In 2017, we launched the Newark Fresh, Healthy Food Access Grant program with the help of our founder Whole Foods Market. This grant’s goal is to grow the local food system and improve community health across all five wards in Newark.

After Newark-led organizations with fresh, healthy food access and community health projects apply for funding, Whole Cities reviews applications with the help of the Newark Community Advisory Council, a rotating panel of Newark leaders. The council’s community members have each lived and/or worked in Newark for an average of two decades.

Meet the 2024 Newark Community Advisory Council:

Mary Anne Adjepong

Mary Anne was born in Newark and is a graduate of NJIT with a degree in Civil Engineering. She has resided in Newark with her family since 1985. After graduation, she worked in the field of engineering and had the opportunity to work on numerous transportation projects in and around the city of Newark. She is also proud to have served as the Deputy Director and Acting Director for the city’s engineering department.

In 2013, she obtained her license in real estate and began a new career that allowed her the flexibility to devote more time to raising her children. She enjoys cooking and gardening. She is a cancer survivor and fully understands the connection between healthy food choices and good health.

She has served on the Newark Community Advisory Council for the past four years. She is also a commissioner for the Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women.

Kourtney Awadalla

My juice company, Sprouts Juice is the only cold-pressed juice company in Newark, NJ where I still reside and service my community. I also have a community garden initiative where I donate all of my compost for continued sustainability.

Muneerah Gilkerson

I’m a passionate advocate for sustainable living and community well-being. My journey in agriculture began as a child growing up in the South, helping my grandparents on their homestead. As an adult, I would continue the tradition by growing herbs and vegetables in containers on my balcony. In 2016 returning to my adopted home in Newark, I joined Morning Glory Community Garden as the manager, founded by Corrina Shariff.

My passion for gardening and the environment led me to complete The Master Gardener’s Program, The Dukes Farm Urban Agriculture Regional Program with Will Allen of the formal Growing Power Organization, The Green Infrastructure Champion Program, and The Environmental Stewardship Program with Rutgers University. As well, as other farming , environmental programs and conferences throughout the year. My goal is not only to cultivate plants but a greener, stronger, more connected community.

Chesha Hodge

Chesha Hodge is the Director of the Coalition for Healthy Food in Newark Schools and an active member of the newly formed, Food and Health Equity Coalition of Essex County. Whilst serving the community in this pertinent role, she is also a Registered Dietitian in private practice who supported the nutrition needs of Long COVID patients in a research capacity within Rutgers University’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School’s department of Pulmonary Care.

While at Bard High School Early College Ms. Hodge wore the hats of School Operations Manager, Community Relations Specialist, Parent Engagement Leader and Nutritional Advisory Board Facilitator. Ms. Hodge also served as troop leader of Girl Scout Troop 51027 in Newark’s North Ward. These notable roles succeed Ms. Hodge’s earliest service in Newark as Director of Family Success Centers at Newark Now.

Amina Hylton

I am a lover of my community who spends time at nearby community gardens from early spring until harvest season in the fall. I have been a member of Heart of Vailsburg gardening committee and Heart of Vailsburg Block Club Coalition since 2012. I am also project coordinator for Jersey Cares volunteer organization. I love sharing time with like minded individuals like those who are a part of Newark Community Food System.

Saydah Maiga

I am a community and business developer within the city of Newark, NJ. I help many struggling residents within the city of Newark to better themselves and up rise from poverty by providing wealth seminars, entrepreneurship seminars and webinars and outreaching activities for residents to get involved in.

Roxana Marroquin

Roxana Marroquin is a community gardener, artist, art therapist, educator and spiritual herbalist. An avid gardener since 2012, Roxana has volunteered at gardens in Newark, NJ including The People’s Garden, The Garden of Hope, Rabbit Hole Farm Newark and collaborated with Newark organizations such as Newark Science and Sustainability, Inc., Essex County 4-H, and Rutgers Clement A. Price Institute. Roxana has conducted art and herbalism garden workshops throughout various gardens in Newark.

She has been volunteering at Newark SAS’s People’s Garden and Garden of Hope, as well as other community gardens in Hudson County. She is currently garden manager and garden educator with Hudson County 4-H and co-founder of the Union City Community Garden.

Sabrina Ross

Sabrina Ross is a dynamic human and professional with a background in project planning and collaborations. Ross is passionate about informing and empowering residents through neighborhood planning, envisioning community economic development strategies, and building strong communities.

Before joining GreenLight Fund in 2022, Sabrina was Community Outreach Manager for UVSO, where her experience in community development, urban planning, and sustainability led to successfully enlisting diverse groups of community members in projects like Farm to Table Community Meal: a food justice and security concept engaging neighbors in fresh, affordable food conversations and policies building. Sabrina facilitated Neighborhood Beautification projects in that role and worked with many partners to cultivate healthy communities. These include projects like #GetMAD: Solid Waste and Illegal Dumping Campaign to combat urban cities’ litter issues and utilize creative placemaking strategies to activate green spaces. Sabrina continues collaborating with upcoming local initiatives, facilitates policy discussions on community concerns, and seeks funding opportunities. Ross has built solid relationships and worked closely with community leaders and members to create and support projects to improve quality of life challenges.

Sabrina has a BA in social behavior science and a Master of Public Administration with a concentration in nonprofit management.

Karen Rutberg

I directed the Greater Newark Conservancy’s 3 acre Hawthorne Ave Farm, NJs largest urban farm that includes an orchard, 200+ community raised beds, 2+ acres of planting rows, school garden from late 2018 through late 2020.

I continue to work with Newark growers as a member of Newark Community Food Systems and I also provide tech support to individual growers and organizations.

Marissa Staffen

Marissa Staffen is a County 4-H Agent at the Department of 4-H Youth Development at Rutgers University-Newark. She runs a comprehensive youth development program in Essex County NJ. Her program focus areas are environmental sustainability including climate change, gardening and outdoor adventure and urban development.

Dr. S. Aisha Steplight Johnson

Dr. S. Aisha Steplight Johnson was born in Newark, NJ at United Hospital. She worked at NJIT, University High School, and Essex County College. She was a member of the Newark Public Schools Special Education Parents Advisory Council (SEPAC); the Newark Beta Alpha Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; the Executive Committee of the Newark Branch of the NAACP; and the Newark Commission on the Status of Women. She is a member of Newark Science and Sustainability (NSAS).

She volunteered for the NSAS City Garden Tour and Community Meal. She led middle school students from the NSAS Summer Ambassadors program on an exploration of the Barnes & Noble Bookstore and donated $500 for their purchases. Dr. Steplight Johnson organized the visit by a member of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network who came from Detroit to participate on the Essex County College panel about urban farming. This event drew many interested members of the Newark community who actively engaged with the panelists. Dr. Steplight Johnson brought to life the role of the Narrator in the production of “Enlightenment” for the Children’s Performing Arts Academy & Community Theatre Company at Newark Symphony Hall for Black History Month.

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