While most people imagine themselves living it up on their own private island after they’ve won the lottery, Ewing resident Heather Kearns-Latini dreams of being able to start her own local charity collecting unwanted goods for people to donate.
She got the idea when her husband, Justin, was working as a garbage collector and she realized how many unused items people throw away every day.
“I just thought all of this stuff that people throw away — it just goes into a landfill, but someone could have been using it!” she said.
When she was planning to start her own business six years ago, Kearns-Latini considered transforming her idea into a benefit organization and buying a truck to drive around and collect the unwanted goods.
Unfortunately, she says, it didn’t seem likely that she would be able to start the organization and take care of her family of four.
“I just love community service and I wish I had more time to devote,” she said. “That’s why I say when I hit that Powerball I’ll be doing charity work.”
As a business leader of her own company, Legwork, Inc. and executive director of the Ewing Public Education Foundation, Kearns-Latini is dedicated towards creating a well-educated community and improving residential life.
Her most recent endeavor was the development of the new Education and Technology Resource Center at the Hollowbrook Community Center, which was a collaborative project through the Educational Testing Service (ETS), EPEF and the township.
The facility, which opened on Dec. 16, houses state-of-the-art computers, wireless Internet access, audio-visual equipment, computer/web based learning applications for children and adults, and upgraded classroom space for new and ongoing programs. The center and its services are free to all Ewing residents.
It’s Kearns-Latini’s empathy that drives her to be so invested in improving the community. She tries to help out at local organizations whenever she can and recently volunteered at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen where she met a family of five who recently became homeless.
After the husband’s sudden death, the family lost all of their benefits and their main source of income, leading them to seek help through community organizations like TASK and HomeFront until they’re able to get back on their feet.
“I’m just always thinking [about] people like that and my brain doesn’t ever stop.” Kearns-Latini said. “You think, ‘what can you do to help, what can we do to change things?’ That’s why the Hollowbrook project was huge and I was all about it.”
Kearns-Latini’s work experience spans many different industries- from the entertainment film world to the county’s government offices. Her first big job out of college was as deputy executive director of Kits & Expendables, a lighting production supply company in New York City.
As the time, Kits & Expendables was a new start-up created by Feature Systems — the no. 1 company in the industry for lighting and grip. Kearns-Latini was one of just seven employees working to get Kits & Expendables off the ground and she absolutely loved it.
The company specialized in providing special gels, transparent, colored sheets which filter the light to create different hues and effects. During feature film production, the crew can use hundreds of different gels. Kearns-Latini says that she would work on movie and commercial sets to manage the product order and to ensure that all of the right colors were pulled.
“We had a wall of [gels] categorized and like yellows — there’s about 50 different ones. Actors and actresses will know, ‘I want gel number 9, that’s what makes me look the best.’ It’s so crazy to me. I loved it.”
Though she thoroughly enjoyed the job, Kearns-Latini says that the start-up position didn’t go a long way towards paying the bills.
She decided to return to New Jersey and took a position as a service representative at a temp agency called Manpower Temporary Services. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for her to realize her distaste for the job.
At a job fair, she met the then-Mercer County Executive Robert Prunetti, who called her in for an interview shortly after. Kearns-Latini got the job and was hired as Prunetti’s executive assistant. She worked in the position for six years before Prunetti left office in 2003.
Kearns-Latini says that she truly enjoyed many of her previous positions, though serving the community has been her favorite job by far. She says she wouldn’t change a thing as she learned what she needed to get where she is today.
She now works as the president and CEO of her own company, Legwork, Inc. which specializes in grant writing, promotion and event coordination. Legwork is based in Hamilton, though Kearns-Latini works with clients all over Mercer County including Kidsbridge, the MidJersey Chamber of Commerce and the Lawrence Hopewell Trail.
A native of East Trenton, Kearns-Latini currently resides in Ewing with Justin, who works for Ewing Township as a truck driver, and two children, Bella and Vienna, who are both in elementary school.
She was brought up in the Catholic school system and graduated from Notre Dame High School. Kearns-Latini is very proud of her roots and says she couldn’t imagine growing up anywhere else.
“It’s just that I have an appreciation that a lot of people don’t have when they grow up in different areas,” she said. “My kids, I want them to be able to be around anybody and do anything they want and to stand up for people too.”
Kearns-Latini says that while growing up, she was never afraid to speak her mind and question the system whether it was at home or in school.
“When I was little, I always used to fight things,” she said, “like arguing, ‘why can’t a female be a priest?’ or ‘why can’t a man be a Nun?’”
She says she was especially critical of the principles of Catholicism because she found it difficult to accept the points that she didn’t agree with including the exclusion of alternative lifestyles.
“They’re heavy conversations and arguments,” Kearns-Latini said. “I don’t mind getting in them because I am very, very opinionated about it. I will fight battles; I will sit on a board and I will absolutely stand up for someone.”
Kearns-Latini still possesses that same fire today, though she now uses it to fight for what she cares about most- which is helping others and creating a better quality of life for the community.
She was a very strong supporter of the Education and Technology Resource Center project and was insistent on creating a space that would best serve area residents.
The Resource Center was inspired by a similar project implemented in Lawrence Township in 2011. Along with the Educational Testing Service (ETS) organization, EPEF and Ewing Township initiated the project in 2013. The center received over $62,000 through the ETS Employees’ Community Action Fund to carry out the project.
The idea for the resource center was first suggested by ETS employee and EPEF board member Karl Clark and the organizations agreed to submit the proposal in August of 2013.
The Hollowbrook proposal went up against five other community projects spanning across the county. Members of ETS’s Employee Engagement Advisory Committee announced the center as its 2014/2015 project of the year in September. The Resource Center initiative stood out for its ability to connect many different community organizations.
“I felt like this project was so unique because we pulled in all these entities- the Mercer County library, the CYO, The College of New Jersey, the Ewing schools…” Kearns-Latini said. “We pulled in so many people and that’s the reason why ETS said it was the most unique project on the board. With all the entities involved we could really affect the community.”
The new Resource Center provides access to state-of-the-art technology including 20 Chrome OS computer stations, two projector/whiteboards, web-based learning applications, a teacher station and printing facilities. The Center also houses new classroom space for public education programs.
It is Kearns-Latini’s hope that the Hollowbrook Resource Center can be a place for community members and organizations to come together to further develop knowledge and skills, making Ewing a more informed town and a better place to live.