Four Monmouth County community leaders will be honored on March 31 during the 37th annual Wilbur Ray Scholarship Dinner at the Jacques Reception Center in Middletown, NJ.

The event, hosted by Brookdale Community College, is held each spring annually to celebrate diversity and the importance of civic engagement.

Proceeds from the dinner benefit the Wilbur Ray Scholarship Program, which supports ethnic minority students at Brookdale. The awards are named for the late Wilbur Ray, former Brookdale police sergeant, and an active volunteer in the Long Branch community.

This year’s honorees are professionals and volunteers involved in community outreach whose work impacts children and families across central New Jersey.

Receiving the Inaugural Dr. Webster Trammell Community Leadership Award is Thomas F. Hayes, the Director of Customer and Community Relations for New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG). He serves on over 20 nonprofit boards and numerous committees in the Monmouth, Ocean, and Morris County area and is a guest on various podcasts and local radio shows.

Receiving the Wilbur Ray Award are:

Thomas A. Arnone, Director of the Monmouth County Board of Commissioners, is serving his sixth year as Director and previously served two years as Deputy Director. Director Arnone oversees the County’s Department of Public Works and Engineering and serves as the liaison to Public Information, Tourism, Economic Development, the Office of Shared Services, the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Council, the Improvement Authority, and the Shade Tree Commission.

Since being elected as a Commissioner, he established the Healthy Monmouth Initiative, bringing together students from different socioeconomic backgrounds to learn about good nutritional habits. In addition, he started the Grow Monmouth Program to help revitalize the County’s business climate, developed a Façade Improvement program, set up a Tourism Advisory Group, and created the Made in Monmouth event to exclusively showcase locally made consumer products. He is a board member of the Salvation Army New Jersey Division and serves as the Vice Chairman of the Monmouth Ocean Foundation for Children, and has been an active member of the New Jersey League of Municipalities.

Markus W. Rodriguez is the first Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Long Branch Public Schools, where he has been a loyal educator for nearly 24 years. He is passionate about connecting children and families with opportunities and services that have the potential for positive lifelong change. He lends his perspective and expertise to various committees and panels, including the Two River Theater of Red Bank, Monmouth University, Rutgers University, and NJ Literacy of Monmouth County.

Chief Larry B. Fisher, a lifelong resident of the Township of Neptune, is a 34-year veteran of the Neptune Police Department and the 13th police chief in the Township of Neptune and the first minority officer to hold the position of Chief of Police in the history of the Township of Neptune. In addition, he is the only police officer to hold eight positions in the department. Chief Fisher has been a familiar face in the Neptune Township community since his early days as a prominent student-athlete for Neptune High School. He has continued his commitment to community service with the Neptune Township Police Department by serving as a coach in youth sports, community outreach officer, supervisor, coordinator of the jumpstart program, and organizing countless community events.

Additionally, seventeen students will be recognized and awarded scholarships at the dinner.

The Keynote Speaker is scholarship recipient Belinda Asamoah. She is an international student majoring in nursing and creative writing and is the Caroline Huber Holistic Wellness Center Student Representative.

Many of the students share a similar sentiment with Sandro Louis, a student-athlete majoring in Business Administration who plans to graduate in 2024. “This scholarship enables me to have more time to focus on and complete my schoolwork without worrying about how to earn funds to pay my tuition.”

And all the scholarship recipients like Jane Nikhata look forward to advancing their education after Brookdale. Nikhata, a social science nursing major, said, “My dream is to attain my associate degree in 2025 and enroll at Rutgers for my bachelor’s degree.”

Tickets are $90. Student tickets are $50. For sponsorship opportunities, tickets or more information about the Wilbur Ray dinner call Michelle Stathum at 732-224-2705 or email