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By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
PENNS GROVE – A true trailblazer in South Jersey's Latino community is given away a scholarship in the name of his mother to a senior at Penns Grove High School in her memory and uplift local youth.
In October, Ralph Padilla took the stage in Penns Grove with Dr. Zeneida Cobian, superintendent of the Penns Grove-Carneys Point School District, to announce the Rosa Camelia Padilla Scholarship.
Padilla has long established himself as a leader and game-changer in South Jersey as the founder and executive director of the Puerto Rican Action Committee of Southern New Jersey, best know as PRAC. His mother, Rosa Camelia Padilla died on Aug. 21.
The mother of two boys who was preceded in death by her husband Rafael Padilla, Rosa Camelia Padilla loved music throughout her life. In connection with that love of music, the school's scholarship will be awarded annually to the Penns Grove senior class active in the school band and choir who is also involved in community service activities.
Padilla shared his emotions in his announcement of his mother's passing in August.
"On behalf of my brother Ray and I we were blessed to have her as our mother," Padilla said then on Facebook. "This young lady from Villaba, Puerto Rico instilled values in us to serve.
Her happiest moments in life was playing an active role with her five grandchildren. She will be greatly missed by Ryan, Ray, Courtney, Chelsea and Gabriella.
"In heaven she'll be joking with her mother Julia 'Chua,' husband Rafael, brother Raul, sister-in-law Ana and so many others for an evening of playing bingo, coffee and well-deserved eternal life," he added.
Padilla took the lessons from his parents to positively affect hundreds of thousands of lives in South Jersey. He has turned PRAC into the preeminent nonprofit organization in the state that Latino community.
He spent a quarter century in law enforcement and criminal justice, becoming the chief in the Salem County Prosecutor's office, the first for any Hispanic in the state. After retiring, he started the Padilla Group, specializing in media, marketing, translation services and risk management, safety and security consultation for governmental and corporate clients.
Padilla broke barriers again when he became the first Hispanic elected to public office in Salem County and was appoint mayor of Pittsgrove Township, where he and his wife Elba currently lives.
He has served as chair of United Way of Salem County board, New Jersey Chief of Detectives and Investigators Association, the Salem Community College Foundation board among others.
Padilla's success appeared to go back to a saying from his mother that he shared with his friends on Facebook in September.
"As my mom always said growing up, 'When you do something, do it con ganas [with desire],'" Padilla said on the social media site. "So whether you're early in your career and have to side hustle as a barista, or have finally made your way to the corner office -- do it all con ganas."
Cobian told Front Runner New Jersey/La Prensa the scholarship will be given at the amount of $500 annually.
"As the superintendent of schools and a supporter of the music curriculum and programs, I was honored and pleasantly surprised to receive the scholarship in the presence of Ms. Bernard and Ms. Pepe, choir teachers at the Penns Grove High school and Penns Grove Middle school along with the choir members of the schools," Cobian said.
"Knowing that our students will continue to receive the support of the community is humbling. The scholarship will assist our performing arts students with the opportunity to continue furthering their education," she added.
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