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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The first annual Hub City Hero award, a community service and activism award organized by New Brunswick Today, was awarded to Anthony Mendia on November 8, 2015.
Nominees for the Hub City Hero award were gathered from NBToday readership and other members of the public, and the top six nominees were opened to a public online voting process. Each nominee had a small biography about his or her work in the community and a portrait.
The nominees were (in alphabetical order) Heather Fenyk, Marisol Conde-Hernandez, John Keller, Bonfilia Jarquin, Anthony Mendia, and Barry Smith.
When the voting closed, Anthony Mendia won 1,170 votes. In total, there were over 1,600 votes.
Born in 1991, Anthony Mendia lived in New Brunswick and North Brunswick his whole life. He attended New Brunswick High School, and started his current job at Unity Square in 2012.
According to the Catholic Charities website, “Unity Square is a community organizing and social justice initiative of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Metuchen that works to empower community members and catalyze change…US addressed a diverse set of issues, including economic development, employment, civic participation, crime and safety, immigrants’ rights, and tenant’s rights.”
Mendia specifically works on the issue of wage theft. A common problem in the restaurant and temp agency industry, wage theft is when an employer promises wages to an employee but refuses to properly pay them.
“People come in [with wage theft cases] and I help them file with the Department of Labor,” Mendia said.
When asked what inspires Mendia to work with Unity Square, he cited his family and the immigrant community as the prime reasons. Both of Mendia’s parents immigrated to New Brunswick when they were young, his mother from Mexico and his father from Guatemala, and the struggles Anthony saw his parents experience made him want to do something to improve the situation for his hometown.
“I wouldn’t go to a different city and say ‘hey, this is wrong,’ but I know what’s wrong here because I see what’s wrong and I want to change it,” Mendia said.
Initially, Mendia thought he had to “just accept” the conditions New Brunswick immigrants experienced, such as low wages, but now he says “I can go up to employers and say, ‘this needs to change.”
In the future, Anthony plans on traveling the country, and possibly the world, while working as a community organizer.
To volunteer with Unity Square, go to http://www.ccdom.org/USQ.
All of the Hub City Hero nominees are working tirelessly to improve New Brunswick. Below is a list of each nominee, the work that they do, and how you can help.
Heather Fenyk: Creator of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, Heather works to improve the environment and to bring the Raritan River back to its clean prime. To help, volunteer at a stream clean-up day. You can find the stream cleanup schedule, and other events the LRWP is hosting, at http://lowerraritanwatershed.org/upcoming-events/
Marisol Conde-Hernandez: Marisol works tirelessly as an advocate for undocumented immigrants. As a core member of the DREAM Act coalition, a group of organizations and people who work to pass legislation to support undocumented immigrant students to be able to affordably obtain higher education and eventually citizenship, Marisol fights for the rights of New Brunswick residents every day. To help with this movement, go to http://drmactioncoalition.org.
John Keller: Through his arts advocacy and his work with the LGBTQ youth community, John is a role model for many community members. John is a leader of coLAB Arts, a community arts and activism conglomerate, and works to bring cultural programming that is affordable and accessible to every community member. If you would like to attend or help run a program, go to http://www.colab-arts.org.
Bonfilia Jarquin: Bonfilia is a strong leader and advocate for her community, and for children across New Brunswick. Working with the Esperanza Neighborhood Project, the New Brunswick public school PTO, and other neighborhood organizations, Bonfilia is known as someone who will always lend a hand or an ear. She is also a frequent speaker at City Council meetings, and works on the paid sick leave campaign. To help Bonfilia create safer neighborhoods, go to http://nbtomorrow.org/?lang=en.
Barry Smith: Barry Smith has worked in the community for years as the creator and Executive Director of YES (Youth Empowerment Services). YES provides afterschool tutoring, a mentorship program, English classes, youth activities, and a summer camp for New Brunswick residents. To volunteer as a tutor or a mentor, visit http://youthempowerment.us.