Prior to her selection as a National Urban Fellow, Maria De La Cruz served in multiple capacities for the Bonner Center for Civic and Community Engagement, a mission-driven organization that connects students, colleges, nonprofit entities, and local governments to improve communities and promote social justice. Maria worked with the Bonner Center at both The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) and Middlesex County College (MCC).
As the Senior Program Officer for the Bonner Center at TCNJ, Maria created teaching and learning opportunities that built the capacities of both students and the local communities focusing on the issues of immigration and juvenile crime. Through these opportunities, students became more knowledgeable, skilled, and civic minded while community partners gained additional resources to effect positive, sustainable change.
Maria started her journey with the Bonner Program as a student at MCC. As a Bonner AmeriCorps Member, she gained the knowledge and leadership skills necessary to promote positive changes within her community while simultaneously receiving academic scholarship. She became the first Bonner student to transfer from a community college with an associate degree into a full tuition scholarship at a four-year college. At TCNJ, Maria started the Immigration Team, which taught English as a Second Language to adult immigrants. In her last year at TCNJ, she was asked to become the Bonner Program Coordinator for MCC. This led to becoming the Program Director the following year and ultimately returning to TCNJ to manage and administer the Bonner Center’s budgets and grants.
Through her work with Bonner, Maria developed an interest in juvenile crime and lowering recidivism rates. While leading the Juvenile Crime division for TCNJ and The Trenton Prevention Policy Board, she administered and trained more than 100 college students to teach and tutor at the Albert C. Wagner Correction Facility. She was responsible for producing data-driven recommendations for Mercer County stakeholders on ways to reduce juvenile crime while promoting positive youth development.
Most recently in her career, Maria served as the Ambassador’s Coordinator at the Embassy of Cape Verde. Maria represented Cape Verde at forums and events of national and global importance. In October 2012, she organized the “New Jersey Welcomes the Cape Verde President Gala,” which drew more than 250 guests.
As a National Urban Fellow, Ms. De La Cruz will gain the skills and knowledge necessary to help vulnerable communities and populations.