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City of Elizabeth Pride Flag Raising

2024 Flyer Pride Flag Raising (1080 x 400 px)

PRIDE MONTH IS HERE! ūüĆą ‚̧ԳŹ The Lesniak Institute and the City of Elizabeth invites you to attend our 4th annual pride flag raising Join us as we meet on the steps of City Hall as we raise the pride flag to celebrate Pride Month. This ceremony will consist of speakers who are leaders/advocates of the LGBTQ+ community and entertainment. Fill out the information below to get all the updates about the event.


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Upcoming Events

Lesniak Institute Annual Gala

Date: Thursday, July 19, 2024 | Time: 6pm - 10pm | Kean University STEM Building 1075 Morris Ave, Union, NJ 07083

Join us for an unforgettable Gala hosted by the Lesniak Institute on July 19th. This highly anticipated evening promises to be a night of elegance and celebration, featuring fine dining, live entertainment, and ample opportunities for networking and socializing. Put on your finest attire and join us for an evening of glamour and excitement.

Our Gala is the perfect occasion to recognize and honor individuals who have made significant contributions to our community. We'll have a star-studded guest list, keynote speakers, performances, and awards to make this night unforgettable.

Past Events

Operation Santa 2023

December 20, 2023

This year’s Operation Santa was the biggest one in its 20+ year history. Our community came together to give gifts to over 100 deserving children, ensuring that the magic of the holiday season touched every heart. In addition, over 200 guests were treated to delicious meals, fostering a sense of togetherness and warmth during this special event.

None of this would have been possible without the incredible support of our sponsors, dedicated volunteers, generous donors, and those who purchased gifts from our registry. Your kindness has made a significant positive impact on our community, spreading happiness and building a stronger sense of unity.

The kids were thrilled to see Santa and we were thrilled to see smiles on their faces. We express our heartfelt gratitude for helping create smiles and unforgettable moments for the children and their families. Thank you for being a part of the magic of Operation Santa!

2023 Summer Gala.

June 29, 2023

We hope you all enjoyed a beautiful night full of live music, delicious food and the company of our honored guests. We hope all of our guests were able to connect more with our mission and what the institute does for our community. We are grateful for everyone's support of the institute and cherished all the kind words from our speakers. For the individuals we awarded, the institutions we honored, we hope that together we can keep driving forward our mission and creating a lasting change in our society.

Celebrating Women Breaking Barriers in Public Service.

Honoring Groundbreaking Women in Union County

March 30, 2023

On March 30th, 2023, The Lesniak Institute, NAACP Elizabeth Branch, and Kean University Office of Government Affairs and Community Partnerships hosted Celebrating Women Breaking Barriers in Public Service to honor groundbreaking women in Union County. There were two awards given out, The Unsung Hero Award and The Outstanding Public Service Award. The Unsung Hero Award is a prestigious accolade given to an individual who has made an extraordinary contribution to their community. This award aims to recognize and honor those individuals who work tirelessly behind the scenes, often without seeking recognition, to make a positive impact on their community. The Outstanding Public Service Award is a prestigious recognition given to women who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and service in their public sector careers. This award celebrates women who have broken barriers and shattered glass ceilings to make significant contributions to their communities and society as a whole. The event was moderated by Shakira Johnson, the Founder and Chief Impact Officer of J.PR & Events. Speakers at the event included: Shawn McClain, President of Elizabeth NAACP; Senator Lesniak, Former State Senator; Annette Quijano, Assemblywoman LD 20; Sancha Gray, Senior Vice President for Entrepreneurial Education Initiatives; Patricia Perkins-Auguste, Councilwomen- at- large Elizabeth. Honorees at the event included: Katherine Carter, Elizabeth Presbyterian Center; Georgie Jones-Orr Esq., Attorney at Law, Former Municipal Court Judge; Romina Cannon, Elizabeth Police Department; Chessie Dentley Robinson, Educator and Civil Rights Trailblazer; Sheena Spence, Educator and Civil Rights
Trailblazer; Elizabeth Ragone, Emilio’s Bayway Florist.

No More Mass Shootings & Gun Violence:

Youth Violence Prevention Symposium

September 20, 2022

On September 20th, 2022, The Lesniak Institute and NAACP Elizabeth and Hillside chapters hosted a Youth Violence Prevention Symposium ‚ÄúNo More Mass Shootings & Gun Violence‚ÄĚ to discuss viable solutions to gun violence in our k-12 institutions. The event was moderated by Nicole Graves-Watson, Hillside NAACP President. The event started with a performance from the Elizabeth Youth Ensemble. Speakers at the event included: Shawn McClain, President of Elizabeth NAACP; Senator Lesniak, Former State Senator; Sancha Gray, Senior Vice President for Entrepreneurial Education Initiatives; Jamel Holley, Former Assemblyman D20; Earl Graves, Elizabeth Police Director; Liza Chowdhury, Project Director of the Paterson Healing Collective; and Casey Melvin, co-founder of Men Stand Up Anti-Violence.

Pride Flag Raising :

The city of Elizabeth

June 15, 2022

On June 15th, 2022, The Lesniak Institute and partners in the community hosted the second annual Pride Flag Raising in the City of Elizabeth. City officials, students, teachers, and local grassroot organizations gathered in celebration. The raising of the flag was a great symbol to show that the city of Elizabeth cares and supports our diverse communities. Our speakers included Mayor Christian Bollwage, Mayor of Elizabeth NJ; Rashaad Couloote, A Student leader from Kean University’s PRISIM, a LGBTQ club that promotes a safe space on campus for all students; Danni Newbury, Coordinator at Office of LGBTQ Affairs Union County; Brielle Winslow-Majette, Deputy Director at Garden State Equality; Jeremiah La Porte, Student at Elizabeth Stem Academy; Marlene Cruz, LAC, YES Program Youth Development Specialist at Trinitas Regional Medical Center; Sergio Granados; Union County Commissioner; Marie Cavallo, Board of Education Elizabeth Public Schools.

March For Our Lives :

Rally to Stop Mass Shootings & Gun Violence

June 11, 2022

On June 11th, 2022, The Lesniak Institute and community partners hosted a March for Our Lives Satellite Rally and March in Roselle to gather and educate the community about gun violence and the lasting effects and leave them with a call to action to contact their legislators. The march was called in light of the tragedy at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, TX, and Buffalo, NY. Our co-sponsors included New Jersey Education Association, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People- Elizabeth Chapter, National Association of Social Workers- NJ, Moms Demand Action, Kean University Human Rights Institute, Be the Change NJ.

The Criminalization of Mental Illness:
Treatment, Imprisonment, or Both

October 7, 2021

On October 7th, The Lesniak Institute hosted a round table discussion about the benefits of Mental Health Courts in New Jersey. The Criminalization of Mental Illness: Treatment, Imprisonment, or Both, included a panel of experts and advocates shared their knowledge and opinions on the pressing issue. Panelists presented proposed legislative changes, current status of mental health diversion programs from criminal penalties, and demonstrated the need for our criminal justice system to change to better address the needs of those with mental illness. The forum was moderated by Dr. Jonathan Mercantini, Dean of Kean University‚Äôs College of Liberal Arts. Dr. Christine Montross, author of ‚ÄúWaiting for an Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration,‚ÄĚ delivered the keynote address during the event. Speakers at the event included: Joseph Krakora, N.J. State Public Defender; Ted Romankow,Esq, Mental Health Pioneer and Former Union County Prosecutor; Robert Miseo, Public Defender, Union County; Cory Storch, Executive Director of Bridgeway; William Daniel, Former Drug Court Judge, current Union County Prosecutor; and Maureen O‚ÄôBrien Consultant, CIT-NJ.

A Conversation to Combat Systematic Inequities

July 8, 2020

The senseless killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis ignited a spark in African American communities across America. A virtual forum was held to keep that spark alive and create an ongoing network to address systemic inequities. Participants of the network committed to join the Social Justice Network where the following priorities were decided (1) creating a culture change within the criminal justice system to focus on rehabilitation; (2) closing and reducing the education performance gap and reduce infant and maternal mortality in low-income families; (3) and addressing the disparities in equity for minorities in the Housing Sector. This event was co-hosted by the Human Rights Institute at Kean University.


March 2, 2020

On March 2, the Lesniak Institute hosted a panel of experts in a discussion about the significance of Super Tuesday and what the results could mean in this political climate. Speakers included Max Pizarro as Moderator: Editor-in-Chief & Co-Founder, InsiderNJ, Senator Raymond Lesniak: Former Senator, State of New Jersey, Senator Joe Pennacchio: NJ Co-Chair Donald Trump Campaign, Michael Muller: NJ State Director Michael Bloomberg Campaign, Larry Hamm: Chairman, Bernie Sanders 2020, NJ Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora: Pete Buttigieg Campaign, Councilwoman Patricia Perkins-Auguste: Joe Biden Campaign, Saily Avelenda: NJDSC Executive Director, Tony Teixeira: Elizabeth Democratic Chairman, Alan Steinberg: Politics Writer and Radio Commentator, InsiderNJ Paul Mulshine: Columnist, Star Ledger


January 30, 2020

In response to the rise of antisemitic violence and hate crime incidents, a forum was held to call for the end of hate speech, and pledge to stand up for others when hate speech is directly at them. This event was co-sponsored by the Holocust Resource Center at Kean University. 
A working group was created from this discussion with the mission to implement the Stand Up for the Other Pledge within the diversity council’s network.

Operation Santa 2019

December 18, 2019

Thank you to all who joined us for Operation Santa! To our generous sponsors, The Lesniak Institute team thanks you for your heartfelt generosity in making a difference for the life of a child this Christmas.

2019 Fall Gala

October 24, 2019

We hope you were able to get to know new fellow advocates and connect with old friends, while enjoying a delicious meal, listening to the string trio, and deciding where to place your tickets out of over 12 pick-a-prize auction items.

Additionally, we hope you got to know The Institute, its values, and mission a bit more, including this year's honorees, working hand-in-hand with The Institute: Free All Captive Elephants and The Rutgers University Student Animal Legal Defense Fund. We hope their missions and passions have provided further inspiration to continue advocating.


Special Thanks to Our Sponsors






Recovery High School Graduation

June 12, 2019

The Lesniak Institute participated in the Recovery High School Graduation at The Union Vocational Technical School on June 12 from 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM.

Earn Your Way Out Forum

May 20, 2019

The Lesniak Institute hosted a forum at Kean University on the topic of Earn Your Way Out (S761/A1986), the most significant criminal justice reform in America. Representatives from all over the state joined the conversation including senators, former incarcerated people, and students.

Chelsea Clinton: Discussion & Book Signing

April 4, 2019

The Lesniak Institute, in partnership with Kean University, hosted best selling author Chelsea Clinton on Thursday, April 4. After an on stage discussion and Q&A session, Ms. Clinton signed her new children's book, Don't Let them Disappear, for over 300 audience members.  

Operation Santa

December 12, 2018

The Lesniak Institute hosted the 17th annual Operation Santa which provided gifts, food, and entertainment to underprivileged children in Union county. Through the support of sponsors and donations, The Institute was able to provide gifts for over 50 children. Also, amongst those in attendance: Santa!

Toys for Hospitalized Children

November 20, 2018

In the 2018 year, The Lesniak Institute partnered with Toys for Hospitalized Children four times to spread joy and toys to children at local hospitals and specialized centers. This partnership brings joy to The Institute & its founder, Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak

Let's Clear The Air

November 14, 2018

The Lesniak Institute For American Leadership, Earth Science Club, and New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability hosted Let’s Clear The Air to raise awareness and embolden students to take action to improve NJ air quality by creating an open forum for discussion amongst students, community members, and environmental advocates.

Fall Gala

October 25, 2018

The Institute hosted its first gala to show its supporters its goals for the 2018 year, along with food and entertainment at Ursino restaurant. The Founder & President, Sen. Raymond J Lesniak provided a keynote address and spoke about the ever-growing need for advocacy training.

Nosey's Law Rally

October 14, 2018

Save Nosey Now and The Lesniak Institute partnered for a protest at CURE Insurance Arena. This protest brought advocacy to the forefront of abuse to animals in circuses and traveling acts. Many showed up to speak out against the use of wild animals, outside of the circus.


September 16, 2018

We partnered with Union County Parks & Recreation and Kean University’s Center for Leadership and Service to improve Union County’s environment. Together, we removed invasive plant species, cleaned litter, and enjoyed a day in nature at the North Plainfield park.

National Day of Service and Remembrance

September 11, 2018

On 9/11/2018, our Founder & President, Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak was the guest speaker for Kean University’s National Day of Service and Remembrance. Following the address, students, faculty, and members of the community visited Kean’s 9/11 memorial and were invited to make PB&J sandwiches for the homeless at Newark, Penn Station.

The Laramie Project: Stand Up For The Other

July 12, 2018

The Lesniak supported The Elizabeth High School Jefferson Arts Academy performance of The Laramie Project: a play about 21-year-old Matthew Shepard who was brutally beaten and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming all because he was gay. The play brought awareness to the tragedy of bigotry. At the end of the play, students and community members in attendance took the #StandUpForTheOther Pledge with us.

Youth Against Gun Violence Roundtable

April 15, 2018

High school students from throughout Union County gathered for a roundtable discussion about youth activism against gun violence at the inaugural event of Kean University’s Lesniak Institute for American Leadership. Students discussed the potential impact of proposed gun legislation on their communities and debated the merits of arming teachers.

The Lesniak Institute for American Leadership is exempt from tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and qualifies for maximum charitable contribution permitted by law. Our Federal Identification Number is 83-3629808.