Prudential presents Newark Cornerstones

Over the past several months, Prudential, Prudential Center and Mayor Baraka’s office worked together to recognize eight extraordinary individuals as finalists for Newark’s Cornerstones for their dedication to making a positive impact on Newark’s future. The grand prize recipient will now be decided by public vote between now and March 31. Meet our finalists below and cast your vote for who you think is most deserving of the ultimate prize, two tickets to Prudential Center events for one year.

Stay tuned as the winner is announced at the Devils game on Saturday, April 8.

Meet Our Finalists

Allison James Frison

Nomination submitted by Tashima Sample

In September 2009, Allison James developed her own nonprofit organization, Girls; Live, Love, Laugh Inc. Mentor Program. Allison is the Founder and Executive Director and has been working with young girls in the city of Newark for the past 8 years. Allison has touched lives of over 500 young girls through mentorship and teaching them basic life skills. Allison's hard work and dedication to Newark Youth, did not go unnoticed by the City of Newark's Mayor Ras Baraka. In 2015 the Mayor honored the group by proclaiming September 16 as Girls; Live Laugh and Love day in the city of Newark.

Over the years Allison observed that there was a dire need for enrichment programs for young boys as well. This led to her vision to create a program for both boys and girls. In July 2015 she opened the doors of her first Summer Enrichment Camp out of the basement of her church home, Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church in Newark NJ. The Youthpreneur Summer Enrichment Camp goal is to provide opportunities for exposure to activities and experiences that would normally not be available to underprivileged youth.

Allison is the first generation grad, she graduated from Essex County College (Cum Laude) with her AAS Degree in Human and Social Services and is currently enrolled at Rutgers University Newark School of Social Work Program. Allison has received many other accolades and has been featured in numerous magazines for her commitment to the City of Newark.

Sister June Favata

Nomination submitted by Theresa Nolan

Sister June Favata is an unsung hero among us, a woman of substance, deserving of recognition for her life-long acts of selfless giving and service as an educator, mentor and community leader in the City of Newark.

A Sister of Charity of Saint Elizabeth for 50+ years, Sister June has been at Saint Vincent Academy, an inner-city, college-prep high school for girls founded in 1869, for over 45 years. She arrived on the cusp of the horrific Newark riots of the late 60's and the great middle class exodus that followed. Sister June stayed the course in the City of Newark and vowed to see Saint Vincent Academy continue to be the beacon on the hill, an educational haven for young girls. Thousands of young girls of color and first-generation immigrants' daughters have graduated from the rigorous academic curriculum at SVA. For many years the school boasts a 100% graduation rate with nearly 100% going on to college (the class of 2016 earned $16 million in merit-based college scholarship awards!) Sister June directs the day-to-day administration of SVA as one of a three-member administrative team, and they work in tandem with a gifted faculty.

How does she do it, and why? The “why” can be answered easily. Sister June believes that education is the social equalizer and the path out of disadvantage. An educated woman will be a proud and confident woman, self-actualized and capable of contributing greatness to her community. In a setting where girls take center stage, Sister June has an amazing ability to touch each one of the students in a unique way, letting each and every student know that she has something special to contribute to the community.

Chef Vonda McPherson

Nomination submitted by Keisha Cole

Chef Vonda currently owns two restaurants in the city of Newark, NJ, Vonda's Kitchen and Duke's Southern Table; she also has an award winning catering and events planning business, Vonda K's Catering & Events. She has a reputation for ground breaking healthy cuisine, which landed her an opportunity to cater for the 2014 Super Bowl.

She has been featured in the Star Ledger, Black Entrepreneurs, The Super Bowl Committee Business Connect Newsletter, Radius Magazine, New Jersey Monthly, AARP, NJPAC Monthly Magazine, Positive Community, Newark Bound Magazine, Huffington Post, Pete Genovese's NJ Food and Wine, as well as countless other media outlets. She has also been featured on Channel 12 News, CBS Phoenix, AZ, and recently, she was featured in The Food Network's Holy and Hungry, with host Sherry Shepherd. This year she participated as a guest Chef in WBLS' Circle of Sisters Culinary Corner. Her goal is always to define the needs of the community.

Chef Vonda continues to make an impact in her community and understands the need for quality, healthy food. Chef Vonda has spoken at numerous events focused on being a successful entrepreneur as well as worked with the children of Newark and encouraged them to make healthy meal choices. She consistently gives back to the community by donating to various causes as well as volunteering her venue space for nonprofit events. This year she became the Newark Ambassador for the 2016 AIDS Walk. She provides catering for various organizations within the community, donating to the Grassroots Foundation, City Without Walls, Shiloh Baptist Church, Newark Planned Parenthood, The City of Newark, and The Greater Newark Conservancy. She also had the opportunity to work with a community service organization Power, where she prepared and served a full meal to women who were victims of domestic violence.

Jim White

Nomination submitted by Wayne Paglieri

For roughly 30 years, Jim White has worked tirelessly in various capacities for Covenant House. Since 1994, Jim has mostly served as the Executive Director of Covenant House New Jersey (CHNJ), a shelter for homeless youth aged 18-21 with main location in Newark.

In 1994, CHNJ consisted of two small, non-residential operations in Atlantic City and Newark. Jim began to work with youth and staff to develop, articulate and fulfill a vision to transform the lives of homeless young people in NJ. He created a 40 bed residential facility on Washington Street in Newark from a warehouse. CHNJ has expanded to 7 locations in NJ and now serves roughly 2,000 youth annually across NJ with 120 beds including 52 in Newark and 12 in Elizabeth.

Through his vision, CHNJ provides more than “just” food and shelter. CHNJ is making a difference in lives through a variety of services such as medical, legal, educational, vocational, parenting and life skills designed to transition youth to a lifetime of independent living. During his tenure, he has successfully grown the budget roughly 12 times to expand and support these services and he has done so prudently, as CHNJ receives a 4-star rating (highest) from Charity Navigator.

Yet, despite overseeing a now larger CHNJ, Jim remains close to the youth we serve currently as well as the alumni who have transitioned out of CHNJ. Jim is keenly aware of the need to provide the youth with hope and love and in this regard does much to lead by example.

Akbar Cook

Nomination submitted by Aaron Turner

Akbar Cook is vice principal at West Side High School (WSHS). But he's much more than a vice principal. In the three years I've known him, he's inspired a whole host of people - from his own students to heads of corporations - to do more and be more for each other. Last summer, he had a little dream to start a recreation program at night for kids in and around WSHS. Getting it funded was the easy part, keeping the program going each and every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday night and making sure hundreds of students were engaged and having a good time should have been exhausting after an already full day of work, but Akbar is a do-er and lover and he just kept it all going. At 11pm when the program ended, Akbar would take any leftover food down to Newark Penn Station to give to "neighbors without homes." Akbar is a big guy at over 6'7" and his heart is as big as they come.

After realizing that his students were not eating enough on the weekends, he partnered with the Community Food Bank of NJ to provide food packs each Friday night to any student /family in need. Understanding that many of his students aren't coming to school because they don't have clean clothes, he's pursuing building out a laundromat/study hall in the school. Akbar sees a barrier and he breaks it, sees a need and fills it.

Perhaps no one could describe Akbar's dedication to the people of Newark like Barry Carter did this summer.

Charity Haygood

Nomination submitted by Ryan Haygood

Charity Haygood is a national treasure. We are fortunate to have her here in the mighty city of Newark. For 21 years, she has served this city as a master teacher, educating thousands of district school children in Newark's South Ward. For the last 7 years, Charity has served as the principal of Avon Avenue School, powerfully moving the school from the lowest performing school in Newark to the middle of the pack in a short timeframe. She has been featured for her work in the New York Times, as the heroine in "The Prize," and in numerous videos like "Closing Plenary: Charity Haygood & Stacie Alvarez".

But as her husband, I can tell you this: Charity's singular focus is her kids, not notoriety. For that reason, though she could teach anywhere, and live anywhere, she does both right here in Newark's South Ward, in easily one of the most difficult schools. And she loves every minute of it. For these reasons, and so many more, Charity is perfect for this award. And I promise you this: if you select her, she will bring a different student with her to each event!

Kimberlee Williams

Nomination submitted by Tashia Burton

Kimberlee Williams is an accomplished community economic development advocate and communications expert that currently works as the Director of Communications and Marketing for Rutgers University Newark.

Her work is at the forefront of communities becoming engines of an economy that works for all. An inaugural TED Resident at TED NYC headquarters and the Founding Curator of Newark Global Shapers community of the World Economic Forum, Kimberlee embodies boundless energy and enthusiasm, and a powerful sense of commitment. For thirteen years she has been the CEO and Chief Marketing Strategist at FEMWORKS, a Newark-based multicultural marketing and communications firm. FEMWORKS is best known for campaigns such as Status is Everything HIV Prevention, Go Newark Hoopfest, the annual Lincoln Park Music Festival, Newark LGBT Pride, and for producing the first ever community driven TEDx - TEDxBroad Street. Additionally, under her leadership FEMWORKS has incubated numerous other local entrepreneurs that are now job creators and culture shapers in their own right.

Fueled by her knowledge and experience as a Local Economy Fellow at the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), Kimberlee is consciously a community builder; she has launched small business advocacy organizations; Forward Ever Sustainable Business Alliance and New Jersey LGBT Chamber of Commerce. As a result, she was recognized by her peers with the 2014 New Jersey Social Entrepreneur of the Year at Rutgers Business School 1st Annual Entrepreneurship Awards Ceremony. Her continued efforts to leverage the power of global networks to shape projects and places in ways that transform metropolitan areas, embed technology and bring to life underutilized urban areas goes unparalleled.

Proudly extending her leadership acuity to her community as Senior Entrepreneur in Residence of the Newark Business Hub in 2016, a program of Rutgers Business School Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, Kimberlee continues to lay the foundation for an ongoing conversation about how to equip entrepreneurs of distressed urban areas with the skills they need to expand, as well as to create an environment conducive to their success.

A'Dorian Murray-Thomas

Nomination submitted by Lakita Llyod

I am honored to nominate A'Dorian Murray-Thomas because she is such an amazing and powerful person. She has also been my mentor for two years.

A'Dorian was seven years and her father was killed while coming home from his store. She was devastated and she knew she had to do something for herself along with other girls who were affected by the cruel ways of our world. A'Dorian started SHE Wins!, which is a leadership organization for girls who were affected by homicide in the city of Newark. She Wins! was fully born in July 2015. Going into this program I was kind of nervous because I didn't know what the future held for SHE Wins!, the girls or even myself. Although I was not personally affected, I was disgusted at how high the homicide rate was in New Jersey. In 2015, 770 more people were killed in major cities last year than the year before. That's 770 more kids or families that have to deal with the horrible means of our world.

A'Dorian has just hit the tip of the ice berg and she continues to hack at that iceberg doing as much as she can whenever she can to empower girls. I am beyond happy that I can call her my mentor. She is such a brave soul to be able to share her story and talk about what drives her and pushes her to keep going. In SHE Wins!, I never thought I would gain such a powerful person in my life. When I grow older this may sound cheesy but I want to be just like her. A'Dorian saw a problem and something in her said she had to fix it and she has been fixing things ever since.