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Featured Events

The Criminalization of Mental Illness:

Treatment, Imprisonment, or Both

The criminalization of mental illness has further perpetuated the stigmatization of the mentally ill, when obvious treatment options exist. Legislation currently introduced and sponsored by Assemblyman Benson, Assemblywoman Speight, and Senator Cryan, would establish a pilot program for mental health courts. This is a good step, but we need to do more! Join the The Lesniak Institute in the fight for the permanent establishment of Mental Health Courts in all counties in New Jersey. The Forum will present proposed legislative changes, mental health diversions from criminal penalties, and demonstrate the need for our criminal justice system to change to better address the needs of the mentally ill.


We are SOLD OUT. We will be livestreaming the event at 6:30pm if you would like to watch. Livestrem Link:

Past Events

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’s College of Liberal Arts. Dr. Christine Montross, author of “Waiting for an Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration,” 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’Brien 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.