Felix M. Torres-Colon, 62, of Willingboro, executive director of New Kensington Community Development Corp., died Wednesday, Feb. 5, at Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice in Mount Holly after a stroke.
Mr. Torres-Colon started working at New Kensington (NKCDC) in March 2017. However, he spent a lifetime working in community development along the East Coast: in New England, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New Jersey.
“He has been in the world of social justice and community empowerment for just about his entire career,” said Sharon Anderson, his wife of 15 years. “He was very passionate about it.”
During Mr. Torres-Colon’s tenure, New Kensington “completed an office move, hired a third more staff, began a new affordable housing development, and received new funding from sources like the U.S. Department of Justice, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Kresge Foundation,” the agency said in a statement announcing his death.
Mr. Torres-Colon was “incredibly smart and incredibly dedicated” to his work and to neighborhood residents, said Bea Rider, NKCDC’s acting executive director.
“He really valued the input of neighbors and residents," she said.
Although Mr. Torres-Colon had strong opinions and put forth his own ideas, he was willing “to take a step back and readjust” and listen to everyone’s opinions, Rider said.
“By the end of the discussion, he might change his mind and say, ‘We’ll do it your way.’ We all appreciated his commitment to that openness.
“On a day-to-day basis, he was just always jovial and friendly,” she added, “the kind of person who would walk around the office and say hello to everyone.”
Before joining New Kensington, Mr. Torres-Colon was director of program development at St. Joseph’s Carpenter’s Society in Camden, an organization that promotes affordable housing and neighborhood development. He also served as board president of the Hispanic Family Center of Southern New Jersey.
Prior to that, he served as executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore and executive director of Manchester Neighborhood Housing Services — now known as NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire.
In announcing Mr. Torres-Colon’s 2017 hiring, New Kensington said NeighborWorks “became a NeighborWorks Homeownership Center under his leadership, developing 140 units of rental housing and 20 units of homeownership. It also established a rehab program and provided homeownership counseling to over 1,900 families."
Rick Sauer, executive director of the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, said Mr. Torres-Colon valued diversity and equity in the work the agency was doing.
“As a nonprofit organization that works in lower-income communities, he strongly believed in ensuring that the representation of his staff reflected the community they were working in,” Sauer said.
Mr. Torres-Colon was born in Tacoma, Wash., to Maria Torres and Felix Torres-Burgos. His father had been a widower with three children from his first marriage when he married Maria Torres, whose maiden name was Colon. Mr. Torres-Colon was the first of four children born in the second marriage.
Because of his father’s Army service, the family moved often, said Anderson. After Tacoma, they lived in Alaska; San Antonio, Texas; returned to Alaska; and then moved to New Jersey, where his father was assigned to Fort Dix. Mr. Torres-Colon graduated from nearby Pemberton High School.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard University and completed graduate coursework in city planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New Kensington CDC said.
When he wasn’t working, Mr. Torres-Colon and his wife enjoyed taking care of their own three dogs and providing foster rescue care for dogs and cats. They also worked with Monkey’s House, a dog hospice and sanctuary, and fostered older dogs approaching the end of their lives.
The couple have helped place more than 70 homeless dogs, his agency said. At the time of his death, Mr. Torres-Colon and Anderson were fostering two senior dogs and two kittens.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Torres-Colon is survived by two brothers and two sisters as well as a number of nieces and nephews.
A Funeral Mass was held Monday, Feb. 10. Burial was private. A Celebration of Life is scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 7, at Philadelphia Brewing Co., 2440 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia, 19125.