For Naomy De Peña, who is set to become Belleville’s first Latina Deputy Mayor at the annual Town Council reorganization meeting on July 1, the role of trailblazer comes with a lot of responsibility.
“For the children that look like me or who are minorities that are saying, ‘What could I? What could I accomplish when I grow up?’
They seek representation,” she said. “I can become that. They can look at me and see someone who is like them who is in this leadership role.”
De Peña, who is Puerto Rican and Dominican, has been a leaderon the Township Council over the past three years, whether it was helping keep residents safe and sound during the COVID-19 pandemic, working to expand the free pre-K program or hosting the township’s first Women’s Day celebration that paid tribute to some of the female heroes in Belleville.
The lessons of unceasing, unwavering service for others were instilled in De Peña from an early age.
Her parents, Rev. Luis and Teresa Fernandez, were missionaries who dedicated their lives to building schools and providing medical care to the sick and injured in remote areas of the Dominican Republic.
“I come from a background of what we call service leadership,” she said. “The goal ultimately is to serve people when you're in a position of influence, when you're in a position of leadership.
It's not about a title, but about serving. And that's what we've always done. We’ve looked for ways to make others’ lives better.”
De Peña would come to Belleville during the summer to spend time with extended family and immersivity learn English. Eventually, her family relocated to the township after falling in love with its people, its culture and, of course, its cherry blossoms.
Service continues to be the foundation for almost every aspect of her life, including in her spiritual life, as she serves as an ordained minister in her church.
She also taught in Belleville’s public schools for several years before becoming a small-business owner.
De Peña said she is excited that her parents, her husband, Allen, and children Caleb and Chloe attend the July 1 swearing inceremony. Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Roselle) will perform the oath. She received unanimous support from her colleagues on the council in being appointed to the one-year role as Deputy Mayor.
“I am honored to work with Mayor Michael Melham, who embraces diversity and understands the importance of inclusion in a town with a growing Latino population,” she said. “And it’s a privilege working with fellow Council members who believe that our diverse experiences and backgrounds help us to betterserve the people of Belleville.”