On Christmas Eve, December 24, 2020, Samuel Okparaeke passed away suddenly at the age of 51. Sam was a man that was driven and dedicated to excellence and empowerment. Sam was fortunate enough to work in the fields for which he was most passionate – Social Services and Economic Development. He spent the last 20 years of his life building an exemplary career with the County of Essex. Sam worked his way up beginning as an Employment Specialist with the Essex County Division of Training and Employment, and years later became the Director of the same agency. At the time of his passing, Sam held three different positions, simultaneously, at the County – Executive Director of the Essex County Workforce Development Board, One-Stop Operator, and Executive Director of the Office of Small Business Development. Sam was a dedicated public servant and struggled to assist individuals and businesses devastated by the Coronavirus crisis in 2020. There are many small businesses that are open and thriving today because of the work and sacrifice of Sam Okparaeke on behalf of those with limited resources during the COVID-19 crisis. Sam also valued education. Twenty years after receiving his Bachelor’s Degree from Jersey City State University, Sam received his Master's Degree, with High Honors, from Rutgers-Newark School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) in May 2013. Sam was not only a student, but he was also a teacher. He was contracted by Rutgers New Brunswick as a Consultant to teach Career Development skills to international students. He was extremely proud of his work at Rutgers. Having been born in Cameroon and raised in Nigeria, Sam knows the challenges that international students face in a foreign land. He was proud to be able to help connect the dots and provide assistance in a meaningful way. Education was such an important part of Sam’s life that he served on the Board of both Eastwick College and Middlesex County College at the time of his untimely passing.
The Samuel Okparaeke Scholarship Fund has a goal to follow in Sam’s footsteps and provide assistance in a meaningful way. This scholarship is an annual award of $25,000 that will be presented to Rutgers-Newark SPAA students who, upon graduation, will be entering a career in local government in the fields of Social/Human Services, Workforce Development, or Economic Development.
Samuel Okparaeke was a man who dedicated his life to standing in the gap for the disenfranchised. He made a positive impact on the many lives he touched. The hope is that this scholarship will do the same for a deserving student who will also help pay it forward.
The hope is that this scholarship will inspire the same determination and commitment to service that fueled the man for whom the scholarship is named. We want to honor Samuel Okparaeke by ensuring that his legacy, and the work he created, will be of benefit to others for generations to come.