Janie Lewis wears a lot of hats.
An advisory board member serving on the Essex County Commission on Aging, Lewis also oversees street-level politics as a district leader in Newark (District 20) and helps to lead two resident organizations at New Community Commons Senior—the Tenants Association and the 140 Club.
A resident of her building for 23 years, Lewis has gotten to know just about everyone through her energetic involvement in Commons Senior, according to Care Coordinator Doreatha Wertz.
“She’s a force,” Wertz said of Lewis, who frequents the Health and Social Services office to meet with either Wertz or Valerie White, Assistant Care Coordinator. “I’m involved with everything,” Lewis acknowledged. “I fit in where I’m needed.”
The common thread that runs through Lewis’ activities is a goal to improve the quality of life for seniors. Recently, Lewis, who serves as secretary of the Commons Senior Tenants Association, helped to put on the building’s third annual Fashion Show, complete with music, food and live entertainment. She brought in her expertise from being part of the executive committee that organized a city-wide Senior Fashion Show in May hosted by Newark Council President Mildred Crump.
Beyond social events, Lewis takes her civic involvement seriously. Once, a woman told Lewis that she needed to cut down a tree in front of her home but was told that it would cost her $900. Lewis said she picked up the phone and was able to find another tree removal service that cost much less at $300.
“You have to listen to them when they come to you and try to help them,” Lewis said of her constituents that contact her with various issues. Health issues can sometimes slow her down physically, so Lewis says she takes care of business over the phone.
Born in 1942 in Washington, D.C., Lewis moved to Newark as a child and graduated from Central High School in 1960. She worked for several years at what’s now called the Woodbridge Developmental Center, a residential facility serving people with developmental disabilities. Next she was hired at H. Goodman and Sons, now known as Goody, which manufactures hair styling products. She said she worked on the factory floor operating an eyelet machine that sealed products. Later she moved to a hospital in Staten Island where she became a head cottage supervisor. Before retiring in 2003, Lewis worked for a stretch in Newark’s bar scene. With a wistful smile, she recalled both the long hours and colorful characters she encountered at places now long gone, such as the 49 Club on Jones Street, Mickey’s on 14th, and Uncle Joe’s on South Orange Avenue.
“That was the neighborhood bar for everyone so you know it was happening,” she said of Uncle Joe’s, where she was the bar manager. Now 71, Lewis credits Tenants Association President Larry Coley, who is her co-leader for District 20, with getting her involved after retirement. Lewis also participates in NCC Founder Monsignor William J. Linder’s monthly resident meeting where she serves as recording secretary.