By: Lauren T. Agnew
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. hosted the County’s Annual Latino Heritage Celebration on Tuesday, October 4th in the Essex County Martin Luther King, Jr. Justice Building. DiVincenzo led a spirited celebration to pay homage to the rich culture and traditions of U.S. residents who trace their roots to the Spanish speaking nations of Europe, Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
During the program, DiVincenzo presented the County’s 2022 Estrella del Condado de Essex Awards (Stars of Essex County) to Isabel Cruz, Constituent Services Coordinator for Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. and member of the Essex County College Board of Trustees, and Alfaro Ortiz, retired Director of the Essex County Correctional Facility, for their commitment to improving the lives of all residents, their leadership, and dedication to public service.
“We are honored to recognize Isabel Cruz and Alfaro for their commitment to improving the lives of all residents, their leadership, and their dedication to public service,” said DiVincenzo. “Our cultural celebrations give us an opportunity to honor and recognize the diversity of Essex County and learn about the heritage of our constituents,” he noted.
Alfaro Ortiz joined the Essex County team in 2006 as Deputy Director and was promoted to Director in 2009. In Essex County, he helped gain accreditation from the American Corrections Association for the first time, got the facility through Hurricane Sandy, established intergovernmental partnerships with Federal and municipal agencies, and led the facility through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to coming to Essex County, he had 30 years of industry experience with the NJ Department of Corrections. His wealth of knowledge and experience proved beneficial to the County as he led the Department to new heights.
Alfaro was a career NJ Department of Corrections employee who worked his way up the ranks from a Corrections Officer Recruit to Administrator.
Prior to Essex County, Ortiz was the Administrator at East Jersey State Prison, a maximum-security prison from 2004-2006, where he was responsible for 800 employees, 2,000 inmates and a budget of about $60 million. He also was responsible for establishing policy, procedures, and rehabilitative programs.
Earlier, Ortiz was Administrator at Riverfront State Prison, a medium security prison in Camden, from 2002 to 2004; Northern State Prison, a maximum-security prison in Newark, from 2000 to 2002; and Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility in Annandale from 1996 to 2000. Before that, he worked at East Jersey State Prison as Associate Administrator and Assistant Superintendent and at the NJ Corrections Central Office in Trenton as Principal Investigator and Certified Polygraph Examiner in the Internal Affairs unit. He began his career as a Corrections Officer at New Jersey State Prison (formerly Trenton State Prison) in Trenton in 1976.
He is a member of the American Polygraph Association and American Correctional Association, Board of Trustees member with the Middle Atlantic State Correctional Association and Board Member with the Mercer County Hispanic Association.
Ortiz attended Caldwell College (now University) School of Criminal Justice where he pursued a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. He attended Trenton State College, now the College of New Jersey, and received certification as a public manager from Rutgers University. He is a resident of Avenel.
“I am humbled and honored to receive this award; you have no idea how much receiving this award means to me. I want to thank the County Executive for giving me the opportunity to have a leadership role in the facility for the last 16 years,” Ortiz said.
Isabel Cruz is a seasoned professional with 26 years of experience working for members of the United States House of Representatives.
Currently serving as the Constituent Services Coordinator for the Office of Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. in the 10th Congressional District, Ms. Cruz has a myriad of responsibilities such as: serving as liaison for constituents to resolve issues with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Internal Revenue Service, Welfare & SNAP, organizing mobile offices in municipalities and opportunities to partner with Essex County and other agencies, training new employees and assigning all casework for the Newark, Jersey City and Hillside offices, among other things.
She also created the Congressman’s Identity Theft Presentation to protect senior citizens from becoming victims of identity theft. From 1996 to 2012, Ms. Cruz was Special Assistant to the late Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr., serving as the liaison for constituents to resolve issues with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Military & Veterans Affairs, the IRS and United States Citizen and Immigration Services
Serving as a Trustee on the Essex County Board of Trustees is a full-circle moment for her, as a May 2008 graduate of the institution. In this role, she is a member of the Personnel and Community Relations Committees and Chair of the Policy and Governance Committee. Ms. Cruz is a New Jersey Democratic State Committee Member, Executive Committee Member of the Essex County Democratic Committee and former Member of the Advisory Commission, Council for Airport Opportunity and former Board Member of Newark Day Center.
“I am proud and humbled to be chosen to receive this honor. I really do enjoy being able to help constituents and I feel great pride to serve as a Board member at the college and give back to the community,” Cruz said.
Rev. Maria Ortiz from The Fountain of Life Church delivered the program’s invocation. Entertainment was provided by the Arts High School Latin Band, under the direction of Kennis Fairfax.
The Latino Heritage Month Celebration is the part of a year-long cultural series created by County Executive DiVincenzo to highlight Essex County’s diversity.
Other cultural heritage celebrations include African American History Month, Irish Heritage Month, Women’s History Month, Italian Heritage Month, Jewish Heritage and Portuguese Heritage.