New Jersey American Water

New Jersey American Water employees participating in a Camden clean-up volunteer event lead by Mayor Victor Carstarphen, far right


For New Jersey American Water, providing water and wastewater utility services is only half of its mission. The company’s employees see themselves on the frontlines of protecting their water system and enhancing the communities that rely on it.

“As the largest water utility and wastewater utility in the state – one out of every 3 residents gets their water or wastewater from us – it’s important that we are part of the community we serve, and that they know they can count on us to be there,” says Denise Venuti Free, Director of Communications and External Affairs of New Jersey American Water, noting that more than 850 of the company’s employees live and work in New Jersey.

Based in Camden, American Water is a national company that brings a local impact.

“When you’re a part of an organization that’s also a national company, people might lose sight of the fact that we are still right here in your neighborhood,” she says. “We live in these communities, and we care about them.”

On a business level, New Jersey American Water aims to help its customers whenever they can through its customer assistance program. The company offers alternative payment plans to residents facing financial hardship. They also offer an H2O program that waives service charges, sometimes up to 100%.

As a utility company, American Water’s highest priority is to empower communities to be good stewards of the environment. One of its major programs is the Environmental Grant Program, an initiative started in 2009 that offers grants of $1,000 to $10,000 to communities to preserve, restore and help protect their local water sources. In 2021, the company awarded over $38,000 in grants. Camden’s Promise Charter School has received almost $9,000 to develop 2 native plants greenhouses, one at the school and another at Palmyra Cove Nature Park.

“When you’re a part of an organization that’s also a national company, people might lose sight of the fact that we are still right here in your neighborhood. We live in these communities, and we care about them.”

Members of the Mt. Ephraim Fire Department, which received one of 27 Emergency Responder grants in 2021

Taking care of natural resources is vital, says Free. But the company can’t do it alone. New Jersey American Water partners with a number of like-minded community organizations, companies and nonprofits to collaborate on initiatives to help communities.

Paramount among them is the Volunteer Firefighter Emergency Responder Grant Program. In partnership with volunteer and local firefighters, New Jersey American Water provides grants of up to $2,000 for emergency equipment and training materials.

Every community project the company is involved with brings a unique benefit, says Free, and some have stuck with her.

“Several years ago, one of the grants that New Jersey American Water and The American Water Charitable Foundation provided went toward creating a splash pad in a park in Camden,” she says. “When we did the ribbon cutting, just seeing all of those kids playing in the water on a hot summer day made me stop and appreciate the impact we can have in the city.”

Employees at every level are eager to get in on the action, she says. The company holds an annual “Americans in Action Month of Service,” a month-long campaign every September offering employees numerous ways to volunteer in their communities. Personally, Free has used that time to head volunteer projects at the Kroc Center in Camden, where she is a member of the board, such as to clean community facilities, help the food pantry and provide support at the library. Others use it to give time and resources back to issues that matter to them.

“I have people coming to me and saying, ‘What are we doing for MLK day of service? What can we do around the holidays? How are we going to help with this and that community effort,’” says Free. “We do anything we can to support that, like matching employee donations and volunteer hours.”

“It’s really become a part of the fabric of the company,” she adds. “And it’s wonderful to see how that has evolved over the last 10, 12 years.”

While making an environmental impact is the crux of what they do, it’s not all they do. When the pandemic hit, New Jersey American Water expanded their efforts to include additional support to food banks, health centers, frontline health organizations and local pandemic relief efforts, something they plan to continue.

“We’re always going to be looking for something new, because needs change. We saw that front and center when the pandemic hit,” says Free. “Food insecurity became the focus, health became the focus. We can’t financially support everything, but we can pay close attention to the needs of our community and the ways we are uniquely poised to provide support.”

What’s encouraging, she says, is the renewed sense of community purpose people are bringing into every aspect of their lives – especially younger generations.

“Millennials and Gen Z are more eco- and socially-conscious than any generation before them,” says Free, “and we’re using that as an opportunity to recruit them into the water industry, so they can help make a difference in the world through renewable resources.”

The company is also working to bolster its workforce development programs. It recently finished its Water Utility Pipeline (Water UP!) Program with Hopeworks Camden, offering a paid 11-week course for young adults interested in learning about water and wastewater management as a career.

“They got their OSHA certificate, learned business literacy and skills, and right now we’re helping them apply for jobs within our company and other companies that work in the industry,” says Free. “We want them to be able to not only have the job preparedness to enter the workforce, but to see the opportunity within the water industry that will allow them to make a tangible difference in their community.”

In everything the company puts its time, money and energy into, it all comes back to one thing, she says.

“For us,” says Free, “success is the pride we get from seeing our company name involved in something that’s making a difference in people’s lives.”


Community Impact

In 2021, New Jersey American Water donated over $1.3 million to local organizations through grants, general charitable contributions and programming support. They also contributed $100,000 to assist customers in paying their water or wastewater bill.

The company and the American Water Charitable Foundation awarded $75,000 to 2 non-profit organizations in New Jersey through the Camden Community Grant program.

New Jersey American Water employees have also contributed more than $160,000 over the past five years to nonprofit organizations in the state through employee donations and the volunteer/matching gift program alone.