Home PeopleHoboken Girl of the Week Nellie Moyeno: A Q+A With This Longtime Hoboken Resident

Nellie Moyeno: A Q+A With This Longtime Hoboken Resident

by Victoria Marie Moyeno
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Every community has a handful of people who go above and beyond what should be expected from a fellow neighbor. There’s always a sense of duty and compassion that these local residents feel that ultimately push them to do things that they may have never thought of doing before in the past. Yet, they always muster up the courage to face issues head-on. The local legend is featured in this article goes by the name Nellie Moyeno, formally Nelys. 

What makes Nellie stand out from others is her unwavering dedication to the town that eventually lead her to become the first female Hispanic Council President of Hoboken for two consecutive terms and served as a Councilwoman at-large for four years. When asked about the timeline of her career in Hoboken in politics and for the board of education, there were so many organizations, elections, and projects that it was impossible for her to recall all of them off the top of her head. So, we did some digging into her personal archives. Keep reading to learn more about Nellie Moyeno, a lifelong Hoboken resident. 

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Nellie’s Hoboken Roots

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Nellie was born at Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital in Jersey City and is a lifelong resident of Hoboken. Her mother, Rosa, worked as a seamstress in Hoboken’s factories and her father, Angelo, was a longshoreman on the Hoboken piers. Her older sister Iris, owned a hair salon on 11th and Washington, now known as HairCult, and later opened a bodega on 2nd and Adams with her husband Mencho. Her older brothers Georgie and Angelo worked for various Hoboken businesses over the years. She also met her husband, Luis A. Moyeno on the streets of Hoboken as a teenager and later had two children, Rosemarie Moyeno-Matos who is a cannabis attorney based out of Hoboken and Luis G. Moyeno who is a Battalion Chief for HFD.

Nellie’s first experiences dabbling in the world of politics date back to her Hoboken High School days when she was a homeroom representative, a member of the student council and the Spanish club. She had no aspirations to further her career outside of the school but eventually, she found herself doing just that.

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Nellie’s Professional History in Hoboken

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It’s important to know about Nellie’s history + work in Hoboken before learning more about her. From 1982 to 1987, Nellie served as a bilingual clerk for the board of education. 

In 1987, Mayor F. Vezzetti appointed her to the position of Hispanic & Minority Affairs Officer. She worked closely with the community, specifically with fire victims in placing them in new homes, created food vouchers and provided furniture via collaborations with local businesses. In 1988 she joined the board of American Red Cross to organize and assist in disaster relief.

Simultaneously, she was asked to join the Mayor’s Aids Task Force. They discussed the aids epidemic and collaborated with representatives from health, human services, and education fields to generate solutions for those affected in the community.

From 1990 to 1993, Nellie worked at St. Mary’s Hospital in the central registration department and emergency room. Many of the patients didn’t have regular visitors for one reason or another, so she dedicated her lunchtime to keeping those patients company by talking to them, reading to them and feeding them. “I met a lot of amazing people during those lunch breaks over those three years,” she said.

In 1993, Nellie was elected to the Hoboken City Council and served eight years as Councilwoman at-large. During her last term, she served as the City Council President for two consecutive years. In addition to her City Council work, she spent time advocating for numerous causes as an active member of the Board of Directors for the Hoboken Organization Against Poverty and Economic Stress, The Puerto Rican Association for Community Organization, The Hoboken Housing Authority, and the National Organization for Women. She received a proclamation from U.S. Senator Robert Menendez in recognition for, “The steadfast commitment to the Puerto Rican community on the Puerto Rican Cultural Committee of Hoboken.”

In 2001, Nellie took her work beyond City Hall — she saved a Hoboken citizen from committing suicide in a dramatic rooftop rescue. She asked to go up to the rooftop and speak to the woman herself. Nellie pleaded with her for more than four hours while attached to a harness and rope. She saw an opportunity to grab the woman, hoping to pull her to safety and was helped by the rescue officials to bring them both back onto the rooftop safely. Nellie received the “Lodge’s Civilian Life Saving Award” from the Fraternal Order of Police {FOP} for her brave efforts.

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Fast forward to 2004 and Nellie began her 13-year-long career in the education system starting in the Even Start Family Literally Program based in HHS working with high school students.

In 2008, she worked in Early Childhood as the Parent and Community Involvement Specialist based out of Brandt School. She helped place students in schools, created family workshops, and even stood in the lobby when the doors opened for kids to begin school every morning to greet them. She held this position until she retired in 2016.

Read More: Hoboken of Girl the Week: Tina Rivera {of Baking Mama}

A Q + A with Nellie:

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Hoboken Girl had the chance to sit down and speak with Nellie about all her accomplishments,  what it was like to be a trailblazer in the Latinx community right here in the Mile Square, and so much more. 

Hoboken Girl: How did it feel to be a trailblazer in your community?

Nellie Moyeno: I never thought of myself as a trailblazer. I just felt a sense of duty, dedication, and compassion to the residents of the city. The fact that I was able to lead as the first Hispanic-female person for some positions was and is an honor for me, and my family. I am truly humbled by it. 

As I look back, I just hope I was able to inspire young Latinos to know that their dreams are possible and to never believe they can’t achieve something because it may be unfamiliar. I was afraid when I first began my career in politics because I hadn’t really known what I was getting myself into but also I was a female and a Latina, which adds an extra level of pressure and expectation, leaving little room error. It didn’t help that I wasn’t a great public speaker either. However, I knew I couldn’t fail if I worked from my heart and gave everything my full commitment, and that’s what I did.

HG: What inspired you to pursue politics?

NM: When I took on the responsibility as the Officer of Hispanic and Minority Affairs, I was in a position to help so many people from our community as well as surrounding communities {Jersey City, Newark, Passaic, etc.}. People really resonated with who I was and what I stood for and would literally come up to me at work or to my front door asking me to run for office and represent them because they needed an honest and committed person. I thought, well if they trust and believe in me that much then let me give it a shot. I knew you had to be in it in order to make a bigger difference.

HG: What was your favorite position over the years?

NM: I can’t say I have a favorite one because they all meant a lot to me. However, the Even Start Family Literacy Program was a project that really touched my heart. I worked with high-school students, primarily teenage parents to ensure that not only do they graduate but understand how to provide a better life for their children through workshops we hosted. They came to me when they needed help with homework or advice on parenting or on life in general. Twice a week we used to have family dinners in the cafeteria of HHS where I would do the cooking and they brought their children, significant others, siblings, parents, and grandparents. Those teenage mothers were met with so much negativity and I wanted to create a safe space where they felt confident and positive and knew that it was going to be okay because we had their backs. I had created real bonds with some of the students and they reach out to me even to this day.

HG: What was your most stressful position?

NM: Councilwoman at large, without a doubt. The need and expectation were much greater than I could have imagined. Being that I’m a person of my word and seeing every promise through, it wasn’t easy. Some politicians tend to fall through on commitments but that wasn’t who I was going to be even if it meant taking the longer, harder route to get to the finish line. I gained 50 pounds in one year if that says anything. 

While I would never run for public office again, I thank God for the opportunity because it taught me so much and I grew as a person.

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HG: What major projects were you involved in as a councilperson?

NM: We opened the Multi Service Center skate park, developed the piers to become more family-friendly and community-oriented, including Sinatra Park as well as bringing the Light Rail into the terminal. We also made it a point to collaborate with local developers seeking property in Hoboken to build on, that they needed to include a certain percentage of affordable housing in order to do business in town. The ideas mostly came from everyday people, the constituents. They told us what they wanted and we did our best to implement those things to the best of our ability.

HG: What is your message for young people who want to pursue a career in politics?

NM: I came from two Puerto Rican parents who came to Hoboken straight from the island that only spoke Spanish, worked low-class jobs and lived paycheck to paycheck. They weren’t able to help me with homework growing up, they didn’t have any major connections in big industries, it was just them and the values they taught us. I am a self-made person. I started from the ground up and created a name for myself, one step at a time. If a Latina like me, from humble beginnings, could achieve her dreams, anyone could. Never doubt yourself, you are good enough.

HG: What are and were your favorite businesses in Hoboken?

NM: My favorite restaurants were Natoli’s Pizzeria on 2nd and Clinton, Ruthie’s Luncheonette, Biggie’s, La Concha, Leo’s, and Piccolo’s. My favorite stores were, Mickey Finn’s, Helen’s clothing store, Jew Benny’s clothing store, Tom McCan’s shoe store, and Marra’s shoe store.

HG: What is your favorite thing about Hoboken?

NM: I always loved how family-oriented it is. There’s always been a strong sense of camaraderie, a sense of caring for your neighbor. You used to take care of your neighbor when they were sick. Everyone knew each other well. Especially as a councilwoman, it took forever to walk down the block because of how many people used to stop to talk to you! It was amazing.

There are so many people in our neighborhoods that have given so much and asked for nothing in return. This is a story of selflessness, duty, love of community, and humble beginnings. Nellie Moyeno has dedicated most of her life to the well-being of Hoboken and did it with a sense of pride and joy that can’t be translated into words. She is a testament that you truly can be anything you want if you work hard enough and love hard enough.

Thanks for chatting with us, Nellie! And thank you for all the work you’ve done for Hoboken and beyond.

Do you know of a local Hoboken Hero that deserves some recognition? Email us at [email protected]

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