Meet Rutherford's New Recreation Director, Jessica Lezcano
By Tracy Leigh
Rutherford Resident, Jessica Lezcano was recently appointed as our town's Recreation Director. She will officially begin her new position on Monday, September 9th. TIR had the opportunity to meet and talk with Ms. Lezcano to learn about growing up in Rutherford, her time as Passaic's Superintendent of Recreation and how she even met Michelle Obama.
TIR: You grew up in Rutherford. Tell us about your experience growing up here in town.
Jessica Lezcano: I had the great opportunity of growing up in Rutherford. I started school in 8th grade at Union School, where I made friendships that have lasted until today. I remember being excitedly nervous to start school and all of my neighbors committed to being my friends. They walked to school with me, introduced me to their friends, and never made me feel like I was an outsider. Some of them went to RHS and made sure that I met their friends as well. My family and I were a part of the community from day one. The spirit of community, to take care of each other (having a party if my parents were out of town was not easy), to celebrate life, and to lean on each other when times were tough are all my favorite memories. Whenever I would see anyone from town, I know I have a friend in the room. And conversely, they know that they have a friend.
I recently bought a home in town, a few blocks from where my parents still live. I had the opportunity to meet all of my new neighbors and I love how tight knit the block is.
TIR: What experiences do you bring as becoming Rutherford's new Recreation Director?
JL: The path to recreation started while I was in Rutherford High School. Teaching swim lessons, which was one of my first part time jobs, led me to connecting with my Recreation Director at college, who became my mentor. She introduced me to the possibilities of working with the American Red Cross, where I taught CPR/First Aid, life-guarding, and water safety instruction. I continued my career and took a position as an Aquatic Director at a YM-YWHA of Passaic/Clifton. While actively working and volunteering for the American Red Cross, I was presented with an opportunity to work with the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation division of the US Military) under a camp program named Camp Adventure. I worked in aquatic recreation at the Yokosuka, Japan Naval Base. I also worked at the Okinawa, Japan Airforce and Naval bases, as well as the Wurzburg/ Kitzingen, Germany Army base. I was awarded by the 417th BSB MWR for my work as the Aquatics Director. An esteem that I am very proud of.
I continued expanding my role in recreation at Newark's YMCA. I had the opportunity to learn from other recreation professionals on how to thoughtfully create programs, navigate fundraisers and make connections with supporters. I became the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Director at the YMCA. Many of my staff members went on to be educators, firefighters, social workers, and some followed my lead in recreation.
I eventually took some time away from recreation and pursued a career in healthcare at Hackensack University Medical center, where I worked in postpartum. I learned a lot about the impact of kindness, support, and the willingness to teach.
I began to miss the world of recreation so, when the state of NJ posted the superintendent of recreation exam on their website, I decided to take it. I did well and was offered the position of Passaic's Superintendent of Recreation. As Passaic's Superintendent of Rec, I created successful recreation programs such as building a competitive Lacrosse program from the ground up with a $2,000 grant from US Lacrosse. I was also invited to go on the “Today Show” to speak about bringing play to the community of Passaic. I had the opportunity to speak at numerous recreation conferences like the Major League Baseball RBI institute, United States Tennis Association, and Recreation Summits. I was the District One Chairperson, representing Passaic, Bergen and Hudson counties at the New Jersey Parks and Recreation Association. I secured millions of dollars in public and private donations for our community and I helped secure funds from large corporations like MLB Baseball Tomorrow Funds, US Lacrosse, PetSafe, Microsoft, Mattel, CarMax, Adidas, and US Football just to name a few. I managed large park and playground projects from the ground up and also helped create programs that have allowed students from our community to pursue scholarships. I was even invited by First Lady Michelle Obama for my accomplishments in the Let's Move! campaign.
TIR: What are you looking forward to most in your new role?
JL: Recreation is anything you do while you are not working. I get to have the amazing privilege of benefiting all the incredible residents of our borough. The impact on our quality of life is a tremendous responsibility that I understand and am eager to take on. My job is to make sure that we have safe, inclusive, sustainable programs and events for all of our residents. My work is to create happy memories that allows our community to be proud of their involvement, allowing them to expand their own boundaries of what they believe they can be a part of.
TIR: Name your favorite places in Rutherford.
JL: Of course the parks! I adore walking through Memorial at dusk, when it’s snow covered, and when you can smell the cool of Fall and hear a football game. There’s a little “secret” pathway, that I like to explore with my little cousins and make up stories of fairies who live there. Every Rutherford restaurant feels like home. Just in this year alone, my family (there is about 60 of us) celebrated my grandmother’s birthday, dance recitals, graduations, and communions at many of the restaurants in town.
I will do my best to bring everyone to the table to be a part of Recreation. When the TV show NBC “Parks & Recreation” concluded the “Record” wrote an article on the real live characters and I was referred to as the Leslie Knope in NJ Recreation. I look forward to being Rutherford's next Leslie Knope!