35th Anniversary Honorees

The Honorable Bonnie Watson Coleman
U.S. Representative for Congressional District 12
U.S. Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) has built her career of public service advocating for the needs of New Jersey families and the equitable treatment of all people, standing up for racial and economic justice. Throughout five terms in Congress and her time in the NJ Assembly, Rep. Watson Coleman has been a champion of policies that help make our state a place everyone can afford to call home. From COVID-19 pandemic renter protections and foreclosure relief, to the Build Back Better infrastructure package, she has been a fierce and forward thinking advocate for vulnerable NJ residents. As a legislator, she has introduced the Stay Cool Act to help communities better prepare for heat emergencies, the Affordable Housing and Area Media Income Fairness Act of 2022 to increase access to affordable homes, and the Keep Your Home and Prevent Homelessness Act to help those experiencing homelessness, just to name a few.

Bonnie Watson Coleman is a trailblazer, becoming the first Black woman to represent New Jersey in Congress. She is a powerhouse, serving on the powerful Appropriations Committee and as Chair of the Policing, Constitution, and Equality task force in the Congressional Progressive Caucus. And she is a longtime friend of the Network.

Maisha Simmons
Assistant Vice President, Equity and Culture
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Since joining the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) in 2008, Maisha Simmons’ work has been dedicated to helping New Jersey be a healthier place to live, work, and play. She has been responsible for coordinating a variety of RWJF programs to promote healthy eating and active living, violence prevention, family supportive policies, and health equity.

Maisha has been at the forefront of the Foundation’s efforts to achieve health equity by advancing racial equity. Her leadership has helped to improve NJ’s health infrastructure, expand access to affordable homes and build community engagement to advance our common goal of securing safe, stable homes for everyone in New Jersey. In her prior role as Senior Director of NJ Grantmaking for RWJF, she elevated the deep connections between health and housing. She is an inaugural member of the NJ Reparations Council, currently serving on the Council’s Health Equity Committee which examines the impact of structural racism and social determinants of health on the health outcomes of Black residents in NJ. The Network is deeply grateful for all of Maisha’s work and support from RWJF for our shared agenda.

Deborah Cornavaca
Director of Government Relations, NJ Education Association
Former Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of the NJ Governor
As the former Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Phil Murphy, Deborah Cornavaca served as a key link between NJ’s nonprofit community and the Administration during one of the most difficult times of our state’s history. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed structural challenges so many of our residents face obtaining housing stability and the tremendous need for healthy, strong communities. During this time, Deborah worked closely with the Network and our members to keep residents safe and stably housed. Her responsiveness to the needs of New Jersey’s community development sector was crucial in empowering the Network’s members to meet the needs of the communities they serve despite the additional strain on resources brought on by the pandemic. In her role with the Murphy Administration, Deborah worked on an expansive range of policy issues, met with advocacy groups, and provided an effective channel of communication to the governor’s office.

In 2022, Deborah left the Office of the Governor to assume the role of Director of Government Relations for the New Jersey Education Association. Prior to her work as Deputy Chief of Staff, she worked in organizing, policy and lobbying roles for advocacy organizations like the New Jersey Working Families Alliance and Save Our Schools – New Jersey.

City of Newark and the Honorable Ras J. Baraka
Under the leadership of Mayor Ras J. Baraka, the City of Newark has been prioritizing making safe, healthy and affordable homes available for its residents. It was the first to take advantage of the monumental Land Bank Law, forming the Newark Land Bank in 2019. As a result of Network member organizing and advocacy, Newark was one of the first cities in the entire country to enforce a civil right to counsel for tenants facing eviction, creating the Office of Tenant Legal Services in 2018. In addition to addressing the homeownership wealth gap, Newark is also a leader in tackling homelessness, supporting innovative programs such as Hope Villages, a project converting shipping containers into code-compliant modular residences.

Since taking office in 2014, Mayor Baraka has helped strengthen neighbors across the city by addressing affordability while maintaining growth through responsible urban revitalization. As a result, Newark has received numerous accolades including several Outstanding Municipal Partner Awards for their work with Network members like Clinton Hill Community Action, La Casa de Don Pedro, and Ironbound Community Corporation. Our CEO has served on the Mayor’s Equitable Growth Advisory Commission since its founding. 

Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey
The Supportive Housing Association (SHA) is a statewide nonprofit association representing over 100 organizations that includes nonprofit and for-profit housing developers, service providers, allied statewide advocacy organizations, corporate vendors and professional organization all dedicated to the supportive housing industry. They recently celebrated their 25th year of serving NJ's special needs community by providing advocacy, education, community projects, training and more.

SHA has been a crucial Network partner on the fundamental concerns around healthy and affordable homes in NJ. Their steadfast advocacy has helped to protect the Mount Laurel doctrine, most recently joining efforts to advance fair housing reform in the legislature. They are a staunch supporter of protecting the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and resolving the critical issue of lack of housing vouchers. The tireless and effective work of SHA members, its Board and its terrific staff is helping to HouseNJ.

Community Foundation of New Jersey
In March 2020, the Community Foundation of New Jersey supported the launch of the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund (NJPRF) to address the urgent needs brought about by the COVID-19 public health crisis. With the assistance of tens of thousands of donors, NJPRF distributed $88 million in grants and co-investments to support programs throughout the state. NJPRF’s effective coordination of resources allowed the Network to launch Housing Help NJ, a hotline and website developed by the Network to connect NJ renters, landlords, and homeowners to information available from multiple sources to assist in preventing eviction and housing instability, as well as implementing a Renter Debt Relief Program to keep families who were facing evictions due to COVID-19 in their homes..

The mission of the Community Foundation of New Jersey is to create and scale custom solutions for purpose-driven individuals, families, and businesses. From creative projects that tackle critical societal or policy issues to scholarship funds, corporate philanthropy, legacy funds and donor advised funds, the Community Foundation manages nearly every kind of giving vehicle and tailors solutions to meet critical needs. We are grateful for the Community Foundation of NJ’s generous support and commitment to strengthening NJ communities.

TD Bank
TD Bank has long been a generous support of the Network and our members. They’ve been a sponsor of Under One Roof: The Network’s Community Development Conference and Membership Meeting and have assisted with professional development through the Non-Profit Training Resource Fund. TD Bank also provided $125,000 to support the Network’s HouseNJ initiative, empowering the Network to continue its work to ensure that our members have the resources, technical training, and support to provide the services they render in New Jersey’s communities, including HUD-certified housing counseling that prevents evictions and foreclosures.

The bank solidified its relationship with the communities it serves across New Jersey by signing an unprecedented $2 billion voluntary Community Reinvestment Act agreement with the Network and Network member NJ Citizen Action. The agreement, which runs through 2025, includes commitments from TD Bank for investments in affordable homes, affordable mortgage lending, and other community development projects. This pledge to invest over $2 billion for low- and moderate-income communities demonstrates a commitment to close the racial wealth gap and facilitate transgenerational wealth for Black & Brown families, while breaking down the barriers obstructing them from securing safe and affordable homes.

Carol Sainthilaire ~ Rising Leader
Carol Sainthilaire is a rising leader in NJ’s community development sector, taking on the role of Executive Director at The Waterfront Project, Inc. (WFP), a Network member, in January 2023. WFP is a legal center that provides free civil legal representation, HUD-certified housing counseling assistance, and advocacy to New Jersey residents who are asset-limited, income-constrained, homeless, or disenfranchised. At WFP, Carol oversees the strategic and operational aspects of the organization, ensuring the effectiveness and excellence of its programs, financial management, and communications.

Throughout the pandemic WFP, supported over 200 New Jersey families through eviction crisis and proudly led over 550 legal cases for people in need. The organization has grown tremendously since its founding in 2013 and is able to assist more residents across Northern NJ under Carol’s leadership. With a career spanning over a decade, Carol has consistently demonstrated her commitment to creating meaningful change in communities through her strategic leadership and programmatic expertise. It is an honor to work with her to help HouseNJ and we are proud to honor her as a rising leader during the Network’s 35th anniversary. 

Blair Schleicher Wilson
Former Network Board of Directors Chair

Former CEO of Morris Habitat for Humanity
Last serving on the Network's Board in 2021, Blair Schleicher Wilson is an accomplished leader who has helped to strengthen communities across Morris County in her 20 years as CEO of Morris Habitat for Humanity. She retired from the position last July but still serves as Vice Chair of the Housing Alliance for Morris County — where she is also a co-founder. During her tenure, Blair saw the Morris Habitat for Humanity grow into one of the state’s leaders in affordable housing development. She was a key voice in establishing the ReStore operation, creating neighborhood revitalization programs, providing various resources to residents during the early Pandemic, and so much more. 

Raymond Ocasio
Former Network Board of Directors Chair
Former Executive Director of La Casa de Don Pedro
Raymond Ocasio capped off his over 40 years of service in housing and community development when he retired from his role of Executive Director of La Casa de Don Pedro in 2021. In addition to serving as Chair of the Network's Board of Directors, Ray also spent time on the Newark Community Development Network Board, with Newark's Master Plan Working Group, and in leadership roles at Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and more. He led La Casa de Don Pedro to consistent growth, expanding its capacity to support the people of Newark and Essex County through community empowerment and neighborhood revitalization.