Edgar Ramirez - Chicago Commons

Today’s episode features Edgar Ramirez, President and CEO of Chicago Commons, an organization that has invested and helped shape the lives of Chicagoans since 1894. Like a few other organizations, Chicago Commons has evolved from its settlement house origins to partner with individuals, families, and communities to overcome poverty, discrimination, and isolation. Their programs are designed to help children, families and seniors GO further to live richer, more fulfilling lives. Emphasis on the GO.

We Learn About:

  • Chicago Commons eastern European immigrant origins to now servicing elderly and early learners on South and West sides;
  • Edgar’s journey to Commons and how mentorship really shaped his path;
  • How listening to community has influenced Commons’ approach to programming;
  • Edgar shares Insight on how Commons’ bridges services in African-American and Latino communities; and
  • Edgar also reflects on his leadership and what’s changed since becoming CEO.

Notable Resources:

Pablo Neruda, The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems

Sendhil Mullainathan, Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives

To learn more about Chicago Commons, visit: chicagocommons.org

To support Chicago Commons: Click Here to Donate

Evette Cardona - Polk Bros. Foundation

This episode features Evette Cardona, Vice President of Programs at the Polk Bros. Foundation – a Chicago-based foundation that supports organizations providing direct services to communities of need in areas such as social services, education, cultural programs and healthcare. Polk's assets have grown to more than $400 million, with more than $20 million in grants distributed each year. Evette joined Polk as an intern 19 years ago, and was promoted to her current role from Senior Program Officer in 2012.

On a personal note, I’m especially thankful to Evette for being a mentor to me when I transitioned into a philanthropic role at JPMorgan Chase. She, and the gentlemen she mentions, David Pesqueira, made it a point to offer valuable advice as I stepped into this new space.

We Learn About:

  • The history of the Polk Bros. Foundation;
  • Evette shares her history with Polk and how it works to support families in need;
  • We hear about Polk's approach to investing in violence prevention and intervention, and mental health services;
  • How she’s balanced bringing her whole-self to philanthropic decision-making;
  • Polk’s efforts to integrate racial equity into their philanthropy and how Latinos fit into that narrative; and
  • How to think about getting into philanthropy.

Notable Resources:

Beryl Satter, Family Properties: How the Struggle Over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America

Chronicle of Philanthropy

The Non-Profit Times

To learn more about the Polk Bros. Foundation, visit: polkbrosfdn.org

Celena Roldan - American Red Cross

In this episode, I catch up with Celena Roldan, Chicago & Northern Illinois CEO of the American Red Cross. Each year, this region responds to 1,200 natural and man-made disasters, and teaches more than a quarter million people in Chicagoland each year health, safety and disaster preparedness skills. Prior to joining Red Cross, Celena served as the Executive Director of Erie Neighborhood House.

We Learn About:

  • American Red Cross’ work that goes beyond emergency response, including being a critical partner to home fire response in the region;
  • Their efforts to go into neighborhoods and educate communities around fire safety;
  • Work the Red Cross is doing to build trust among Latino families;
  • What’s similar and different about her work at Erie and the Red Cross;
  • Celena reflects on her time in Louisiana after catastrophic flooding; and
  • Her thoughts on the importance of balance and self-care in non-profit work.

Notable Resources:

Steve Phillips, Brown is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created the New American Majority

To learn more about the Chicago/Northern Illinois American Red Cross, visit: redcross.org

To support the American Red Cross: Click Here to Donate

Andrea Saenz - Chicago Public Library

In this episode, I connect with Andrea Sáenz, First Deputy Commissioner for the Chicago Public Library. In this role, Andrea supports strategy, organizational development and leads program design and evaluation for the 80 library system. Before joining the Library, Andrea served as Chief of Staff to Chicago Public Schools CEO; Policy Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Vocational and Adult Education at the US Department of Education in Washington, DC; and Executive Director of the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE). In 2016, Andrea was appointed  Board Chair for Instituto del Progreso Latino.

We Learn About:

  • The core of the Library’s mission to provide free access to knowledge without barriers;
  • How the Library is focusing on strengthening family engagement and services;
  • Her own circuitous journey to the Library system; and
  • How the Library is adapting to better serve Latino families.

Notable Resources:

William Bridges, Making the Most of Change

Julio Cortazar, Rayuela

G. Willow Wilson, Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal

For more information on a Chicago Public Library near you, visit: chipublib.org

Katya Nuques - Enlace Chicago

Today's episode features Katya Nuques, Executive Director of Enlace Chicago – an organization dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of residents in Little Village. They do this by fostering a physically safe and healthy environment in which to live; and by championing opportunities for educational advancement and economic development.

Katya began her career at Enlace in 2005 as the Director of Community Schools, where she played a substantial role in the expansion and growth of Enlace. Today, Enlace is recognized locally and nationally as a leading organization in youth development, violence prevention and intervention, and community organizing.

We Learn About:

  • Enlace’s history of organically developing community-driven solutions in Little Village;
  • Katya shares some of the successes of collaborative education and anti-violence efforts that have strengthened the Little Village neighborhood; and
  • She discusses the importance of authentic leadership and participatory processes that build coalition.

Notable Resources:

David K. Fremon, Chicago Politics Ward by Ward

Mike Royko, Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago

Michael Tesler, Post-Racial or Most-Racial?: Race and Politics in the Obama Era

To learn more about Enlace Chicago, visit: enlacechicago.org

To support Enlace's mission: Click Here to Donate

Beatriz Ponce de Leon - Generation All

This episode features Beatriz Ponce de Leon, Executive Director of Generation All – a citywide initiative to unite Chicagoans in revitalizing neighborhood public high schools so all students experience high quality learning opportunities both in- and outside of the classroom.

Beatriz brings more than 20 years of experience working with non-profit organizations and public institutions in Chicago. She has implemented public education campaigns, led community and organizational planning processes, designed and facilitated workshops for youth and adults, and authored numerous action plans and reports.

We Learn About:

  • Generation All’s efforts to improve neighborhood public high schools in Chicago;
  • Bea offers great insight on how we can address educational challenges in Chicago - such as growing investment, supporting teacher professional development, and post-secondary advising; and
  • Why collaborative leadership and decision-making is valuable

Notable Resources:

Language Education: Preparing Chicago's Public School Students for a Global Community 

A Shared Future: The Economic Engagement of Greater Chicago and its Mexican Community

To learn more about Generation All, visit: generationallchicago.org

To support the Generation All's mission: Click Here to Donate

Everett Gutierrez - Legacy Leaders International

This episode features Everett Gutierrez, President and Founder of Legacy Leaders International. I first learned about the work of Legacy Leaders through my participation with the Chicago Community Trust’s Latino Heritage Endowment, Nuestro Futuro. Everett and I eventually connected, and I thought the work he’s doing to help shape future leaders in Chicago was pretty powerful. The mission to equip youth and adults with the tools to develop their maximum potential and become purposeful leaders resonated with me, and I’m glad to have caught up with Everett to discuss their services and vision.

We Learn About:

  • Legacy Leaders approach to youth development in schools;
  • The organization's goals for expansion into college services including financial management and coaching, along with employee leadership development;
  • Everett shares reflections on his own personal journey and how that lead him to found the organization; and
  • We hear some solutions for creating better opportunities for students and building strong leaders

Notable Resources:

John Maxwell, Amazon.Com Book Listing

Lori Beth Jones, Jesus CEO & The Path

Rosalind Blasingame Buford, The BluePrint: Strategies for Building a Culture of Excellence

To learn more about Legacy Leaders International, visit: legacyleadersinternational.com

To support Legacy Leaders' mission: Click Here to Donate

Maricela Garcia, Gads Hill Center

Today we speak with Maricela Garcia, Chief Executive Officer of Gads Hill Center - an organization that since 1898, has created opportunities for children and their families to build a better life through education, access to resources and community engagement.

Mariciela came to the United States in the early 1980s as a result of the war in Guatemala. After her arrival she founded Casa Guatemala to assist newly arriving refugees and later co-founded Women for Guatemala, which we speak about during the interview.

She also served as the Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, was the founding Executive Director of the Latino Policy Forum. Prior to Gads Hill Center, she was the Director of Capacity Building and Juvenile Justice Policy at the National Council of La Raza.

We Learn About:

  • Gads Hill’s legacy of services to every immigrant group that has come to Chicago, including their current work in early childhood education and youth development
  • Maricela reflects on her career in human rights advocacy and policy, along with her transition to direct services, and
  • How income inequality impacts the educational and social-emotional goals of Latino families across the city

Notable Resources:

Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Paul Tough, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character

Paul Tough, Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America

To learn more about Gads Hill Center, visit: gadshillcenter.org

To support Gads Hill's mission: Click Here to Donate

Michelle Morales, Mikva Challenge

Today's episode features Michelle Morales, Executive Director of the Mikva Challenge – a youth serving organization that is challenging the status quo and helping young people develop into informed, empowered, active citizens and community leaders.

Michelle became the Executive Director of Mikva Challenge about a year and a half ago, bringing with her over 18 years of experience in youth development to the organization.

We Learn About:

  • Mikva’s efforts to demystify civic and political engagement, as well as activate youth voice in community change
  • Michelle shares what inspires her about youth work, and how they are breaking down barriers that allow youth to flourish, and
  • We dig into some interesting reflections on how she’s evolving her leadership and management style; along with her perceptions of gender dynamics in leadership

Notable Resources:

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Letter to My Son

HBR's 10 Must Reads on Change Management

To learn more about the Mikva Challenge, visit: mikvachallenge.org

To support Mikva's mission, Click Here to Donate

Ric Estrada, Metropolitan Family Services

Today we catch up with Ric Estrada, CEO of Metropolitan Family Services – an organization that has empowered families to learn, to earn, to heal and to thrive since 1857. MFS works with 72,000 families across the Chicagoland region providing financial aid, counseling, workforce, education and legal services.

Ric has nearly three decades of leadership experience in human services, philanthropy and government – including appointments to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Selection Committee for the Emerging Leaders Program, and Board of Directors at the Woods Fund of Chicago.

We Learn About:

  • MFS’ growth and its increased services to Latino families across Chicagoland
  • Opportunities to support the emotional wellness of working families
  • The importance of facilitating leadership, as well as continuing to innovate and build
  • Insight on the great possibility that exists in Chicago and ways to get engaged in creating opportunity for families across the city

Notable Resources:

Metropolitan Family Services, FY16 Annual Report

Greg Behrman, The Most Noble Adventure: The Marshall Plan and How America Helped Rebuild Europe

Dana Suskind, Thirty Million Words: Building A Child's Brain

To learn more about Metro Family Services, visit: metrofamily.org

To support Metro Family's mission: Click Here to Donate

Sylvia Puente, Latino Policy Forum

Today’s episode features Sylvia Puente, Executive Director of the Latino Policy Forum - the only public policy and advocacy organization in the Chicago metropolitan area working to improve educational outcomes for children, make housing accessible and affordable, promote just immigration reform, and build the influence and leadership of the Latino community. Through the Latino Policy Forum, she works with more than 100 organizational leaders in the Chicago metropolitan region and has been recognized as one of the “100 Most Influential Hispanics in the U.S.” by Hispanic Business magazine.

Sylvia was introduced to her life’s work as an advocate, policy analyst, and activist for Latino issues at age thirteen when she joined her mother on picket lines in support of the United Farm Workers.

We Learn About:

  • The Latino Policy Forum’s impact strategy and its evolution
  • Data supporting the successes and challenges of the Latino community
  • Sylvia shares reflections on the farmworkers movement and what inspired her to get engaged in policy, and
  • The Forum’s work to position and cultivate Latino and African-American leader

Notable Resources:

Latino Policy Forum's Issue Briefings

Harvard Family Research Project: Guide to Measuring Advocacy and Policy

Jack Weatherford, Indian Givers: How Native Americans Transformed the World

To learn more about the Latino Policy Forum, visit: latinopolicyforum.org

To support the Forum's mission: Click Here to Donate

Maria Pesqueira, Mujeres Latinas en Acción

Today, we connect with Maria del Socorro Pesqueira, President and CEO of Mujeres Latinas en Acción. Founded in 1975, Mujeres empowers Latinas by providing services that reflect their values and culture and by being an advocate on the issues that make a difference in their lives. The agency serves as a beacon for Latinas and their families, serving over 8,000 community residents annually.

Maria is celebrating her 15th year as CEO Mujeres and offers some great insight on her experiences in that time.

We learn about:

  • Mujeres' services in supporting women and families across Chicago
  • Maria’s journey to the organization and her first experience with domestic violence
  • The organization’s vision for how men can play an active role in ending domestic violence
  • Maria’s approach to leadership, and why it’s personal, and
  • Mujeres’ participation in the Purple Purse Challenge

Notable resources:

Peter Drucker, The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization

Allstate Foundation, Purple Purse Challenge


To learn more about Mujeres, visit: mujereslatinasenaccion.org

To support Mujeres' mission, Click Here to Donate

Kirstin Chernawsky, Erie Neighborhood House

Today we’re speaking with Kirstin Chernawsky, Executive Director of Erie Neighborhood House, an organization with a history of serving immigrant families since 1870. Kirstin began her tenure at Erie in 2013 as Senior Director of Development & Communications. In March of 2016, Erie’s Board of Directors named her Executive Director, making her just the ninth individual - and fourth woman - to serve in this capacity.

In August 2016 Kirstin was named to the Crain's Leadership Academy, a cohort comprised of rising leaders in the nonprofit and business sectors. She also sits on the Board of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Chicago Women in Philanthropy.

We learn about:

  • Erie’s services supporting immigrant communities
  • Reflections on her first 8 months in the role at Erie House
  • Offers advice to young leaders and in particular young women on embracing new opportunities
  • Challenges of the State Budget Impasse


 Notable resources:

State Budget Impasse - Mapping the Damage to Illinois' Human Services

Adam Grant, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

Kobi Yamada, What Do You Do with an Idea & What Do You Do with a Problem

To learn more about Erie, visit: eriehouse.org

To support Erie's mission, Click Here to Donate.

Jose Rico, United Way of Metro Chicago

In this episode, we speak with Jose Rico, Senior Vice President of Community Impact at the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. Jose leads the organization’s community impact work in education, income, health and basic needs support. He also stewards its Neighborhood Network model of delivering highly coordinated and concentrated services in underserved communities.

Prior to the United Way, Jose served as the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics where he planned policy, strategic initiatives, outreach, and communications for President Obama’s education agenda in the Latino community.

We learn about: 

  • The UWMCs approach to investing in non-profits and communities
  • Jose’s perspective on Latino leadership
  • Opportunities for philanthropy to build coalition
  • Importance of finding passion and mastering your craft

Connect with Jose on LinkedIn Here.

To learn more about the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, visit: uw-mc.org

To support the mission of the UWMC, Click Here to Donate.

Juan Salgado, Instituto del Progreso Latino

In this episode, we speak with Juan Salgado, President and CEO of Instituto del Progreso Latino. Juan has led Instituto through a 15-year period of national award-winning recognition and growth by establishing best-practices education and workforce development. In 2015, Juan was selected as a MacArthur Fellow, also known as the Genius Award, recognizing his strong community leadership and innovative approach to education in the Latino immigrant community.

We learn about:

  • Instituto’s services and approach to supporting community
  • Juan’s perspective on learning to lead
  • The value of informal mentorship, and
  • The importance of investing in the Latino communities across the region

Notable resources:

MacArthur Foundation - MacArthur Fellows, Class of 2015

University of Chicago, To & Through Project

Matt Desmond, Evicted

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

To learn more about Instituto, visit: institutochicago.org

To support the mission of Instituto, Click Here to Donate.

Sol Flores, La Casa Norte

In our first episode, we hear from one of Chicago’s most dynamic Latina voices. Sol Flores, is the founding Exective Director of La Casa Norte, an organization based on the West and Northwest Side of Chicago helping over 4,000 families impacted by homelessness.


We learn about:

  • La Casa Norte's mission and vision
  • Homelessness in Chicago
  • Leadership lessons
  • Ways to support Chicago communities

To learn more about La Casa Norte, visit: lacasanorte.org

To support the mission of La Casa Norte, Click Here to Donate.