Employee Spotlight: Dena Mottola Jaborska, New Executive Director

Dena Mottola Jaborska is the new Executive Director of New Jersey Citizen Action, although she has been working at NJCA since 2012 in various roles. At the start of 2022 she succeeded Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, who led and built NJCA for 36 of its 40 years and now serves as President.

A New Jersey native, Dena grew up in a working-class family in Hoboken and then Old Bridge. Both her parents were big inspirations who exemplified resilience and the importance of working hard. Her father, a longshoreman, was interested in environmental issues and the injustices that Native Americans have faced throughout history. He taught his five kids that all people regardless of their skin color or wealth, were equal, and helped grow Dena’s passion for social justice.

Among the first member of her family to go to college, she attended Cornell University where her drive for community organizing and activism really kicked off. The culture clash between her family’s background and the wealth and privilege of an Ivy League university spurred her to switch from pre-med to a history major to learn more about discrimination and marginalized groups. After college, Dena worked for Public Allies, a training program for young people in the Chicago area to get involved with organizing and social change, founded by Michelle Obama with classes led by then-community organizer Barack Obama. She was then recruited by the Illinois Campaign for Better Health Care to build chapters and recruit activists around the state to lead healthcare reform.

After some years Dena grew homesick for New Jersey and went to work for NJPIRG (Public Interest Research Group) to work on environmental issues like clean water, clean air, overdevelopment and protecting public health from toxic chemicals. Her work expanded to include consumer issues, healthcare, democracy and voting rights, utilities and more, as she advanced to become NJPIRG’s legislative director and then executive director. When NJPIRG spun off a new group, Environment New Jersey, Dena worked on early efforts to combat climate change including the Global Warming Response Act, one of the earliest bills to limit greenhouse gas emissions, as well as energy efficiency in buildings and products, promoting wind and solar energy, and NJ clean energy standards.

Dena stepped away from her work for a year for family medical reasons, but it only inspired her even further to get back into advocacy, this time in healthcare as well as family and worker support issues such as paid family leave. Now with New Jersey Citizen Action, she helped fight for the expansion and improvement of New Jersey paid leave so families like hers would have more of the resources they needed to care for each other. Starting as the Director of Advocacy and Organizing, she moved up to Associate Director and now Executive Director.

Today she lives in Lawrence with her husband, son, daughter, and two dogs Bear and Lucky. Her and her family enjoy kayaking, camping and hiking and plan to visit every National Park. Next stop, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain and Mesa Verde National Parks!