)

The students’ physical and mental well-being is the top priority of the Princeton Public Schools (PPS), and in the forefront of that endeavor are the seven nurses at the district schools. The past two years have presented them with situations beyond what they could possibly have imagined or trained for, but they have stepped up to lead the schools in confronting the challenges of COVID-19.

“Throughout the pandemic, our nurses have embodied the best of PPS as they assist our students, families, and staff with compassion, understanding, and patience,” said PPS Human Services Director Micki Crisafulli. “They make sure everyone is cared for and informed. They complete contact tracing at all times, including instances when they work nights and weekends. Our entire community is healthier and safer as a result of their dedication.”

The team of PPS nurses includes Magarida Cruz and Gail Cipolloni at Princeton High School, Kathleen Bihuniak at Princeton Middle School, Liz Dyevich at Johnson Park, Sarah Gooen-Chen at Riverside, Holly Javick at Littlebrook, and Vera Maynard at Community Park.

In an email exchange earlier this week, Dyevich, “Nurse Liz,” discussed the world of school nursing and how that world has been transformed since the pandemic arrived in early 2020.

“Over the past two years my job has changed drastically,” she said. “The only constant has been the amazing students and their love for being in school with friends and teachers. I have added the extra responsibilities of contact tracing, keeping up on all the COVID guidelines and policies, and being a part of the school district’s COVID committee.”

She continued, “I had to learn how to do virtual health lessons, monitor close contacts and quarantines, and navigate helping students with the mental and physical effects of COVID.” more

June 23, 2021

By Donald Gilpin

Cecilia Jimenez-Weeast

Cecilia Jimenez-Weeast, executive director of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund for just over two months, has deep roots in serving the Latino community and an enduring commitment to the thousands of immigrants she has worked with.

“I’m passionate about working with the community,” she said in an interview earlier this month. “Coming from El Salvador I’ve seen the reason why people want to come to the United States. They just want to come here and they want the American dream. They want to be able to sustain a family, to provide for their kids, because those opportunities are not available in their country.”

She added, “That’s what keeps me going and that’s how I ended up with LALDEF.” The director of Latinas Unidas for about 20 years, Jimenez-Weeast sees her new position as carrying on in pursuit of her passion. “Becoming executive director of LALDEF is continuing what is so close to my heart,” she said.

Her early years in El Salvador, her work with her father in the cause of social justice, and his subsequent death in the civil war in the early 1980s were formative experiences for her, establishing the path that Jimenez-Weeast would take in her career and her life.

“My father has been my inspiration to continue working for people’s rights,” she said, explaining, “I come from a family that has always been very involved in social justice. He was a well-known community activist in El Salvador. All his life he fought for the rights of workers.”

Her father was a member of the International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency headquartered in Switzerland with a mandate to advance social and economic justice. “I used to go help my father at union rallies, basically fighting for workers’ rights in El Salvador,” said Jimenez-Weeast, “and at the same time I would go volunteer in the schools in small towns. I continue to do that. Every time I go to El Salvador I visit the little schools in some of the villages and spend time with the kids. They are humble schools where having a computer is not even in their dreams.”

Her father paid a high price for his involvement in politics, she explained. “I lost my father as a result of the chaos that El Salvador went through. He was murdered, but he left a legacy in that country.” more

April 21, 2021

By Donald Gilpin

James Demetriades

James Demetriades, who became CEO of Penn Medicine Princeton Health (PMPH) on March 1, is leading the growing medical center through the second year of a pandemic and into a future of transformations that he continues to pilot.

In an April 13 phone interview, he noted that he and PMPH learned many lessons over the past year as they confronted the unpredictable onslaught of COVID-19. Demetriades, however, in his 18th year at the hospital, already had plenty of experience in observing and participating in dramatic transformations. His role has grown and changed along with the medical center’s growth and change over the years.

Though he feels some nostalgia for the days of the old Princeton Medical Center on Witherspoon Street, before the move to Route 1 in Plainsboro in 2012, Demetriades emphasized the importance of the growth.

“I loved being in the center of town,” he said. “I certainly miss being able to stroll up Witherspoon Street to Nassau Street. But we’ve built a health campus that spans across an individual’s life cycle, from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia specialty office building to the hospital, which is the anchor tenant of our campus. We have sickness and wellness services, independent living, skilled nursing, assisted living and memory care, childhood and adult daycare.”

He continued, “Over the past 10 plus years we’ve created an integrated campus that, once complete, will represent a $1.5 billion asset to the residents of central New Jersey. Add to that our large behavioral health continuum with our 110-bed behavioral health hospital on Herrontown Road and another six outpatient facilities throughout the state.” He pointed out the limitations of the Witherspoon hospital location with demand and technology increasing rapidly and no space for expansion in town.  more

February 24, 2021

“EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME”:  Mijin Kim presides over the Kingston Deli on Route 27 in Kingston. In addition to serving more than 100 customers every day, she describes herself as “like a psychologist” or “like a bartender,” as she talks with her customers and learns about their families, their jobs, and their lives.

By Donald Gilpin

At 8 o’clock on a weekday morning, the Kingston Deli is a busy scene. The regulars, mostly men in their 70s and 80s, are all in their places, one at each of the eight tables spread around the room. They’ve been there for about an hour, and most of them were sitting outside in their cars before that, waiting for the deli to open.

There’s coffee drinking and eating breakfast and non-stop discussion of topics ranging from local news to personal reflections on the day ahead to history, politics, and international events. Difficulties in the COVID vaccination roll-out seemed to be the main topic on Monday this week, but most of the regulars apparently had succeeded in getting at least one of their two shots.

As the dialogue continues, a constant stream of customers — most essential workers, fire department, road crews, construction workers, snow plowers, landscapers,  painters, and others who don’t have time to sit down—come in, order at the counter, and take their food and coffee with them.

Presiding over the Kingston Deli is a woman named Mijin Kim. At least that’s her real name and the name her Korean friends and family know her by, but to most of the customers she’s known as just Kim, because, she says, her first name is too difficult for Americans to remember. And her Latino customers and employees all know her as Maria, a name given to her when she took Spanish classes in high school. She studies the Spanish language every day, regularly checks her Spanish notes posted on the counter, converses readily in Spanish, and says she is now semi-fluent.

The regulars, “Kingstonians not Princetonians” who come every day to the deli on Route 27, feel like a family, Kim says. “They grew up here and went to school together and their kids went to school together, and their grandchildren went to school together —for generations. Maybe they’re attracted to Kingston Deli because it feels like home. Everybody knows everybody here.” more

February 3, 2021

AIRCRAFT COMMANDER: Gavin Owens, U.S. Air Force captain and Princeton resident, shows off the KC-10 aerial refueling tanker aircraft he pilots out of McGuire Air Force Base on missions supporting military planes in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. (Photo courtesy of Gavin Owen)

By Donald Gilpin

For many Princeton residents, “a day’s work,” at least before the pandemic, might have involved significant travel, perhaps a long commute to New York or Philadelphia, maybe even a long road trip out of the area.

But in a typical day’s work, Gavin Owens, a U.S. Air Force captain and aircraft commander, often finds himself flying across the Atlantic, and maybe even returning to his apartment in downtown Princeton on the same day.

In the Air Force since 2014 after graduating from the U.S. Air Force  Academy in Colorado Springs with a degree in systems engineering management, Owens, 28, is currently based at McGuire Air Force Base in Burlington County, from where he pilots a KC-10 aerial refueling tanker, a military version of the DC-10 airliner.

Owens described his job: “There’s a crew of four. I’m the pilot in one of the front two seats of the plane, manipulating the controls. There are two pilots up front and a flight engineer who monitors all the systems. He calls out the steps on his check list, and the crew members respond as they accomplish those items. The last crew member is the boom operator.” more

September 30, 2020

“AN AMAZING GUY”: Dago Villanueva, just promoted to general manger at The Meeting House restaurant, came to the United States from Mexico 20 years ago. He has been in the restaurant business ever since, working his way up from porter to bus boy, to waiter to host, to front-of-the-house manager, and then manager. (Photo courtesy of Dago Villanueva)

By Donald Gilpin

When the pandemic hit New Jersey in March and all non-essential businesses faced a shutdown, Dago Villanueva sat down with Amar Gautam, The Meeting House co-owner, every day, trying to help chart the way forward for the Witherspoon Street restaurant that had opened just four months before.

“We didn’t know week to week if we were going to stay open,” said Gautam.  “But Dago never wavered throughout the pandemic. He was this force of ‘Let’s try,’ ‘Let’s do the best,’ ‘Let’s create a new business model,’ ‘Let’s become a takeout restaurant,’ which we had to do  — and he stayed with us.”

Gautam described how he had met Villaneuva before even buying the restaurant. “He’s a person you see everywhere. I knew him working in restaurants and walking around town,” he said. The previous owner of what used to be Two Sevens Eatery told Gautam, co-owner of The Meeting House with his wife Amanda Maher, that he’d need someone to help run the restaurant and that Villanueva was the right man  — “the best we’ve ever had.” more

June 26, 2019

TREE MAN’S HOLIDAY: Princeton Arborist Taylor Sapudar admires an eastern redbud while on vacation in London. Sapudar, who has been on the job in Princeton for just 14 months, has been in love with the outdoors ever since growing up in the Groveville section of Hamilton, near the woods that border Crosswicks Creek. (Photo courtesy of Taylor Sapudar)

By Donald Gilpin

As it develops its Climate Action Plan, the town is asking, “What can Princeton do to protect our natural environment?” One man with an answer to that question is Municipal Arborist Taylor Sapudar. His answer is “trees.”

In little more than a year since he was hired, Sapudar and his crew of six have planted more than 220 trees, with another 200 planned for the coming year. In a speech last week at a Sustainable Princeton forum at the Princeton Public Library, he noted the many ways in which trees can fight climate change and enhance the environment.

Sapudar pointed out that trees provide oxygen and clean air; can reduce asphalt temperature by nearly 36 degrees; can each absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year; reduce storm water runoff; reduce A/C costs by nearly 30 percent; improve health and reduce stress levels and community violence; increase property values nearly 15 percent; and create an area that encourages people to shop more and spend more. more

November 14, 2018

EXPLORING HISTORY: “I enjoy the opportunity to talk with people about history, and see them get excited about it. I also love seeing them get involved with an exhibit or event that we have put together.” Izzy Kasdin, executive director of the Historical Society of Princeton, is enthusiastic about introducing people to history’s unique insight and relevance to today’s world.

It’s not just facts and figures and dates. It’s ideas and events and explorations. And, especially, it is stories. Stories about people and places and not only major historical figures whose names we all know — but about those we don’t know. It’s about what they did, what they thought, how they lived, how they worked. more

July 25, 2018

“BOUNDLESS ENERGY:” Susan Conlon, head of Youth Services at the Princeton Public Library, finds her days full of surprises, cultivating creativity, growing ideas, and juggling multiple events and responsibilities. There is “no expectation of silence” on the third floor of the library. (Photo Courtesy of Susan Conlon)

By Donald Gilpin

From her first day of work at the Princeton Public Library (PPL) 19 years ago in July 1999, Susan Conlon realized she was in the right place. “I knew this was the place where I wanted to work. It’s hopping. There are so many things happening here.”

A “day’s work” for Conlon? Impossible to predict. “No day is ever the same as any other day,” she said. “It’s exciting and dynamic.” And with Conlon now leading the Department of Youth Services with a staff of 12, there’s more going on than ever before in her third floor realm. more

October 11, 2017

ART AND LIFE: From his childhood behind the Iron Curtain in Bulgaria to a successful career in the restaurant business (starting at a resort on the Black Sea) to a new life in New Jersey as a painter, muralist, and designer, Cvetko Ivanov has come a long way to his porch on Vandeventer Street, where he stands amidst a selection of his original works. 

By Donald Gilpin

Artist Cvetko Ivanov can be found most Saturdays and Sundays surrounded by dozens of his paintings on the front porch of the Vandeventer Street house where he lives with his niece and her husband. From his easy-going, friendly demeanor as he talks to passers-by and other interested customers, it might be hard to guess that his life has taken more than a few dramatic turns.  more

June 7, 2017

SAVE HER A SEAT: Gita Varadarajan, second grade teacher at Riverside School, has co-authored a book, “Save Me a Seat,” that Rhode island selected for this year’s Kids Reading Across Rhode Island initiative. She looks forward to her ongoing career as an author and educator.

Rhode Island celebrated “Save Me a Seat Day” on May 13, 2017 in honor of a recently published book co-authored by Riverside School second grade teacher Gita Varadarajan.

As part of the One State, One Book initiative and Kids Reading Across Rhode Island 2017 for students in grades three to six, the special day included an event at the state house with the authors, writing workshops, book signings, family activities, and even Indian dance and cricket demonstrations related to the cross-cultural theme of the book. more

May 17, 2017

FORTY-SIX YEARS OF SAFE CROSSING: Andy Tamasi, honored last week with an award of recognition from the Princeton Council, has served as a school crossing guard at various locations in Princeton since 1971.

More than 200,000 Princeton school children over the past 46 years have crossed the street under the watchful eye of crossing guard Costantino “Andy” Tamasi. There have been no injuries and no accidents.  more

March 8, 2017

In reflecting on how he arrived at his current position as co-owner, with his brothers Carlo and Anthony of the Terra Momo Group of local restaurants, Raoul Momo thought about a subject much in the news recently: immigration.

“My parents were immigrants,” he said. “They came to America in 1960. I was born in 1961. It’s a melting pot culture. We have the rich food cultures here thanks to immigrants. The fact that my parents were immigrants is part of the history of this country. Immigrants have brought with them the great food cultures, and the melting pot has so much potential for the future.”

Including Teresa’s Caffe and Mediterra on Palmer Square, Eno Terra wine bar and restaurant in Kingston, and The Terra Momo Bread Company on Witherspoon Street, the Momo’s restaurant group “all started with Teresa Azario Momo, our mother, who was born in Bergamo, Italy, and our father, Raul Momo Marmonti, who was born in Chile.”  more

January 18, 2017

Annie Isaacson, 47, yoga teacher and founder in 2014 of Rise Power Yoga on the second floor at 80 Nassau Street, believes in balance. She realizes that Rise Power Yoga is a successful business, but more important to her is leading a balanced life and providing a service to the community. As she explains it, “It becomes a space for a lot of people to show up and discover their radiance and deal with whatever they’re going through, whether it’s physical or emotional.” Annie lives in Princeton off Mount Lucas Road with her 13-year-old son. Here, in her own words, she talks about her journey to Rise Power Yoga. more

October 26, 2016


KEEPING PRINCETON HEALTHY: Jeff Grosser, Princeton Health Officer, is always on the go in his “constantly evolving job” of overseeing the Municipal Health Department.

Jeff Grosser, 32-year-old New Jersey native, came to head the Princeton Health Department in April 2014. He lives in Burlington County with his wife and three daughters, ages five, three and eight months. In his scarce free time, he loves going to the beach and surfing on Long Beach Island (LBI, where his parents live), playing soccer and coaching his daughters. He almost chose a career in professional soccer over public health. more

June 15, 2016

kyle all in a days work

Kyle Damm signed on at the Nassau Inn in December 2009 after graduating from Ohio State with a degree in hospitality management. Since then he has worked as a front desk agent, housekeeping manager, and, for the last three years, as front office manager. Described by his boss, director of rooms Nick Ballas, as “an encouraging force for the staff and our guests, down to earth, and very good at empathizing,” Kyle loves problem-solving and working with people every day on the job. “He understands the guests and their preferences,” Mr. Ballas added. “Whatever their needs are, he understands them. He’s our ace here.” Kyle, 29, who grew up in Hamilton, now lives in Plainsboro with his girlfriend Jessica. Here, in his own words, Kyle talks about life as the front desk manager at the Nassau Inn.


April 6, 2016

all in a days

“GET A LEG UP ON LIFE”: Kristin Friberg, librarian at Princeton Public Library, loves her job and recommends a visit to the library to take advantage of its collection and its many other valuable resources. (Photo by Donald Gilpin)

“To Listen, to Engage, to Grow” — Kristin Friberg, Readers’ Services Librarian

Kristin Friberg has been a librarian at Princeton Public Library (PPL) for the past 11 years. According to Brett Bonfield, executive director of the library, “Kristin is an extraordinary librarian, a wonderful colleague, and terrific asset to our community. She clearly loves her work, takes pride in her ability to help people enjoy this great library and its outstanding collection, and brings other significant talents to our workplace as well. She’s a skilled, funny, and poetic writer and editor who helps the library tell its story through its blog and via Instagram, and, though she rarely needs to make use of this talent, at least during her desk shifts, she has a marvelous singing voice. The more I get to know Kristin, the more grateful I am for the work she does in our community’s behalf.” more

March 16, 2016


Get those baskets ready!

Make Easter fun for the whole family with these personalized Easter gifts. Simply click on each item to purchase. more

February 24, 2016

all in a days work

FROM BROOKLYN TO MT. LUCAS ROAD: Brooklyn-born Grisele Gamboa at her desk at the Pediatric Group on Mt. Lucas Road: “I can’t see myself working anywhere else.” (Photo by Donald Gilpin)

Grisele Gamboa is a medical assistant at The Pediatric Group on Mt. Lucas Road in Princeton. After a series of jobs first in her hometown of Brooklyn, then getting married and moving to New Jersey and working as a paraoptometric assistant for Dr. Charles Allen in Princeton and a brief stint in the corporate world, she decided that nursing would be her future. Starting at The Pediatric Group about four years ago was a big step in that direction. Grisele, age 29, lives in Bridgewater with her husband and two-year-old son and is expecting another child in early May. She hopes to stay with The Pediatric Group forever and plans to earn her RN and possibly nurse practitioner degrees as she juggles her family and career over the next few years. Here, in her own words, Grisele talks about her life in the pediatrician’s office.  more

January 20, 2016

all in a days work

PARKING ENFORCEMENT FROM A TO Z: Greg Glassen is one of three Princeton meter officers, but he does a lot more than just give out parking tickets in his multiple roles with the Princeton Police Department.

Ever have trouble parking in downtown Princeton? You might have seen Greg Glassen around town in his role as parking enforcement officer or perhaps keeping the traffic moving and the kids crossing safely at the morning school crossings. Or maybe at Communiversity, or a parade, or a storm emergency, or any one of many other events and special occasions where he helps out his Princeton Police Department colleagues. Greg, age 55, retired from the West Windsor Police Department in 2009 after 21 years, joined Princeton Parking Enforcement temporarily in 2010, then in 2012 took on his current full-time position as one of three meter officers in town. He loves the job, enjoys the camaraderie with his PD colleagues and enjoys meeting all kinds of people in the course of a day’s work. “He’s outgoing,” says his boss, Sgt. Steven Riccitello. “He’s high-energy. He’s got a great personality, gets along with everybody. He’s an asset to the Police Department with his experience. He wears a lot of hats.” Recently married, Greg lives with his wife and seven-month-old daughter. Here, in his own words, Greg talks about the life of a parking enforcement officer. more

May 27, 2015

Days Work

Since coming to Princeton two years ago to become executive director of the municipality’s office of human services, Elisa Neira has been putting her bilingual skills to good use. Originally from Ecuador, Ms. Neira immediately began partnering with local police to improve community relations with minority residents, particularly those whose first language is Spanish. She spearheaded Princeton’s commitment to the Affordable Care Act, manages the Family Support Services Department and has developed a newsletter with resources and information for families. Among other good things, she collaborates with local schools and food banks to provide a supplemental weekend food program for children, the Send Hunger Packing Program, known as SHUPP. Interviewed in her office in Monument Hall, Ms. Neira, who is 27, tells me she’s an “open book.” Here, in her own words, she talks about the job she loves and about her recent love affair with the land of her birth.

“I grew up in coastal city of Guayaquil, where my Dad ran a business he inherited from his father. He was an engineer and traveled a lot, doing electrical work. His family has been in the United States since the 1950s and when I was a child we often visited my grandma and my aunts in the summers. There was always the possibility of my family moving to the United States and I was in an English language school since I was five, at an all girl’s Catholic school. I came here with my Mom, Teresa, and my Dad, Walter, when I was 11, in the spring of 2001.

We first settled in Bridgeton, South Jersey, but I spent the first summer visiting cousins in Canada—I have family everywhere—and when I got back my parents had moved to Woodstown, where they thought the schools would be better for me. My parents still live there and they love it. I like to spend as much time with them there as possible.

Coming here as an immigrant myself and being bilingual, I found that it was natural for me to be helping other immigrants. I grew up in a town that had few minorities and learned how helpful it was to be bilingual in Spanish and English. I did a lot of volunteering. After graduating high school, I went to Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. My bachelor’s degree is in social work and Spanish translation and interpretation. As an undergraduate, I was clueless at first, not knowing what to study. I took courses in biology and in French and literature and sociology. Then I took “Introduction to Social Work,” which not only introduced the concepts of social work but also offered experience in the field. It was taught by Duwayne Battle and he became my mentor. I am a doer and social work is much more hands-on than sociology. After that I went on to take a master of social work, client center management at Fordham University in New York.

My first job was with the New Jersey Association of the Deaf-Blind. I was a department of one and so I learned a lot over the four years I was there. Then one day, I saw the Princeton job described on a blog. Although I had experience working for a non-profit, I didn’t have any in local government but I applied. I didn’t believe I would get the job and when I did, I was amazed. It happened; they trusted me!

When I first came to Princeton, I heard people ask, why is there a social services department in this wealthy town? What is there to worry about in Princeton?. I learned very quickly from the nine-member Human Services Commission about the challenges, even here. Still, I wanted to hear about the needs of community,from the people themselves and shortly after I arrived I began a community needs assessment (CNA).

Being a social worker, I knew all about needs assessment and that was my first challenge. I was fortunate that a volunteer who arrived from London about a month after I came here, Deanna, is great with statistics. We did this together. We researched other models and found one in Snohomish in Washington State. We had very helpful conversations with them.

This was, for me, the best way of learning about the community, local organizations and community leaders. We spoke with 200 households, and with people in public housing, affordable housing, and we had four focus groups: Latinos, Seniors, Singles, and Families. The CNA is about to wrap up and we will be presenting a report to the mayor and Council. It’s a long report but it’s important as it will allow us to better serve those in the community who are most vulnerable, people who may have limited resources and, in some cases, limited access to education.

Every day is different. The first business day of the month I meet with those on public welfare assistance, about 35 clients currently come in for cash assistance and/or welfare checks, their only income. For those in need, we may also pay rent or cover their mortgage for up to 12 months, help with transportation, gas money for medical appointments, for utilities. But we don’t just hand out checks, we help with finding jobs, dealing with applications , connecting with other services.

People who qualify for this help may be out of a job and have exhausted their unemployment benefits; they may be physically or mentally disabled and have exhausted or for some reason not qualified for disability relief or they may be in the process of applying for Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability, which can take a long time.

Since I began, the members of the Human Services Commission have provided me with invaluable support and much has been accomplished because of them. This is a team effort and we now have the Send Hunger Packing Program, the ‘Serving Princeton’ newsletter; we have founded the immigration subcommittee and tackled the issue of wage theft, which resulted in getting the landscape workers ordinance in place.

Washington D.C

Earlier this year, I went to Washington with Mayor Liz Lempert with the My Brother’s Keeper Challenge program. When I got the email from the mayor about the visit to The White House, I couldn’t believe it. We met with White House staff, although we were hoping, of course, to meet with President Obama, but it wasn’t to be. Traveling by train was great; it allowed us time for debriefing on the way back; there was a lot of information to take in that day. Liz and I felt very blessed to be working in Princeton, which, although it has its challenges, it doesn’t have the serious problems of violence that are faced by other municipalities. After that visit, I came back to Princeton wanting to do more for kids through the My Brother’s Keeper program.

There are so many people doing great things in Princeton. We want to support them and maximize their efforts. One way we can do that is by identifying gaps and help them in measuring outcomes—that’s one thing that busy organizations don’t always have time for, measuring the effectiveness of their efforts.

Exploring Ecuador

I live in Lawrenceville near the Lawrenceville-Hopewell trail and I enjoy riding my bike there and kayaking on the Delaware and Raritan Canal and on the lake in Mercer County Park. This part of New Jersey is great for access to New York City. In December of 2013, I went back to Ecuador for the first time in 14 years. It was wonderful and I’ve visited four times in the last two years, traveling the country seeing as much of it as I can. When I lived there with my parents, the coast and Quito was all I knew. Since then, I’ve discovered beaches, mountains, and the Amazon rain forest. I have fallen in love with Ecuador and my goal is to get to know it better. This October, I plan to visit the Galapagos.