Four southern New Jersey citizens honored as emblematic of research institute’s mission
Photo by Richard Ratner
May 13, 2022
By Tom McLaughlin
The Senator Walter Rand Institute (WRI) for Public Affairs at Rutgers University–Camden honored four prominent southern New Jersey citizens – shining examples of its mission to foster a healthy, productive, and thriving South Jersey – as the 2021 South Jerseyans of the Year and Lifetime Achievement Award honorees.
They were recognized during the 20th annual Walter and Leah Rand Awards and Scholarship Dinner – postponed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic – on May 3 at The Mansion on Main Street in Voorhees Township.
Receiving the distinguished honor were Rob Curley, regional president at TD Bank; Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae; and Fred Wasiak, president and CEO of the Food Bank of South Jersey. Wilbert Mitchell, founding executive director of Respond, Inc., also received WRI’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
“These dedicated individuals each lend their talents in different ways and in a variety of sectors to be of service in their community,” said Mavis Asiedu-Frimpong, director of the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs. “They go above and beyond to provide support to those around them.”
According to the director, each year, WRI and its advisory board take great pride in selecting individuals in the community who are emblematic of the research center’s commitment to “make South Jersey strong and resilient.” She explained that the WRI has two main goals. First, it produces and highlights research leading to sound public policy and practice. Secondly, it convenes and engages stakeholders to make the connections across research, policy, and practice in support of South Jersey residents. “We exist to be of service in southern New Jersey and take that mission further by honoring those in our community who exemplify that commitment as well,” she said.
Asiedu-Frimpong further noted that WRI’s namesake – the late New Jersey Senator Walter Rand – had a deep commitment to South Jersey communities. His legacy thus lives on, she said, by uplifting the achievements of others who share this sentiment. “In doing so, we reflect on how we can all emulate their commitment to public service in our own way,” said the WRI director.
Curley is the South Jersey of the Year Private Sector Honoree. He was recently promoted to regional president for Pennsylvania and New Jersey at TD Bank overseeing all retail and commercial lending and government banking activities across the market. As former market president of TD Bank, he led a team of commercial and small business relationship managers throughout South Jersey. He also oversaw all corporate and charitable giving throughout that footprint. He is also active in the community and currently serves on numerous boards, including the New Jersey Bankers Association, Camden Community Partnership, the Boys & Girls Club of Camden County, and the Camden Health & Athletic Association.
Webb-McRae is the South Jersey of the Year Public Sector Honoree. As Cumberland County prosecutor, she is the chief law enforcement officer of the county, responsible for overseeing the 110-person office, which prosecutes indictable crimes throughout the county. Since 2017, she has shepherded over $3.9 million in grant funds to Cumberland County to steer youth away from gangs, address trauma, treat mental health, and battle opiate abuse.
Among her other accomplishments, she launched an annual back-to-school initiative, oversaw production of educational videos on nutrition and domestic violence, and created an anti-bullying educational curriculum. She also hosted a youth outreach symposium, a prescription drug abuse symposium, an anti-violence summit, and substance abuse and gang awareness conferences for school professionals.
Wasiak is the South Jersey of the Year Nonprofit Sector Honoree. As president and CEO of the Food Bank of South Jersey, Wasiak oversees all aspects of the organization, including financial sustainability, operational efficiency, community engagement, advocacy, staff enrichment, and board development. Under his leadership, FBSJ continues its mandate to alleviate hunger by eliminating barriers to food access and offering relevant programming and resources that seek to improve the lives of impacted residents. As an accomplished executive with more than 35 years of management and leadership experience, Wasiak is steering FBSJ to build upon the organization’s core competencies and pave the way for innovation and sustainability.
As noted, Mitchell received the Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1967, he founded the North Camden Day Care Program, which would later soon become Respond, Inc. Under his 54-year tenure, Respond became the largest day care provider in Camden County and expanded its programming to include rental housing and home ownership; services and housing for the elderly; and day programs for the homeless. It also provides workforce development programs in culinary arts and automotive technology, as well as a landscaping training program. Mitchell also received WRI’s South Jerseyan of the Year Award in 2005 for his work in the nonprofit sector.
Proceeds from the awards and scholarship dinner will afford Rutgers–Camden students opportunities to engage in real-world public affairs projects in service of the region’s residents. A key student engagement strategy is the WRI Graduate Fellowship, which supports graduate students in conducting research centered on the southern New Jersey region.
“Student engagement has always been central to the Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs and aligns with Rutgers–Camden’s broader approach to providing meaningful experiences for students,” said Rutgers University–Camden Chancellor Antonio D. Tillis. “Due to the generosity of our community partners, WRI is training the next generation of social science researchers and giving them an opportunity to give back to their communities, both incredibly valuable experiences.”
Asiedu-Frimpong with WRI staff and students. Photo by Richard Ratner
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