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Congrats! Pres/CEO Cecilia Zalkind Ranks 34 on Insider NJ’s Top 100 Policymakers

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Once again, President and CEO Cecilia Zalkind has made Insider NJ’s 2022 Insider 100: Policymakers Power List! This year, she ranks 34 for her work in child welfare, early care and education and health care in New Jersey. Cecilia has dedicated 38 years of service to ACNJ, elevating the voices of children and families to ensure they have the supports they need to thrive.

Congrats, Ceil! We are proud of all of your accomplishments!

Celebrating Our Staff – Alana and Nina

ACNJ’s staff is committed to the well-being of children throughout the Garden State, both during working hours and in their free time. Our talented group recognizes the importance of continued advocacy, driving change and encouraging equitable access to supports for all children, regardless of their zip code. Recently, Health Policy Analyst Alana Vega and Staff Attorney Nina Peckman were recognized for their work:

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Alana Vega was accepted to the Health Equity Academy In System Transformation for a year-long fellowship with Families USA. She will be joining a group of advocates from across the country to focus on advocacy strategies to advance policies focused on diversifying the healthcare workforce and expanding access to culturally competent behavioral health care. This work will focus on local, state and federal levels. Read more about the program.

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Nina Peckman was highlighted as July 2022 Volunteer of the Month for Volunteer Lawyers for Justice (VLJ). For over 16 years, Nina has advocated for children and families across the state for their rights to an education. She considers the time spent volunteering with VLJ part of her personal mission to help others, as well as the time that she works at ACNJ. Read more about her dedication to New Jersey's children and families.

ACNJ is proud of the many achievements among our staff. To get to know everyone more, read our staff bios.

Remembering Gail Houlihan, ACNJ Founding Board Member

The ACNJ family mourns the passing of Gail Houlihan, a founding member of ACNJ’s Board of Trustees and a true child advocate.

In 1978, Gail helped establish New Jersey's Child Placement Review (CPR) system, which relies on volunteers to review cases of children living in foster care, making recommendations to Family Court Judges concerning their placement, their medical and educational needs, the plan to reunify the child with his/her parents and whether there are services in place to help that happen. When CPR board first began in New Jersey, there was no independent oversight of children in foster care. Many lingered in temporary care for years -- sometimes into adulthood -- without a permanent family. New Jersey was the second state in the country to create a citizen-review system.

Gail was a volunteer member of a Burlington County CPR Board for many years, serving as chairperson for several terms. She believed in the power of volunteers to make a difference and she did. Her persistence and attention to detail kept caseworkers, court staff and judges focused on the cases of individual children living in foster care, assuring follow through on each child’s case. She advocated for the creation of a statewide CPR Advisory Council to gather statewide data and identify systemic problems. She served as a member of the Council for many years, never accepting the status quo for children who needed homes in which they could thrive.

As a founding member of the ACNJ Board of Trustees, Gail helped establish ACNJ’s early focus on advocacy for children in the child welfare system. She was a dedicated, conscientious, and dependable member of the ACNJ Board, serving on various committees and special projects. She was thoughtful in her analysis, always reviewing the research and data in detail. Gentle in demeanor, Gail was a force when she was advocating for needs of children, always asking what more could be done to improve access to needed services.

Gail was a founding member of the Junior League’s NJ State Public Affairs Committee and chaired Burlington County’s Children Interagency Coordinating Council (CCIAC), which focused on addressing the needs of troubled children. She also served on the State Health Planning Board.

ACNJ acknowledged Gail’s work and commitment in 2004 in awarding her the Grace Boskey Volunteer of the Year Award. In 2016 Gail received the New Jersey Governor’s Jefferson Award for Service to Youth, which recognizes volunteer activities that directly or indirectly enhance the lives and development of the youth population.

Gail led by example -- and the example she set was one of caring, determination and a strong sense of responsibility for others. Through Gail’s efforts, thousands of children in New Jersey have a chance at a better future, especially children in foster care who found permanent families through reunification with their birth parents or through adoption.

Gail is survived by her longtime companion, Ernest Dorisio, four sons, Jeffrey J. Houlihan, R. D'Arsey (Jill Granat) Houlihan, Michael W. (Yvette) Houlihan and Sean P. Houlihan; a daughter, Pamela L. Firestone and her partner, Jose Alcala; and eight grandchildren: Jake, Bradford, Andrew, Madeline, Nate, Will, Garrett and Brendan - as well as countless friends and the many people whose lives she made better.

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A celebration of Gail's life is planned for October 8th at St. Mary's Church in Bordentown. In lieu of flowers, the family has respectfully requested that donations be made in Gail's name to: