Community Leaders Honored at Northern New Jersey Community Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Celebration

(Hackensack, NJ; November 20, 2023) ─ The Northern New Jersey Community Foundation (NNJCF) honored community leaders in Bergen County, New Jersey at its 25th Anniversary Celebration on Thursday, October 26, 2023 at AURA Restaurant & Bar in Hackensack, New Jersey. 

The sold-out festivity honored community leaders and featured signature cocktails, delicious food, and tons of laughs 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 in the arts and culture, creative placemaking, environmental protection, 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.

Community Leaders Honored

            The NNJCF honored these local heroes in the areas of civic leadership, the arts and the environment for their contributions to the community:

• 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.  His leadership of the NNJCF helped the organization move from a small volunteer-run group focused on Englewood to a regional philanthropic institution that has benefited several communities, nonprofit organizations and individuals in North Jersey.

• 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, chairperson of the Hackensack Environmental Commission, and co-leader of Girl Scout Troop 95880.  Among her leadership roles, she serves on the advisory board to the City Council concerning matters of open space, water resources, and pollution control, and environmental issues.

• 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 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 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 is on the team leading the NNJCF’s Green Infrastructure for Environmental Justice initiative.


• 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, legal and administrative support.


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



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

            People, who were unable to attend the 25th Anniversary Celebration, may support the organization with a donation at or send a check made out to The Northern NJ Community Foundation (NNJCF), 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 Northern New Jersey Community Foundation helps communities in North Jersey become better places to live, work, and enjoy by bringing people together to address pressing issues, such as 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 have been created for artists, designers and makers, while also leveraging the power of the arts and creative placemaking to enhance communities in Bergen County.  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 Northern New Jersey Community Foundation's work, call 201-568-5608 or send an e-mail to

About Northern New Jersey Community Foundation
             Founded in 1998, the Northern New Jersey Community Foundation, a not-for-profit 501(c) 3 organization based in Hackensack, New Jersey, works with local governments, school districts, businesses, non-profit organizations, and citizen groups to improve community life.  Through collaborative partnerships, regional problems are identified and resolved.  Opportunities are discovered and explored by talking and learning from each other and sharing ideas, best practices, services and resources.  The Foundation's primary areas of work are the environment, arts and culture, public health, education, civic engagement and philanthropy.  For more information, visit, send an email to, or call 201-568-5608.

Photo Caption: From left to right: Emcees Chris Fitzgerald and Ryan Huban from Howdy Stranger; Monica Chavarria-Malin, recipient of the Arts Leadership Award; Albert Dib, recipient of the Civic Leadership Award; Jennylyn Brown, recipient of the Environmental Leadership Award; Michael Shannon, president and co-founder of the NNJCF and recipient of the Community Vision Award; Danielle DeLaurentis, associate director of the NNJCF; Mary Call Blanusa, NNJCF board member; Chris Percopo, NNJCF board member; Leonardo Vazquez, executive director of NNJCF; and Ken Bland, NNJCF board member.  Not shown NNJCF board member Dr. Leslie Lipka, MD., Ph.D.

Photo Credit: Josh Passaretti | Jmp Media

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