Home LifestyleCareer International Women’s Day: Local Women We Are Inspired By

International Women’s Day: Local Women We Are Inspired By

by Jordan and Joelle Hernandez
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Women all over Essex County inspire us every day. Moms, sisters, daughters, friends, CEOs, small-business owners, artists, scientists, physicians, nurses, and more, it seems that women can do it all. This International Women’s Day we are highlighting some of Essex County’s inspiring women leaders making moves in the community.

Celestina Ando

celestina ando

MG: Please describe what you do.

I specialize in magazine-style portraits while focusing on an authentic and empowering experience.  My clients often claim they are not photogenic and are generally nervous or shy when they first start. It is completely my responsibility to take the pressure off by guiding, posing, and artistically lighting them so that they can focus on having fun. By the end of the shoot, they are owning it! I get to capture this beautiful transformation and create legacy portraits with luxurious portrait products that my clients and their families can treasure for generations to come.

MG: Outside of your career, what is something people would not realize about you?

Photography is my second career. Once upon a time, I was a Canadian CPA who worked in corporate finance for almost 20 years. I was 40 when I started my business, hence my theme for my next photography exhibit in celebration of Women’s History Month.  It’s called “40 Over 40 – I Am” and takes place at the HIllside Square Gallery in Montclair, March 12th, 6:00PM – 8:00PM. All are welcome.

MG: What advice would you give to the next generation of women leaders?

Whenever someone told me that I couldn’t do something, it always fueled me, even more, to prove them wrong.  Let’s continue to break those glass ceilings and balance the scale towards equality.  

MG: What is the proudest moment of your life?

There are various achievements that I’m grateful for, however, my proudest moments are the times that I’ve struggled/failed, picked myself back up, and kept moving forward.  I never want to live my life with any regret and so I always aim to learn from my mistakes and strive to do better.  

MG: What do you do for fun locally? 

I’m pretty active so I love being outdoors hiking, swimming, skiing, skating, etc. I do a lot of Latin dancing as well, another passion of mine for the past 20 years, although I haven’t done too much of that lately.  I hope to be out on the dance floor again soon.

Tonza Houston

tonza Houston

MG: Please describe what you do. 

I’m the co-owner of Sweet T’s Southern Eatery where I manage the Front of House, Payroll, and HR. I also do Product Development full-time in textiles for an importer. Finally, I buy homes, fix them up and resell them. 

MG: Outside of your career, what is something people would not realize about you?

I had my son four days before my 18th birthday and I’m 50 years old. 

MG: What advice would you give to the next generation of women leaders? 

Never think it’s too late to pursue your dreams. I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant and I did it in my late 40s. Everything happens when it’s supposed to happen and the timing is right. 

MG: What is the proudest moment of your life? 

Raising my two children, my son is 32 and my daughter is 22, as a single mom. They’re both college graduates and pursuing their careers. 

MG: What do you do for fun locally? 

I like to go to Faubourg after a long day to have a drink and unwind. I also walk a lot around Montclair to think and clear my mind.

Daniela Costanzo

Daniela Costanzo

MG: Please describe what you do.

I am the founder/owner of D*FIT Studio. At D*FIT, we challenge you to challenge yourself with more than 40 + group classes a week from cycling to kettlebells, yoga to circuit classes. Along with classes, we offer Personal Training and Nutrition, plus well-balanced monthly meal plans. Our dedicate*d staff motivates you to live as strong, happy, and healthy as you can be, all through the power of sweat.

MG: Outside of your career, what is one thing people would not realize about you?

If I’m out and there’s a DJ booth, I want to be the person behind the turntable with the vinyls. The power of music is phenomenal, and I love being able to help bring a space to life by going thru different decades. Being able to go from old school hip hop to 70s to early 2000s and watch people move in their seats or get up and dance while truly enjoying themselves brings me so much joy. 

MG: What advice would you give to the next generation of women leaders? 

Stay true to who you are but always approach life with openness. Be bold and go after what you believe in. Lean into the challenges because that is where growth happens. Authentic communication will solve 99% of all problems. And… DO YOU because everyone else is taken AND you only get this once!

MG: What is the proudest moment of your life?

I feel fortunate to say I have many proud moments both personally and professionally but opening the doors to D*FIT 11 years ago and still feeling like we’re making an impact in the community today makes me truly proud and grateful. I am so damn proud to stand and work with the amazing team that I’ve assembled over the years and who have been on this ride with me.

MG: What do you do for fun locally?

My passion for discovering my next great meal or cocktail makes living here so fun. Especially with the number of amazing restaurants and restaurant owners. I love going out to eat with friends, trying new restaurants, or simply enjoying a great meal – that is my idea of fun. Outside of that, if I’m awake late enough, I love going to see New Power Soul at Just Jakes.

Read More: A List of Women-Owned Businesses to Support in Montclair

Deanna Critchley

Deanna Critchley

MG: Please describe what you do.  

We are a custom scent bar. Customers have an interactive experience where they create their own custom scent and then with that scent, they create products like candles, aromatic mists, reed diffusers, lotion, hand soap, hand sanitizer, wax melts, and more. 

MG: Outside of your career, what is something people would not realize about you? 

I love to experience other cultures via travel, art, food, and more. 

MG: What advice would you give to the next generation of women leaders?

Take risks. Follow your passion. Never settle. 

MG: What is the proudest moment of your life?

Watching these two adorable little boys that I have raised become wonderful, kind, empathetic men. 

MG: What do you do for fun locally?

I love all things Montclair. There is always more to discover in Montclair. It is a warm and welcoming community and I truly feel lucky to be a part of it. Favorite things are dinner at Palato, Jalwa, and Hunan Taste, or strolling the shops on Church Street and Willow. And I always love a long walk down Highland Ave or watching a game at MKA!

See More: A List of Women-Owned Businesses to Support in Bloomfield

Zammeah Bivins-Gibson, MSW

Zammeah Bivins Gibson

MG: Please describe what you do.

I am the Executive Director of the only comprehensive shelter in East Orange. 

Isaiah House is a non-profit agency for children and families in Essex County, New Jersey and we remain the only shelter in East Orange that provides temporary lodging, food, social and financial services, daycare, as well as comfort and hope for over 100 families a year. Isaiah House is dedicated to those families who are considered “most fragile”-that is, those families who have been devastated by unemployment, illness, drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, fires, and other crises. In addition to housing, Isaiah House offers a variety of support services to family members, including life skills training, instructions in household and money management, job search assistance, tutoring, medical referrals, and on-site drug and alcohol abuse support groups. We also offer case management, advocacy medication monitoring, and rental assistance support to over 60 additional households that live outside of our shelter facility. 

MG: Outside of your career, what is something people would not realize about you?

Most people know that I am extremely busy and involved in many other committees and activities outside of work, but what most don’t realize is that I still feel like the little girl that grew up in East Orange. I often forget that I’ve risen to the level that I have when in a space with other professionals. I’m often taken aback when I’m seen as someone that others look to as a veteran and/or expert at what I do.  The truth is, I like sitting at home and watching old episodes of Columbo, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and a reality show here and there.

MG: What advice would you give to the next generation of women leaders? 

I would say to the next generation of women leaders to be unafraid. I know that sounds simple, but what I mean is this, if you don’t speak up out of fear, those words may never be spoken, and we know that closed mouths don’t get fed. If you are in the room, it’s because you belong there. If you don’t know the answer, it’s ok to say you’re unsure at the moment, but if you are asked that same question again, you’d better know! Don’t keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result – sometimes you just have to make minor tweaks to get it right. 

MG: What is the proudest moment of your life? 

Outside of becoming a mother, I think my proudest moment was stepping into this role as Executive Director of Isaiah House. I was thrust into a position that I had no training for, no guidance, and little support, and really didn’t want or ask for. I was a mom of a small child and literally had to reinvent the wheel. Ten years later, along with my team and the support of our Board of Directors, we have maintained the legacy of this 36-year-old organization that is a community jewel. Having been a product of East Orange, I couldn’t be more proud of being chosen to lead this worthy organization. 

MG: What do you do for fun locally? 

I am really very much a restaurant/lounge kind of woman. I enjoy going to my favorite local spots with my friends, having a couple of cocktails, eating great food, and enjoying music and the atmosphere. I also love walking around McCloones on that beautiful path. It’s so serene.

Chanta + Chesney Blue

chants blue

^ Chanta Blue

MG: Please describe what you do

Blue Counseling & Wellness Center is a mental health and nutrition counseling agency.  We provide counseling and therapy services to individuals, families, groups, and organizations looking to prioritize their wellness holistically.

MG: Outside of your career, what is something people would not realize about you?

Chanta: Outside of my career, people wouldn’t realize that I’m a big foodie. I love trying out new restaurants and tasting delicious new cuisines.

Chesney: I like to dance, especially hip-hop, R&B, and soul music.  The pandemic has decreased the number of social events I go to. But hopefully, that will change soon!  

MG: What advice would you give to the next generation of women leaders? 

Chanta: I would tell the next generation of women leaders to give themselves some grace.  There is no timeline for when you are supposed to accomplish certain milestones in your life. Everyone has their own journey and season for success so don’t beat yourself up.

Chesney: You can do anything you put your mind to. Don’t let doubt, fear, and other people’s opinion paralyze you. Just do it even if you think you will fail.  

MG: What is the proudest moment of your life? 

Chanta: The proudest moment of my life was submitting my resignation from my job of 10 years to go full-time in my business.

Chesney: I have two. Graduating from Howard University and owning a business.  

MG: What do you do for fun locally?

Chanta: Grabbing a pack of beer from the Montclair Brewery then heading to Bury The Hatchet for axe throwing. 

Chesney: Brunch at Faubourg and viewing art exhibits at Montclair Art Museum.

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