Nearly 400 people attend the Guardian Angels Dinner Dance, which raised more than $300,000. EmmaLee Italia photo
Nearly 400 people attend the Guardian Angels Dinner Dance, which raised more than $300,000. EmmaLee Italia photo

With gratitude on behalf of its programs and the people they serve, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton, celebrated its annual Guardian Angels Dinner Dance Sept. 21, as it has for 30 years.

While the dinner dance and silent auction in Princeton’s Hyatt Regency recognized people whose work on behalf of the less fortunate has been exemplary, organizers and board members agreed that the combined efforts of everyone who attended contribute to the work CCDOT is able to accomplish.

Photo Gallery: Guardian Angels Dinner Dance

“There’s no challenge too great for Catholic Charities to overcome, especially with your prayers and your support,” said Vito Nardelli, chair of CCDOT’s board of trustees. “I’ve often wondered at the great sacrifice that our Savior made … it was a perfect act of love ... a way to express repayment for that perfect act of love is through charity. Because where there is charity there is love; where there is love there is Jesus; where there is Jesus there is God, and where there is God there is hope. So I thank each of you here tonight supporting Catholic Charities for bringing hope back into the lives of the over 100,000 people we serve each and every day.”

Marlene Lao-Collins, CCDOT executive director, noted that the evening was “a good time to reflect on the words of Pope Francis, who said, ‘Christian witness is concrete; words without action are empty.’ And that is what we at Catholic Charities are about: action. Everything we do, we do to improve the lives of people who come to us for help, regardless of faith or their ability to pay.”

Attending the Guardian Angels Dinner Dance for his 10th year, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., offered the invocation preceding dinner, as well as a few words of gratitude to the event’s organizers and CCDOT staff.

“I’d like to congratulate and thank … all of the staff who work at Catholic Charities and behind the scenes do such great work,” he said. “And congratulations to our honorees.”

Individual Impact

This year’s event raised more than$300,000, about 20 percent more than last year, with nearly 400 people attending the dinner dance.

Planning Committee co-chairs Jeffrey and Megan Gordon became involved in Catholic Charities 20 years ago through Jeffrey Gordon’s law firm of Archer and Greiner. For many years, they sponsored a family for the holidays through CCDOT.

“Because of your generous support … you empower the people we serve to rebuild their lives and to become positive, productive citizens,” he said to those gathered. “We and all the people that Catholic Charities serves are truly blessed to have you as our Guardian Angels.”

Anniversary Sponsors, whose contributions help make the dinner dance possible, included the Walter R. Earle Memorial Foundation and Judith M. and the late Honorable Anthony J. Persichilli, who died this year.

“For those of you who didn’t know Tony, he was a passionate advocate for our work, and for lifting up people in need,” Nardelli said. “He especially loved this event … Tony often was involved with the planning of this event, and he and Judy were here almost every year, burning up the dance floor.”

Jeffrey Gordon and Lao-Collins guided guests through a video presentation of the 2019 honorees, each of whom impacted Catholic Charities uniquely.

Four Light of Hope Awards were granted to each of the Diocese’s four counties: Jesse DeSanto, Burlington County; Francis Taylor, Mercer County; Stanley Koryeva Jr., Monmouth County, and Joseph Leone Introna, Ocean County. Marianne Earle, one of the Anniversary Sponsors, was awarded the Richard J. Hughes Humanitarian Award – named after the 45th governor of New Jersey and Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, who believed “a leader in government must constantly appeal to the best in people.”

“Everybody knows Catholic Charities because of the good work they do,” said Earle. “I’ve always enjoyed the fact that I was and am a nurse, and I’ve always enjoyed giving back. Seeing what [Catholic Charities does] firsthand certainly helps, because to hear about it is a lot different than seeing it.”

Introna, who owns and operates Joe Leone’s Italian Specialties, uses his catering business and bakery to help “stock the shelves” for Catholic Charities’ food pantry. “It’s humbling, being acknowledged by such a great organization that does so much for others,” he said. “God has given me so much to be able to make a living off of feeding people.”

Koryeva, who grew up in Trenton working in his grandfather’s grocery store, learned from family to treat others with respect. Serving on the CCDOT board of trustees, he believes, “It’s time to give back to the community. Working [hard] is great, but now it’s time to share … we can create resources for people who didn’t choose this [difficult] life … I think that’s what we’re supposed to do in life – that’s what Catholic Charities is all about.”

Corporate Generosity

Bank of Princeton was recognized as Corporate Citizen of the Year for its consistent cooperation with CCDOT in community-based assistance.

President and CEO Edward J. Dietzler said that serving the community is part of the bank’s very culture. “We have almost 20 offices, and within each of those offices we try to support that specific community,” he said. “So in working with Catholic Charities, they have the ability to reach many more groups than we could ourselves.”

Richard Gillespie, bank founder and chair of its board of directors, noted how each employee is involved in the bank’s outreach. “I think there’s an understanding that it’s important to go out and help the community we’re a part of.” Gillespie also helped create and develop CCDOT’s Walk of Hope, which raises money for CCDOT.

“Catholic Charities … gives to everybody,” Dietzler said. “When somebody comes in, the first thing they say is, ‘How can I help?’ And that’s a big difference.”

Forever Changed

The Client Achievement Award was earned by Jordan, who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds, with the help of CCDOT, to become independent and successful.

“Jordan had a tough childhood,” Lao-Collins explained. “She was brought up by a single mother and became a mother herself at the age of 17. She dropped out of school and at 23 she found herself facing life on the street with a baby and a toddler. She reached out to our Linkages program – our temporary housing for individuals and families in crisis. There she earned a high school diploma as she worked to find permanent housing for her family.”

Jordan described her experience with the Linkages program as life-altering. “While I was here, I got a place to stay, got my GED, found housing,” she said. “[Linkages] helped me stay focused … Not worrying about somewhere to stay just helps you focus on other things.”

After training she became a certified nurse assistant, regained custody of her oldest son and earned a driver’s license.

“I have a lot of things I still want to do. Catholic Charities can really make a difference,” Jordan said. “I feel like all the tools are there, you just have to be willing. I’m definitely proud of myself; I came a long way. If it wasn’t for Linkages, I probably wouldn’t have been where I am today.”