Inspiring Stories

Throughout Women’s History Month, Menendez Honors and Celebrate Countless Contributions of Women to the United States

PHOTO: Senator Bob Menendez (Flickr) PHOTO: Senator Bob Menendez (Flickr)

Created in tribute to the Senator’s late mother, who came to the United States from Cuba to give her children a better life, the Evangelina Menendez Trailblazer Awards were presented to outstanding New Jersey women who have made achievements in government, industry, education, science, the arts, and many other fields.

WASHINGTON, D.C. March 31, 2023 (Biz Republic) — U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) was honored to host his 12th Annual Evangelina Menendez Women’s History Month Celebration on Sunday, March 26, 2023 at Montclair State University where Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton served as keynote speaker. Throughout the month, Sen. Menendez honored the life and contributions of countless women from Frances Perkins, the first woman to service in a U.S. Presidential cabinet, to Mary Norton, who was the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from New Jersey.

Created in tribute to the Senator’s late mother, who came to the United States from Cuba to give her children a better life, the Evangelina Menendez Trailblazer Awards were presented to outstanding New Jersey women who have made achievements in government, industry, education, science, the arts, and many other fields. Evangelina Menendez passed away in 2009 after a long, courageous fight with Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s my honor to welcome Secretary Clinton to New Jersey to be the keynote speaker at my 12th Annual Women’s History Month Celebration,” said Sen. Menendez. “Her gracious service to our country has left an enormous legacy and has made her an iconic trailblazer who has paved the way for millions of American women for the generations to come.”

“We have to do everything in our power to make sure our daughters and granddaughters won’t live in an America that sees them as second-class citizens. And we have to make sure we are part of the struggle to defend and strengthen American democracy,” said Sec. Clinton. “I’m very confident that we will win this very important, almost existential, struggle that we’re engaged in right now. But only if we take it seriously; we speak up, we stand up, we vote, and we make it very clear we’re not going back anywhere.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton served as the 67th United States secretary of state under president Barack Obama from 2009 to 2013, as a United States senator representing New York from 2001 to 2009, and as the first lady of the United States from 1993-2000. In 2016, Clinton was the first woman in the nation’s history to win a major party’s nomination for president and went on to earn 66 million votes.

Past keynote speakers have included U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, and New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy. Past honorees include Judith Persichilli, Commissioner for the NJ Department of Health Commissioner; Roslyn Y. Rogers Collins, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan New Jersey; New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz; and Captain Jean O’Brien, Commanding Officer, U.S. Navy.

This year’s event, which was free and open to the public, featured awards to A’Dorian Murray-Thomas, Amanda Devecka-Rinear, Christine Girtain, Debbie Walsh, and Lourdes Cortez. The event emcee was Mayor Dahlia Vertreese of Hillside, and included vocal and dance performances from Elements of Style Dance Company and The Princeton Tigerlilies.



A’Dorian is the Founder & CEO of SHE Wins Inc., a leadership and mentoring organization for girls who, like her, lost a loved one to gun violence. Born and raised in the city of Newark, she made history when at 23 years old, she became the youngest woman ever elected to the Newark Board of Education, representing the largest school district in the state of New Jersey. A’Dorian was recently re-elected to the Board this past April. In that role, she has authored and advocated for policies and practices that promote culturally relevant curriculum, youth-based decision making, retention and hiring of diverse staff, and investing in student mental health. A’Dorian has been recognized as a President Obama White House Champion of Change, Glamour Magazine “College Woman of the Year”, NAACP NextGen Leadership Fellow, InsiderNJ Top Millennial Leader, and School Board Partners Anti-Racist Education Policy Fellow. A’Dorian currently serves as the Chair of the New Jersey State Democrats Women’s Caucus. In education, A’Dorian has served as an Associate Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, a translator for Spanish-speaking families, a middle & high school English teacher, and an advocate in alternative-education and restorative justice. A’Dorian is a 2016 graduate of Swarthmore College. She is currently a candidate for a Master of Divinity concentrating in Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.


Amanda is a fourth-generation Cedar Bonnet Island resident with more than 15 years of experience in community organizing and strategic leadership. Prior to founding the New Jersey Organizing Project in 2015, and Amanda was the National Campaign Director for National Peoples’ Action. Amanda began her career as Program Director for New York City PoliceWatch, part of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. As Executive Director of the New Jersey Organizing Project, a grassroots organization that works to get Sandy families home and advocates for disaster recovery programs that put families first, Amanda has been at the helm of gathering individuals affected by Sandy and serving as a consistent resource for the most vulnerable in the community. Most recently, she led the planning of the organization’s first convention on “Our Families, Our Future” with the goal to celebrate the victories of victims and discuss the challenges still left to overcome. She was a founding board member of FIERCE and the recipient of a Union Square Award in 2003 for work around criminal justice in NYC. She was part of city-wide student organizing to successfully preserve in state tuition, and thus access to public higher education for Immigrant New Yorkers. In 2005 as a lead organizer at NPA affiliate, the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, she led an effort that brought 25 million dollars to construct new schools in one of NYC’s most overcrowded school districts Why this nominee should be selected as a 2019 Evangelina Menendez Trailblazer recipient: Amanda is a proven leader in the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort and has worked closely with our office. Most recently, she worked with our office to organize events on the six-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey. She is a steadfast advocate and has worked to ensure that the Murphy Administration deliver on promises to victims of the disaster. In seeing her work in person, her ability to bring people together and elevate the voices of the most affected is uncanny and sets her apart as a true trailblazer.


Christine is the 2022-2023 NJ State Teacher of the Year, a current NJ finalist for the Presidential Awards for Math & Science Teaching, & the 2022 National Association of Biology Teachers Genetics Educator of the year. She is the Director of Authentic Science Research at Toms River HS North & Toms River HS South located in Toms River, NJ on the Barnegat Bay. She has been a science teacher for 28 years teaching Earth Science, Biology & Research. Christine has a BS in Biology from The College of NJ & an MA in Earth Science Instruction & Curriculum from Kean University. Christine has done work with DNA Barcoding & Metabarcoding of insects & soil microbes. Her students are learning to work in a global society across time zones, language barriers and cultural differences by partnering with Israeli students to look for the prevalence of a bacterium called Wolbachia in insects which blocks the spread of Dengue and Zika by mosquitoes. She enjoys hiking, traveling & doing ancestry research.


Debbie Walsh is nationally recognized as the leading source of scholarly research and current data about American women’s political participation. Its mission is to promote greater knowledge and understanding about women’s participation in politics and government and to enhance women’s influence and leadership in public life. CAWP’s education and outreach programs translate research findings into action, addressing women’s under-representation in political leadership with effective, innovative programs serving a variety of audiences. CAWP’s newest initiative, Teach a Girl to Lead™, is a unique resource that connects educators, leaders of youth organizations, parents, authors, librarians, women leaders and students in order to refocus the picture of public leadership to include women. The Teach a Girl to Lead™ web site offers one-stop shopping for anyone interested in expanding civic engagement and public leadership opportunities for girls and young women. Resources available on the web site help educate both boys and girls about the importance of civic participation and the significant roles women have played and continue to play in our democracy.


Lourdes is the interim President and CEO of North Jersey Federal Credit Union (North Jersey Federal), the 9th largest credit union in NJ with over $233 million in assets and branches in Totowa, Newark, Paterson, and Garfield. She initially retired as the CEO at the end of 2020, but returned as Interim CEO recently. Since being CEO in 2005, she has spearheaded growth from $168 million to $233 million in assets, an increase of 32%. Deposits have grown by 29%, total gross revenues by 5% and the credit union’s capital/equity by 30%, with growth of small business accounts ranging from 15% to 32% year-to-year. Lourdes’ strong work ethic developed early while employed at a family-owned jewelry. She later started with North Jersey Federal as a Financial Services Rep in 1984 and was then promoted to Mortgage Officer, Loan Department Supervisor, and Loan Collections Manager. In 2004, she was promoted to VP of Operations, then Senior VP. Through Operation Share & Care, she partnering with Paterson’s John F. Kennedy High School to integrate a student-run branch of the credit union as part of its financial literacy curriculum. Successful graduates have gained teller experience and are prepared for jobs in the banking and credit unions. Lourdes also founded the North Jersey Federal Credit Union Foundation to provide scholarships and resources to college students who choose to major in banking or finance and to support non-profits within the local communities, such as Boys & Girls Club of Paterson and Passaic, Eva’s Village, the Marines Care Organization and the Boy and Girl Scouts of Northern New Jersey.