By Victoria Ford
Amanda Devecka-Rinear is a trailblazer – she even has the award to prove it.
The fourth-generation Cedar Bonnet Island resident is executive director of the nonprofit New Jersey Resource Project and its 501(c)(4) sister organization New Jersey Organizing Project. Sunday she was honored at the 12th annual Evangelina Menendez Women’s History Month Celebration at Montclair State University, where she received the Trailblazer Award.
Named for Sen. Robert Menendez’s late mother, who came to the United States from Cuba to give her children a better life, the Evangelina Menendez Trailblazer Awards honor outstanding New Jersey women who have made achievements in government, industry, education, science, the arts and many other fields.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave the keynote address. This year’s event also honored Debbie Walsh, Lourdes Cortez and Christine Girtain.
Before he handed Devecka-Rinear the award, Menendez explained NJOP was an outgrowth of Superstorm Sandy and government agencies’ inadequate recovery response and programs. He praised Devecka-Rinear and her team for “relentlessly pushing the powers that be until justice was done.” Her dedication to finding solutions is unmatched, he added. Her organizations are paving the way to “a more economically just and resilient future.”
As she accepted the award, Devecka-Rinear gave the audience some good news and some bad news. The good was the hard-earned recognition for her organizations’ community-driven work; the bad news was “we have systems that are failing people in great need,” later a reference to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Her community organizing efforts focus on disasters that are fueled by climate change and the opioid overdose crisis. In both cases, she said, “people on the front lines know how to fix it, but we are not breaking through the noise to get the change we need.” She thanked Menendez for being an ally to storm survivors year after year, eliciting applause. She added grant opportunities are available for Hurricane Ida survivors who are struggling. The goal, she summed up, is to build “a disaster recovery system that puts families and fairness first.”
“Sen. Menendez’s introduction of me was very kind,” Devecka-Rinear said afterward. “He recognized all the work we’ve done for storm survivors. I was thrilled to be there to represent what is possible when communities come together to change things.”
She continued, “It is sad, though, after the recognition for the work we did during Sandy, that I had to talk about how grant programs are just becoming available for Hurricane Ida survivors. We hope to connect as many families as we can with those resources and of course, ultimately to make sure recovery is not so incredibly difficult and drawn out. But with grants coming online at 19 months and FEMA failing again, it is just a shame we can’t do better.” —V.F.