WEST ORANGE, NJ — The third annual Women Who Rock in the Kitchen (WWRKitch) competition, hosted by the Circle of Rainbow Sisters Seeking Spiritual and Wellness Connection (CORESSWC) at West Orange High School, was an elaborate and elegant event with a focus on raising money toward financial literacy programs that target students from middle school through college.

CORESSWC, pronounced “cores,” is a 501©3 charitable organization that seeks to improve the lives of teens and women who are in need of finding their life purpose, according to its website.

To that end, WWRKitch committee co-chair Yvonne Nambe-Roach said that CORESSWC—founded in 2014—has transitioned from being a supportive social circle of women to an organization that supports three issues that are “vital to our society.” This includes the support of abused women, teen pregnancy and financial literacy.

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She continued that financial literacy is important because “too many of us are ill-prepared” to navigate the world of finance with many people living “paycheck to paycheck.” She also said that when children can understand financial literacy, they can begin to invest in themselves, their families and in their community.

After being introduced by East Orange Mayor Theodore Green as not only his friend, but also his mentor, New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver delivered a keynote address in which she also echoed Nambe-Roach’s sentiments.

Oliver also elaborated on the pitfalls that young people living in New Jersey face when they are not financially literate. This includes getting caught in credit card debt, not paying to attention to the risks attached to subprime mortgages which results in foreclosure, owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, and not having enough savings, she said.

According to Oliver, the cost of living is high in New Jersey makes matters worse for minorities, such as African-Americans and Latinos, because they face a disproportionate wealth gap compared to the greater population, she said.

When children learn to be financially literate, however, Oliver said they will not only be brought onto a “path of saving”—which allows them to make smarter financial decisions like attending a tuition-free community college—but they will also be incentivized to build wealth, potentially becoming entrepreneurs who can compete and thrive in this economy.

Oliver concluded by thanking CORESSWC for raising money for a cause “that’s so important.”

“[CORESSWC] has created a road map for our youth to follow, thus instilling in them the value of finance and recognizing that financial literacy can afford them their freedom to propel to new heights beginning a social revolution of national and international significance,” said Nambe-Roach.

She also extended gratitude to the competing chefs who came from throughout the community for giving not only their time, but also their “commitment, love and legacy toward our cause.”

The WWRKitch cooking competition was separated into five categories: beverage, appetizer, side dish, main course and dessert, with four items under each category made by 13 women who “rock in the kitchen.” The items were assessed according to taste and presentation by judges as well as other guests, who all received five tickets to cast their votes for the best dish in each category.

Maritza Brown, CORESSWC president and WWRKitch committee chair, emceed the event and introduced the judges, who she said ranged in background but were connected by their exceptional culinary skills.

This included graphic designer and media specialist Michael Roach, who is also the husband of Nambe-Roach; and retired war veteran Al Hughes, who has chaired the “Men Who Cook” program presented under the West Orange African Heritage Organization (WOAHO).

Other judges included JP Morgan Chase vice president and digital project manager Sherille Raymond, who is active in other community organizations such as Grassroots and was also described as a “formidable cook”; banking professional Evon Lawrence; and West Orange Deputy Mayor Rudolfo Rodriguez, who is also the owner of Fogon Latino and president of the West Orange Hispanic Foundation.

As they dined, judges and guests were also treated to performances by Carl Anthony of The Carl Anthony Dancers, spoken word poet Ashley “Black Queen” Howard, and a video message from Roosevelt Middle School Principal Lionel Hush on financial literacy.

Monica Perkowski, a contestant as well as a WWRKitch committee member, took this time to explain more about the financial literacy programs that CORESSWC provides to teens.

According to Perkowski, the Financial Discipline Award (FDA) is offered to children from fourth grade through their sophomore year. Students in this program attend seminars, are judged on “punctuality” and “accountability skills” and are required to start 529 savings accounts so that they can learn “how to put money away and care for the future,” said Perkowski.

The Financial Readiness Academic Scholarship Award Program (FRASA), offered to high school juniors and seniors, is an “extremely competitive” program, according to Perkowski. The program entails an essay and panel interview before students are eligible to win varying amounts of scholarship money, which totaled $10,000 in 2018.

Last year, the student in first place won $5,000, while the second place winner earned $3,000 and third place earned $2,000. Smaller Barnes & Noble book scholarships were presented to the students who did not place in the top three, Perkowski noted.

The program is now active, and the winners of the scholarships will be announced in June 2019.

The third program, the Documentary Award Program (DAP), targets students who are entering college. While attending college or a trade school, these students are then eligible to earn additional cash rewards. Perkowski said that the goal of the DAP is to help pay off “the full tuition for a student.”

According to Perkowski, this particular program helps to reduce student debt when they graduate from their respective schools. However, students must maintain a B+ or higher grade point average and must also graduate in order to receive the funds.

In 2018, WWRKitch supporters were able to distribute more than $11,000. This year, Perkowski hopes that figure will be well above $20,000. As these funds increase, Perkowski said there will be more opportunities to reward deserving students.

Click HERE to learn more information about the financial literacy programs.

Attendees who donated money for the financial literacy programs were also given the opportunity to enter in door prizes and 50/50 raffles. Many also supported the independent vendors who sold products during the event.

All photos were provided by Deborah Balthazar. 

Winners of the judging for best taste and best presentation were given a trophy and a gift bag.

The winners as announced by the judges were as follows:

Beverage: Dana Beals – Island Lime Lemonade

Appetizer: Deborah Plaza – Puerto Rico’s Shrimp and Avocado Salad

Side dish: Kimberly Rowland – Ivory Coast Sweet Potato tata

Main Course: Valerie Pierce – Southern Style Meat Sauce with Pasta

Dessert: Karolyn Perkowski – American Carrot Cake


Winners of the Audience Best Taste won $250 for each category except for best beverage which won $150. Runner ups were given $50.

These winners were presented as follows:

Best Beverage: Dana Beals – Island Lime Lemonade

Runner up: Viergina St. Phard – Haitian Iced Tea


Best Appetizer: Dana Beals – Sweet Potato Souffle

Runner up: Deborah Plaza – Puerto Rico’s Shrimp and Avocado Salad


Best Side Dish: Dana Beals – Jamaican-influenced Collards

Runner up: Lillian Robinson – American Mac and cheese with shrimp


Best Main Course: Dana Beals – Caribbean Sweet & Sour chicken

Runner up: Monica Perkowski – Italian Chicken Savoy


Best Dessert: Jillian Maloff – American Coffee Cake

Runner up: Karolyn Perkowski – American Carrot Cake


Below is a full list of the 2019 WWRKitch competitors and their menus:



            Viergina St. Phard – Haitian Iced Tea

            Dana Beals – Island Lime Lemonade

            Yvonne Nambe – Exotic Fruit Blend

            Sia Khalfani – Peruvian Purple Corn


            Viergina St. Phard – Haitian inspired Sea Food Salad

            Deborah Plaza – Puerto Rico’s Shrimp and Avocado Salad

            Dana Beals – Sweet Potato Souffle

            Viergina St. Phard – Haitian “Djon Djon” rice*

(replaced* Lillian Robinson – Garbanzo Bean Supreme Soup)

Side Dish:

            Deborah Plaza – Puerto Rico’s Arroz con Gandules

            Dana Beals – Jamaican influenced Collards

            Lillian Robinson – American Mac and Cheese w/ shrimp

            Kimberly Rowland – Ivory Coast Sweet Potato tata

Main Course:

            Sandra Belgrave – Grenadian Sautee Bacalao (salted codfish)

            Dana Beals – Caribbean Sweet & Sour Chicken

            Valerie Pierce – Southern Style Meat Sauce w/ pasta

            Monica Perkowski – Italian Chicken Savoy


            Tonia Carter – St. Thomas Banana Pudding

            Karolyn Perkowski – American Carrot Cake

            (Taken off the menu*: Tonia Carter – Alkaline Vegan Peach and Pear Cobbler)

            Jillian Maloff – American Coffee Cake