Frances B. Sellers Award – Reunion 2008

Teresa Ruiz’s life has been intimately bound up in the life of Newark, New Jersey, her birthplace and hometown.  Now that she serves in the New Jersey Senate, the entire state can benefit from her concern for the welfare of others.

After graduating from Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, Teresa came to The Forest, where she was a First Fidelity Bank Scholar in her junior year, majored in English and did considerable work in theatre arts and women’s studies, and spent six weeks studying art and culture in the “Drew in West Africa” program.  She began her post-college career in her local community, as a pre-school teacher at Newark’s North Ward Center, and was a founding member of the Center’s charter school, the Robert Treat Academy.  She has served over five years as a school trustee, and is also co-chair of the Center’s Hispanic Scholarship Program.

Teresa has been active in Essex County politics and government since 1997.  After serving as aide to a Newark City Councilperson, she moved to county government.  She began working as chief aide to Freeholder President Joseph DiVincenzo, who later became Essex County Executive, and continues to serve in the capacity of deputy chief of staff.  She was the first Puerto Rican woman on the Essex County Improvement Authority Board, was an elected delegate for John Kerry at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and has been vice chair of the Essex County Democratic Party.

November 2007 saw Teresa’s election to the New Jersey State Senate, as the Senate’s first Latina.  A fearless advocate for people and issues, she is using the skills she learned in county government to promote justice, inclusion, and equality.  As vice chair of the Senate Education Committee and member of the Senate Economic Growth Committee and the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, she is in a position to pursue improvement in education, housing, and many other aspects of public welfare.

Teresa’s service to the Latino community has been recognized by the Hispanics for Progress of the Oranges and the Essex County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and she received the Star of Essex in 2005 during the County’s Hispanic Heritage Celebration.  In 2006, Newark’s Grace Reformed Baptist Church named her Woman of the Year.

Teresa’s parents settled in Newark in the 1950s, and she is very close to an extended family that strongly supports her goals.  She has been married for the past three years to Samuel Gonzalez, an Essex County Freeholder and chair of the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board.