With a steady career in the fields of corporate and entertainment law, Tania Fuentes had it all.
But looking out at the world, she knew that there was still work to be done. So she gave it up for a higher calling.
Now the senior pastor at Love of Jesus Family Church in Union City, Fuentes founded the Dvine Konektion Community Development Corporation in 2008 to help those in need all over Weehawken, West New York, and North Bergen.
“I wanted to [help make] a better community,” Fuentes says. “I became the pastor of a church, and I dedicated myself to doing that.”
But the spirit of giving didn’t come to Fuentes in a road-to-Damascus revelation.
While Fuentes undertook 15 years of work as a certified paralegal in New York, she longed to give back to the predominantly Latino communities in Hudson County — her childhood home.
“I’m a Latino woman,” she says. “So my heart always goes out to the Latino community.”
But the community that Fuentes strives to help has struggles of its own to contend with.
A staggering 23 percent of children in Hudson County live below the poverty line, despite the fact that the vast majority of households have at least one working family member.
While government benefits may help some families, not everyone knows how to get the right help, or where. And the luckier families in the county sometimes have extra to donate to those in need.
“I decided to be a mediator between the community and the benefits that are available to everyone,” she says.
That’s where Dvine Konektion comes in.
Each month, Fuentes and her supporters host a Community Fair that offers a staggering breadth of services, ranging from a food pantry that, on average, feeds 300-500 residents a month, to free medical screenings. Buying into Fuentes’ vision, local restaurants have pitched in to donate free lunches at the fairs.
Fuentes had experienced her own losses before founding the group, including her husband of 28 years, Miguel, in 2005. Though the loss would paralyze some, Fuentes channeled her husband’s memory into a reinvigorated passion for charity.
“It drove me to expand what we were doing,” she says. “It empowered me, strengthened me to continue the legacy.”
Fuentes dreams of one day opening a transitional space in Hudson County for local residents (she disavows “shelter,” calling the word “demoralizing”) to provide them with medical care and assistance.
And though the road ahead to such a lofty goal may be arduous and fraught with political difficulty, Fuentes sweeps such concerns arise with her trademark determination and optimism.
“This community will rise up again.”
As spring turns into summer, Fuentes sees new opportunities to give back.
On Saturday, June 15, Fuentes and her supporters will host the next Community Fair, handing out groceries and baby supplies from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 5516 Jefferson St. in West New York.
For more information, visit www.dvinek.org or call 201-617-4484
Ian Wenik may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.