Profile: An Ironclad Commitment to Community in Newark’s Ironbound District

His background: During his career, Della Fave has served as a city councilman in Hoboken, chairman of the history department at St. Peter’s Prep -- where he also coached basketball -- and as a union organizer, including a stint with the United Farm Workers, enabling him to spend a day touring Garden State worksites with legendary union cofounder Cesar Chavez.

What led him to ICC: For Della Fave, community has always been key. He grew up in public housing in Hoboken; he was six when his father died and his mother raised two children and a cousin working an off-the-books job in a garment factory that paid $1 an hour. “I learned early on about the meaning of community,” Della Fave said, “and how a tight-knit network of family, friends, and neighbors could provide security. We all took care of one another.”

What’s different today: The robust mix of industries that once defined the Ironbound has long made it a mecca for diverse immigrants; Germans, Poles and other Europeans at first, followed today by workers from South and Central America. The community has changed ethnically and economically since he joined ICC more than two decades ago, Della Fave said, but other things remain the same: the desire for a better life, with good jobs, safe housing, and a decent education for their children.

“The Ironbound continues to attract immigrants from around the world,” he said. “But historically people did not face the same documentation issues that they face today. They may have lived in the same dire economic circumstances, but they didn’t live in the shadows.” As a result, ICC has added citizenship and immigration-rights advocacy to its portfolio of programs. “The mission remains constant,” Della Fave added, “organizing people to strengthen the fabric of the community.”

What he’s most proud of: Among ICC’s many accomplishments, Della Fave said he is particularly proud of the organization’s role in developing Riverfront Park. It took 25 years of hard work, organizing neighbors, fighting off outside interests, and courting elected support to make it happen, he recalled, and the payoff is not just the desperately needed green space, or the popular programming ICC created to draw people to the site, but the way that the entire process empowered the community members involved. “It was an incredible accomplishment,” Della Fave said, “and it helped people realize that a well-organized community can get something done against the most powerful forces.

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