Name of Organization: Licentiam
Mark Vargas is a trusted adviser and close confidante to some of the highest-profile political and business leaders in America. He is widely respected as a tech entrepreneur in health care, and as a political opinion writer and advisor. He has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, CBS Chicago, ABC 7 Chicago, ABC News, CNBC, Fox Business and the Fox News Channel.
From 2007 to 2010, Vargas served as a civilian within the Office of the Secretary of Defense on a special Iraq task force. The task force specialized in rebuilding Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s war-torn economies by attracting foreign direct investment opportunities and helping to facilitate public-private partnerships to create jobs and drive down the high unemployment associated with terrorist-related activities.
In 2009 he was awarded the Secretary of Defense Global War on Terrorism Civilian Service Medal. His civilian service at the Defense Department included 14 trips to Baghdad spanning two administrations.
Vargas is a regular panelist and guest speaker on issues related to entrepreneurship, technology and innovation, political affairs, media strategy and foreign policy. Vargas is a contributor for the Washington Examiner and Newsmax.
In March 2019, Judson University’s World Leaders Forum announced, “Conversations with Mark Vargas,” a highly influential speakers’ series where Vargas invites some of the most recognizable names in business and politics to join him for an informal, one-on-one conversation covering a wide range of topics. His inaugural guest launching his new speaker series was billionaire entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Vargas earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Judson University where he served as student body president.
“Mentors provide invaluable advice, but if you want to boost your career, find your sticks of dynamite which will blow down doors and create instant opportunities for you.” –Mark Vargas
Desiree Vargas Wrigley
Title: Founder & CEO
Name of Organization: Pearachute
Desiree Vargas Wrigley is founder of Pearachute, a company that helps parents and children find the best family activities in town.
Prior to launching Pearachute, she co-founded GiveForward, the world’s leading crowd-sourcing platform for people facing a major life event. Under her leadership, the company helped friends and family contribute nearly $160M to loved ones in need.
After graduating from Yale University, she worked at the Kauffman Foundation as a specialist in entrepreneurship and at Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors.
Most recently, she taught New Venture Discovery at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. She has been named to Inc’s 30 Under 30, Crain’s 40 Under 40, one of Parents Magazine’s Most Inspiring Moms, a Forbes Woman to Watch, and she has appeared on Shark Tank, closing one of the largest deals on the show to date.
When not working, she enjoys spending time with her two young sons, stepdaughter, and crime-fighting husband.
Title: Senior Director Business Development
Name of Organization: IHCC
Loretta Ivette Treviño as senior director of Business Development & Strategy at the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, she helps lead the premier Hispanic business, networking, advocacy and development organization in Illinois. She is responsible for managing and building relationships with corporate partners, members, and community leaders.
Treviño has had multifaceted roles with the IHCC in the last decade, from creating strategic events where she provides unique opportunities for the community to come together to build and foster relationships, to facilitating the IHCC + 1871 Latinx Incubator, working tech startups.
She has led the IHCC team in executing one of the largest gatherings of Hispanic business leaders in the Midwest, the Make the Connection!® IHCC Business Conference. Featured speakers have included former President Barack Obama, current Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin along with Nely Galan, founder of the Adelante Movement and Jahmal Cole, founder of My Block, My Hood, My City.
Treviño has a passion for economic development and supporting small businesses. A recent highlight was the first IHCC Women’s CEO Roundtable which convened 35 women CEOs and created a space to share challenges, opportunities and offer resources and support.
She received her Bachelor of Science in Business Management with a minor in Public Policy from National Louis University. She is an alumna with Mujeres de HACE and a current fellow for the class of 2020 Chicago Latino Caucus Foundation, Leadership Academy.
She currently resides on the Southwest side with her husband and children where they remain very active in sports like baseball, basketball and rugby.
“Lead with integrity and purpose for when you follow your passion it results in profound impact, empowers and breaks barriers”.
Title: Communication Director/ Producer
Name of Organization: The Miracle Center
Vanessa Torres began early on at the non-profit organization that utilizes the performing arts as a catalyst for personal growth, leadership development, academic advancement and community engagement for children, youth and families in the Logan Square/Hermosa neighborhoods.
As an alumna of the The Miracle Center (TMC),Torres personally experienced the impact it can have on the lives of young people. Well before TMC though, she developed a love of the performing arts that began when her parents signed her up for dance classes at the age of 4. While the choice was made in part to give their daughter an outlet for her hyperactivity, her parents unknowingly gave her a treasure map that led her to discover her passion.
In addition to her early love for dancing, her participation in TMC programming starting at the age of 10 broadened her views and gave her opportunities to perform in music and theater. Her desire to use the arts as a tool for changing lives based on her own background inspired her to learn and apply frameworks for cross-cultural engagement through the arts.
A graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelors in Political Science, the 1st-generation Boricua brings extensive experience in the performing arts and public relations sector.
Her passion comes from TMC, which inspired and empowered her to pursue an internship at the Center for Portuguese Language and Brazilian Cultural Studies. Her experience also extends to program management and media relations through employment with leading advertising agency FCB Global, where she served as a social media strategist and community manager. She serves as a “Power House Millennial” Theater Producer, where she is responsible for the managerial functions of the production venue, helping with financial backing, and hiring personnel for the creative production team.
Martin V. Torres
Title: Senior Policy Advisor
Name of Organization: Office of Gov. Pritzker, State of Illinois
Torres’ career in public service is grounded in his belief that fostering upward economic mobility requires progressive policies and investments that support low and middle-income families.
Torres contributed to the success of Governor JB Pritzker’s first year in office as a member of his policy team. In 2019, he helped lead the development, negotiation, and passage of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act– the most equity-centric adult-use cannabis initiative in the nation. Torres also worked on other major priorities of the administration including the legalization of sports wagering, the state’s investment in Census outreach, education policy, and immigrant integration.
Prior to joining the administration, Torres served as Deputy Policy Director in the Governor’s campaign for office. He helped shape the Governor’s platform for education, immigrant integration, criminal justice reform, LGBTQ policy, and other issues affecting residents throughout the state.
Before joining the campaign, Torres was the Associate Director of the Latino Policy Forum. In that role, he guided the organization’s legislative agenda and administrative advocacy. In carrying out his responsibilities, Torres regularly convened Latino-led nonprofit service providers, civic leaders, and other stakeholders to develop and promote a common policy agenda that emphasized responsive governance, equity of opportunity and investment, and inclusive decision-making.
Torres holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a M.P.P. from the Irving B. Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. He lives in Oak Park with his wife, two children, and two dogs.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Title: Founder-Executive Director
Name of Organization: Yo Soy Ella
Sarah Taylor in 2012 launched her first non-profit venture, Yo Soy Ella, Inc. which translates to “I Am Her” – “We are whoever we wish to be, wherever our dreams take us; we let our dreams become us!” YSE serves as a support system, to empower and mentor the Latina woman’s mental and emotional needs. As a daughter of immigrants, Taylor witnessed her family’s urgency to seek opportunities to move the family forward.
Alongside her social impact endeavors, Taylor is currently contracted through the Office of Refugee Resettlement, as a case coordinator for General Dynamics Information Technology, (GDIT) in direct services for unaccompanied minors who migrate to the U.S.
She has served as a Child Protection Investigator for the State of Illinois, therapist for adopted minors within Illinois’s child welfare system, co-facilitator for sex-offender support groups, and in previous years of service Taylor has worked for the Illinois Department of Human Services, providing public assistance and crisis intervention for Latino families.
As a wife and mother, Taylor balances her spare time with family while volunteering at various organizations throughout Chicago. As a certified Domestic Violence Awareness interventionist, she provides domestic violence education to small groups and served as a crisis-hotline volunteer for Mujeres Latinas En Acción, a domestic violence agency. She also volunteers as a therapist at Healthy Hood Chicago, for their Get Your Mind Right mental health initiative. Additionally, Taylor is an active member of Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority and the Chicago Metropolitan Alumni Association and is an auxiliary board member for HACE, Young Professional Board, Chicago.
“I’ve acknowledged my experiences have placed a responsibility for me to advocate and empower the community with best strategies to live out their worst days. I call it a survivor’s mandate. Your story is a healing agent.” -Sarah Taylor
Title: Manager-People Strategy
Name of Organization: McDonald’s
Ana Sanchez, began her career with McDonald’s as a crew member and over the years held various restaurant positions including General Manager where she led restaurant operations, numerous field tests, along with training and developing people.
Within the McDonald’s Global Corporate structure, Sanchez held the Digital Engagement Supervisor role where she supported the implementation and deployment of the digital restaurant employee engagement platform for the US. Currently, Sanchez is the Global People Strategy and Alignment Manager, leading the alignment of initiatives through function-wide communication and engagement across the globe. She has also played a crucial role in the creation of the Global People Project Management Office, instilling discipline and building project management capabilities.
Sanchez has been recognized with accolades for outstanding achievements both for her operational excellence and leadership, including: People Award, Most Improved QSC Operations Award, the Outstanding Assistant Award and the Circle of Excellence Award. She also is the recipient of the President’s Award, McDonald’s most prestigious award recognizing the top 1% of employees.
She serves on the HQ agility board for the Hispanic Employee Business Network where she leads community engagement initiatives. She supports the McDonald’s Youth Opportunity program in numerous volunteering events throughout the year. She uses her experience in the restaurants and at McDonald’s HQ to serve as a mentor to McDonald’s restaurant employees and staff.
Sanchez is passionate about giving back and helping others rise as others have helped her. She has a Bachelor of Science from Lewis University and is currently pursuing her MBA in Business Administration from DePaul University.
She loves to travel and spend time with her husband and two children, Amaya and Roy.
“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” — Aristotle
Ernesto Saldivar, Jr.
Name of Organization: Torres Elementary- Acero Schools Chicago
Ernesto Saldivar, Jr. is a first-generation, bilingual, bicultural, Latino dedicated to transforming the landscape of education. He believes that all students and their families deserve access to schools that are safe and inclusive – schools that provide high quality culturally relevant and socially just opportunities where students can self-actualize as powerful human beings.
He is part of the Acero School Network serving as principal of Torres Elementary in Chicago’s Archer Heights’ neighborhood. Prior to his current role, he served in Chicago Public Schools since 2003 as a high school English teacher, teacher leader, and assistant principal.
His professional competencies have been demonstrated by his passion in Ethnic Studies. He maintains that Ethnic Studies is a way of life – it is love, it is liberation, it is empowerment through the unveiling of the covert oppression used in traditional K-12 spaces to stifle the innate power of students of color and other marginalized groups. Ethnic Studies is a pathway to consciousness that restores the past, heals the present, and builds the future.
In addition to being a highly accomplished educator, he is a 2019 Chicago Surge Fellow – The Emergents, Golden Apple Scholar, Golden Apple Teacher of Distinction. Most recently, he was named a 2020 Multicultural Leadership Fellow sponsored by the Latino Policy Forum.
“To joyfully evolve in mind, heart, and spirit, surround yourself with gente that unapologetically allow you to claim your cultural core. Let THAT ignite your passion to take charge, speak out, and intentionally transform systems that have been historically oppressive.”
Title: VP- Regional Director
Name of Organization: Wintrust Bank
Joel Rodarte oversees six branch locations including LaSalle Street, Pilsen and DePaul University, and the newly opened Little Village branch. Rodarte was born in Blue Island, Illinois to immigrant parents from Guadalajara and Aguascalientes Mexico.
After graduating from Eastern Illinois University, with a Bachelor of Science in Business – majoring in management he began his career with JPMorgan Chase Bank, where he managed several branches throughout the city for nearly a decade.
Rodarte then switched to Wintrust Bank where he helped lead its Chicago urban expansion, successfully opening branches in Pilsen and Little Village and was recently promoted to regional director. Rodarte knows the importance of community banking and Wintrust Bank’s goal to be Chicago’s Bank. He currently proudly serves on the board of directors for Esperanza Health Centers and previously served on the Associate Board of the National Museum of Mexican Art and the Gala Committee for Gads Hill Center.
As a proud Latino leader, he believes there is an obligation to the people that he serves and believes he and others should give back to support the community. He believes his generation has a responsibility to exceed America’s expectations of them and must work harder and smarter than anyone to continue to build the foundation started by the previous generation and set up the next generation to be even more successful than parents dreamed.
“Estoy muy orgulloso de ser Latino. Orgulloso de mi origen Mexicano. Felicidades a todos por su éxito. Les deseo una carrera con mucha prosperidad, pero sobre todo los invito que continuamos apoyándonos para seguir poniendo en alto a nuestra tierra.”
Title: Managing Partner
Name of Organization: Walton Contractors
Tony Reyes is a US Marine Corps. veteran and entrepreneur who is the Managing Partner of Walton Contractors, a construction company that focuses on roofing and value-add real estate development.
Through Reyes’ Leadership, Walton Contractors has been awarded three Inc, 5,000 awards, two remodelers 550 awards, one TOP50 veteran entrepreneurs and one SBA rising star business awards.
His commitment to Walton goes beyond business. Reyes serves on four executive boards, that have one thing in common: focusing on Latino advancement.
Tony Reyes credits his success, first to God and secondly to his family and friends who have been his support system that have helped Walton Contractors thrive.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Name of Organization: Rozalado Services
Ricky Regalado who considers himself a serial entrepreneur, is the proud owner of Rozalado Services, a true family business to the core. Even the name of his growing company is derived from his cousin Tony Pedroza’s last name and his own. He started the business in 2012 with his wife Marley and his cousin Tony.
Since opening, the company has grown to employ 15 family members and 300 employees in 12 states. During that time, the company has grown from simply a cleaning company to a full-service provider for large clients including Oak Street Health, Amazon, Cushman Wakefield, Foxtrot, LG Construction and many others. The goal has been to bring an innovative and hospitality service approach to the cleaning industry.
The company was recently ranked No. 1,496 on the INC 5,000 list, growing by 276% in three years. Regalado looks at his company and team as a solution for their client’s needs. As a result, they have launched a new division, Roza Contractors, to specialize in day-to-day maintenance and contracting projects for clients.
He also runs a tech startup, Route. It’s a sales platform for the commercial cleaning industry that came to be after Regalado was frustrated by the lack of technology in the sales’ front end of the business. Route is designed as the first market digital walk-through, estimator and proposal generating tool. The goal is to empower the cleaning industry with tools and solutions to grow and operate efficiently.
Personal quote – Entrepreneurship is not easy, with success comes hard times, but in the end the ability to create jobs, positively impact people’s lives is all worth it. Empowerment and motivation are my drivers.
Title: Educator, Founder Youth Movement, Co-Author
Name of Organization: Youth Movement
Nancy Razón received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in education from Northern Illinois University, and began her career as a bilingual teacher for her home town’s Belvidere School District, where she has taken an active role in improving the educational resources available to students in both elementary and secondary schools.
Her bi-cultural background, connection to the community, and expertise in language, coupled with her keen knowledge of Latino needs within her community led her to act and serve as a liaison for public informational sessions with her local mayor’s office, as well as police and fire departments.
The philosophies Razón learned in education along with her life experiences inspired her to start the first and only leadership youth group to serve Belvidere’s middle and high school Latino students. This program works to help students discover their strengths, unveil their full potential and achieve their individual educational goals and learning leadership skills.
She has served as president and secretary of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Belvidere, president of the District 100 Bilingual Parent Advisory Council (BPAC), served on the board of the Ida Public Library and the YWCA of Northwestern Illinois. She currently serves as secretary for her son’s Cub Scouts organization and is a proud graduate of Latinas on the Plaza – Leadership Mastery Institute.
As a leader, Nancy sets the leadership bar high for herself and she doesn’t just preach leadership – she works hard to live it and teach others to do the same.
Always shine bright, never let anyone dull your sparkle! -Author Unknown
Julio Noel Rausseo
Title: Broadcast Journalist
Name of Organization: Chicago Windy City Bulls
Julio Noel Rausseo has been the voice of the Chicago Windy City Bulls since 2016, announcing basketball play-by-play for the Chicago Bulls’ development team on NBC Sports Chicago. He is also a play-by-play announcer for Chicago State University’s (CSU) Women’s Soccer, Volleyball, and Women’s basketball teams.
He also launched the Chicago State Sports Network, CSU’s digital home for sports broadcast. Rausseo is also the regional station director at the Illinois Media School, mentoring students involved in the school’s radio stations and fostering new relationships with organizations where students have direct involvement.
A versatile Puerto Rican and Venezuelan broadcast journalist, Rausseo launched his career as Sports Director of the Wind River Radio Network. Rausseo successfully managed the station’s first county-wide coverage of postseason high school basketball, broadcasting over 60 games across five stations.
In 2018, he was recognized as the Best Sports play-by-play Men’s Basketball by the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System and in 2015 for the Small Market Sports Station of the Year by Wyoming Association of Broadcasting. Rausseo has also reported on the 2013 Gold Cup, was play-by-play announcer for the Chicago Slaughter and covered radio and TV NCAA events for Men’s Basketball and Football, and Women’s Softball for the WIU Leathernecks and University of Wyoming athletics. His portfolio includes coverage of the NBA Basketball Without Borders Global Games as part of the 2020 NBA All-star weekend in Chicago, the 2016 Illinois Presidential Primary, coverage of the Illinois General Assembly, state politics in Wyoming, the 2012 Presidential Campaign, and the NATO Summit.
Rausseo studied broadcasting and sociology at Western Illinois University. He credits his Latino heritage for his strong work ethic and is enthusiastic to highlight the success of Latinos in news and sports media.
“Breathe easy, think slowly, dream focused.”
Title: VP of Operations
Name of Organization: Monterrey Security
Daniel Ramos serves as vice president of operations where he oversees the 24 hour and event security divisions of the company, encompassing more than 170 facilities and 18 public venues.
With over $40M in annual revenue and 4,500 employees, of which 73%+ are minorities or women, and more than 450 off-duty law enforcement personnel- Monterrey Security is one of the largest minority-owned security firms in the country.
Over its 20-year history, Monterrey Security has developed customized protection and security programs for a diverse list of organizations including professional sports franchises, financial institutions, corporations, universities and cultural institutions. Monterrey Security is also directly responsible for securing some of the largest public assembly facilities and special events in Chicago and throughout the Midwest.
Ramos has been instrumental in building and implementing systems to streamline the firm’s security services while also incorporating modern technology into their day-to-day operations. Today Ramos is responsible for managing client relations, contract deliverables, workforce management and quality control programs.
He also works closely with the company’s Human Resources department to oversee their community-based hiring initiatives and extending career path opportunities in security and law enforcement to some of the most underserved communities in the Chicagoland area.
“Security is always seen as too much, until the day it is not enough”- William H. Webster
Title: Director Internal Audit
Name of Organization: Health Care Service Corporation/ Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois
Jacqueline Quinonez-Nunez is a director in the Internal Audit Department at Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC). She is responsible for directing a comprehensive strategic program providing assurance and auditing services to Management. Prior to HCSC, she worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in the Audit and Assurance practice.
Growing up in Pilsen, most people she knew – including her parents – didn’t go to college. She knew deep inside this cycle needed to end.
She earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a concentration in accounting and finance from Robert Morris University and a College Planning Consultant Certification from the Heartland Institute of Financial Education.
As a first-generation college student, she has used her financial knowledge and resources to empower women to be financially independent, as she believes that the following encompasses all independent women.
Quinonez-Nunez has been an active business resource group member (BRG) for several years at HCSC and joined the Latinos for Advancement BRG as chair of the Career Committee. She is a member of the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE), and auxiliary board director for Mujeres de HACE focusing on promoting, fundraising, and engaging alumnae across the country.
In 2018, she received the Robert Morris University Distinguished Alumni award.
She is a servant leader of the community and an advocate of Women Empowerment with 18 years of experience in her field.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams
Title: Managing Deputy Director
Name of Organization: City of Chicago
Manuel Pérez recently served as Campaign Manager for the Lori Lightfoot campaign for Mayor. He helped catapult Lightfoot to victory and helped her make history as the city’s first openly gay mayor and only second female. She also was only the second African American to be elected mayor.
Pérez has led a variety of campaigns at the local, state, and federal level, including working on the campaign of Jesús “Chuy” García who in 2018 successfully won a seat in the U.S. Congress.
During his role in Cook County government, Pérez served as special assistant to the president of the county board, chief of staff to the county clerk, and chief of staff to Garcia who was then a Cook County Commissioner.
Born in Chicago to Mexican immigrants, Pérez grew up in West Suburban Cicero, Illinois. He graduated from Princeton University with a bachelor’s degree in history and resides in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago.
Name of Organization: The Dapper Club
Ricardo Perez passion for luxury clothing began early when he was influenced by the style of The Rat Pack era — renowned for luxurious lifestyles, sharp suits, and debonair personalities — which he began to apply to his own life.
Perez joined the Marine Corps where he specialized in creating small explosives. In the military the attention to detail and polished uniforms further influenced his approach to style and tailoring. After the Marines, he began a sales career and worked in banking and telecommunications. His knowledge and love for clothing grew as he began to offer styling advice to close friends and family in selecting their wardrobe and tailoring.
Frustrated with the lack of control in ready to wear and limited styling options, The Dapper Club came to fruition in 2014. His goals were to provide a quality, perfectly fitted garment in a stress-free experience. He created a club where clients don’t feel pressured, feel like family and show the potential of what custom luxury can provide.
The Dapper Club has since grown to be one of the top custom clothing companies in Chicago with clients all over the United States. He’s an active supporter of many community causes including earthquake relief in Mexico, A Night for the Kids, a charity assisting underprivileged children receive toys during the holidays. He and his partner Miriam, who serves as director of operations and Womenswear Designer at the Dapper Club, have two daughters Aly and Zoe and a Husky, Drago.
“You can fall five times, 10 times, or 100 times. What matters most is that you get back every time as a wiser, better and stronger you.” – Ricardo Perez
Jesus Ernesto Peña
Title: Market Manager
Name of Organization:
Delta Air Lines and Aeroméxico
Latinos 40 under 40
Jesús Ernesto Peña believes his main role is in making dreams come true. As a native of Mexico, Peña is passionate about serving the Hispanic community, particularly when it comes to the complex topic of immigration.
A graduate of the University of Houston, Peña started his professional career at Lopez Negrete Communications which claims to be the nation’s largest independent, Hispanic-owned and operated full-service advertising and marketing services agency.
He further developed his career at Univision Communications, the leading Hispanic media company in the nation, where he believes life guided him to find ways to give back to the community.
In 2017 Peña established the Dreamer Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides assistance to Dreamers. Dreamers are the children of immigrants who were brought to the US when they were very young. They qualify for a work permit under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order, which President Barack Obama issued in June, 2012.
Currently Peña resides in Chicago where he works for Delta Air Lines and Aeroméxico. The two carriers operate the largest transborder airline alliance between Mexico and the United States. His leadership skills and international expertise are helping to steer the U.S Hispanic market to new levels of growth, while he continues to give back to the Dreamers.
“They call us Dreamers, but we are the ones who don’t sleep.”
Irma Amparo Ortiz
Title: Director- Title V Individual Development
Name of Organization: Northeastern Illinois University
Irma Amparo Ortiz has dedicated her professional career to serving youth in high school and college.
Irma Amparo Ortiz was born and raised in Chicago and began serving youth as a student employee at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) in 2002 through a federally funded grant program, GEAR UP, that focuses on college access for Chicago Public School students. After graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), she began to work full-time as a NEIU GEAR UP Student Services Coordinator at Foreman High School.
She eventually led GEAR UP teams at Clemente, Roosevelt and Amundsen high schools and partnered with school-based administrators and counselors to increase college enrollment at several neighborhood Chicago high schools. She was promoted to lead the inaugural GEAR UP College Transition team in 2018, supporting more than 5,000 Latinx and African-American students, many of whom were first-generation, first-year students.
Ortiz is the director of NEIU’s Title V Individual Development grant—managing a $2.6 million budget—intended to increase retention at the university. She collaborates with faculty and staff across campus to develop programming and provide insight to the university’s student success and retention team.
Additionally, Oritz serves as the national president for Gamma Phi Omega International Sorority, Inc., a Latina-oriented sisterhood, founded in 1991. She has served since 2016, leading the board of directors to manage the operational aspects and strategic planning for the sorority’s 33 undergraduate and alumnae chapters in Illinois, Indiana, Texas, Kansas, Michigan and Ohio.
Ortiz is a doctoral student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign focusing on Education Policy, Organization and Leadership. She lives in Chicago with her husband and three children.
“The education field is constantly evolving and can feel hectic. If you prioritize students’ needs and advocate for them, the outcomes will be worth every second”.
Juan F. Ortiz
Title: Senior Vice President-Banking Services- Wealth management
Name of Organization: Northern Trust Corporation
Juan F. Ortiz brings to his current role more than 15 years of experience in the banking industry. This experience includes commercial lending, business banking and retail branch management.
In his role as the Manager of Banking Services, he manages a centralized banking team for loans and deposits across the country. He sets the tone for the client service culture, growth opportunities and expectations around servicing our clients.
Prior to joining Northern Trust in 2015, Juan held roles in business banking and business development at Wintrust Bank and as a branch manager with U.S. Bank/Park National Bank.
Ortiz earned his bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and earned his master’s in business administration with a concentration in finance from National Louis University.
In addition to his role as senior vice president in Wealth Management Banking Services, Ortiz is president of the Latin Heritage Leadership Business Resource at the Northern Trust. He also sits on Northern Trust’s Business Resource Advisory Council and is co-chair of Northern Trust’s United Way Leadership Committee.
During his career, Ortiz has developed an expertise in relationship management, which includes handling and expanding relationships with clients and employees. His experience in lending includes commercial real estate, C&I, SBA and investment secured lending. He also has a strong retail banking, community development and CRA background.
In addition to Ortiz’ professional background he is committed to community involvement and volunteers at the Casa Catalina and Catholic Charities food pantries, serves as a coach for the Oak Park girls Youth Softball league, and previously served on the school board for the St. John Berchman school and was on the loan committees for the Women’s Business Development Center and Accion Chicago.
“Don’t settle on the status quo or get complacent. If you’ve accomplished your goal, start a new one. Coach, mentor and pay it forward.”
Title: Sketch Writer, Improvisational actor/director, technology Consultant.
Name of Organization: Beyond the Language
Blad Moreno was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela and for the first half of his career he was dedicated to academic music. Later on his interest to create and promote traditional Venezuelan music led him to be co-founder of the music ensembles, “3 y Cuatro” and “Buena Gente,” a fusion of Jazz, Gospel and Venezuelan traditional music.
Moreno is a member of the Latin Recording Academy and is a voting member of the Latin Grammy awards.
He began his journey on the stage as an actor in 2009 after receiving training with the Experimental Theater Workshop Professional Academy. He became a main player of the Venezuelan Improv League and in 2011, studying with the International Diploma of Improvisational Theater at El Bosque University in Bogotá, Colombia. When he returned to Venezuela, he became an Improvisational Theater advocate. He trained hundreds of performers in this technique, resulting in the creation of improv companies throughout Venezuela.
His reputation with unscripted theater in his native country led to Moreno being awarded a scholarship to study at the Second City Training Center in Chicago in 2014. He was granted his “Green Card” after gaining the status of Extraordinary Ability Individual, to continue his career as an actor, improviser and improv teacher. He tours the US with his bilingual duo Improñol and is a founding member and coach of Generation LatinX at iO Theater.
Moreno graduated with honors with a bachelor’s of science in computer science from the Universidad Experimental del Tachira (UNET) in Venezuela and is a consultant in the Intelligent Engineering Service practice at Accenture, where he offers his expertise in the improv world for the creation of spaces for Innovation.
“Align your thoughts with your words and actions, and you will create the reality that you dreamed about. If you can imagine it, you can create it, Let’s create reality.”
Samara Mejia Hernandez
Title: Founding Partner
Name of Organization: Chingona Ventures
Samara Mejia Hernandez, Founding Partner of an institutionally backed seed stage fund, Chingona Ventures,
Samara Mejia Hernandez focuses on investing in technology and technology-enabled companies all over the U.S. Prior to this she was an early stage investor at MATH Venture Partners, an early-stage venture fund investing in technology start-ups with differentiated approaches to customer acquisition.
Hernandez worked at Goldman Sachs, where she was continually ranked in the top 5 in selling financial products, providing market insights, advising on portfolio construction, and consulting on business practices.
She started her career in the Fixed Income, Currency and Commodity (FICC) group where she led multiple technology enhancing projects across global exchanges. Hernandez is actively involved in the Chicago tech community and is passionate about helping underrepresented groups get into STEM education, venture capital and entrepreneurship.
She co-founded the Latinx Founders Collective organization to bring together Latinx founders, investors, and community leaders to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Hernandez is an active member of Latinx VCs, a San-Francisco based group of experienced venture investors coming together to connect, engage, and foster the Latinx VC ecosystem.
Hernandez is also on the board of Chicago Blend, an organization dedicated to supporting and increasing diversity in the Chicago tech community and is an advisor to Angeles Investors, an angel group focused on investing in Latinx founders.
She earned an industrial and operations engineering degree from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in business administration from Northwestern University. She lives in Chicago with her husband, Ben Hernandez (also an entrepreneur), and 1-year-old son, Santi.
“You only need one person who finds something in you and is willing to take a chance on you – look for them and spend time building that relationship.”
Name of Organization: Women’s Business Development Center
Lisandra Martinez is an advocate for empowering women through entrepreneurship with an emphasis on supporting women of color.
Lisandra Martinez was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Chicago with her parents who were both teachers who came to work for the Chicago Public Schools, leaving life as they knew it on the island in search of better opportunities for their daughters. As hard working, middle class parents, they instilled the value of a good education, a steady paycheck and saving for retirement to their children. With their encouragement, Martinez graduated from George Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs and went on to earn her Juris Doctor from The University of Illinois College of Law in 2008 after giving birth to her son, Onix Sequoia.
After being laid off from her first job after law school she was forced to find her inner hustle as an entrepreneur. Martinez now lives for her true purpose, which is to passionately advocate for female business owners, help them grow to become entrepreneurs with high potential to help change communities and improve the world, one business at a time.
As a director for the nationally recognized Women’s Business Development Center, Martinez has brought the Leadership Entrepreneurial Advocacy Development program (LEAD) to the forefront as the only platform of its kind pioneering social change and economic security for minority women business owners. She also spearheads the Early Childhood Entrepreneurial Education program where she helps childcare providers run sustainable businesses that allows them to contribute to the economic development of communities by ensuring the availability of high-quality, safe childcare options for working families.
“If revenues generated by minority-women owned firms matched those currently generated by all women owned businesses, we would add millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in revenue to the U.S. Economy.”
Title: CEO & Founder
Name of Organization: Avanza Strategies
Grisel Maldonado collaborates with educators to drive culturally responsive program strategy, develop new initiatives, and evaluate impact, with a specialization in postsecondary success.
Maldonado is also the founder of EdPower, a non-profit organization that aims to specifically address income inequality by supporting youth of color to develop aspirational postsecondary visions and be equipped with the tools they need to achieve them.
Prior to founding her organizations, Maldonado drove impact through admissions at Brown University and bolstering research-based programs for first-generation college students of color at the Noble Network of Charter Schools, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, and Chicago Public Schools.
A first-generation college student raised by hard working Mexican immigrants in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, Maldonado knows first-hand the dearth of guidance and resources that exist for similar students growing up. Many times, she was pulled away from the educational system but was fortunate to find key mentors who led her back and encouraged her journey. To give back, she has dedicated her career to building innovative models of high-quality educational programs to meet the needs of all students, especially those underestimated first-generation college, low-income, black, and Latinx students who have been underserved.
Maldonado received a Bachelor of Arts in History and Hispanic Studies from Brown University and is currently pursuing an executive M.B.A. from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. She is a proud alumnus of the Surge Institute Fellowship, member of Education Leaders of Color and Señoritas Latinas Unidas, and served on the board of Instituto del Progreso Latino.
Be grateful for your accomplishments but never forget that you did not get there alone. Always ask – how am I supporting those coming after me to also achieve their wildest dreams?
Christopher Max Gomez
Title: Chief Executive Officer
Name of Organization: Spirit Consulting
Christopher Max Gomez spent 12 years working in consulting while establishing strategic relationships with the nation’s premier organizations. Gomez felt the need to start Spirit Consulting, a management consulting company whose executive team is composed of accomplished business leaders tied together by their zeal to carry out the mission of achieving dreams through virtuous service.
The services offered by Spirit Consulting include Executive Search, IO Psychology, Strategy, Tax, Finance & Accounting, and Information Technology outsourcing. In addition to leading the Executive Search service line at Spirit Consulting, Gomez serves as CEO.
Gomez has many passions in life, including raising his sons, public speaking, and prayer. He also enjoys spending time with his family and friends, performing praise and worship music, playing and coaching hockey, writing, weight training, and running. As a public speaker, Gomez has made several appearances on NBC, CBS, WGN, Shalom Media, and is a regular contributor on Relevant Radio and the Chicago Tribune.
Gomez is wildly passionate about developing his community and channels this desire by serving as a board member for two nonprofit organizations. He formed the nonprofit Catholic Sports Camps where he serves as a board member for the organization whose mission is to inspire a more active and life-long relationship with Christ through sports, friendship and Catholic faith-building activities for children and their families. He also serves as a board member for River of Light, an organization that helps provide 900K meals a year for the needy in the Chicago area. A lifelong learner, he completed a master’s in business administration from DePaul University and earned a bachelor’s in business administration from the University of Illinois.
“Turn to God, our Father, for all your needs and you will never be disappointed. Never.”
Title: Head, U.S Business Relationship Management
Name of Organization: BMO Harris Bank
Melissa Garcia serves as the Head of U.S. Business Banking Sales for BMO Harris Bank.
Melissa Garcia is responsible for leading the Business Relationship Managers across the country. The Business Relationship Sales team directly impacts the growth initiatives with a $10B business portfolio. Garcia is accountable for segment growth in deposits, lending, treasury services, and revenue growth while ensuring a high level of customer satisfaction.
She began at BMO Harris Bank in 2011 and supervised 85 branches as the Retail Regional Sales Manager for the Wisconsin region. She was then promoted to VP-Market President in Wisconsin and Illinois where she focused on working in a $2B market. Named the Head of U.S Mortgage Sales, she helped increase banker productivity by 26% in 2019.
As the daughter of an immigrant father, Garcia’s parents made sure she knew the importance of hard work and continuing her education. She graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in finance, as well as earning two minors from Universidad de Granada in Spanish and International Business. As a first-generation college graduate, her hard work and determination led to tremendous resilience as her path unfolded.
Garcia’s passion for mentorship along with diversity and inclusion keeps her engaged and results in successful advancement of initiatives. She serves as a committee member on the U.S. Personal and Commercial Steering Committee for Diversity & Inclusion and is a mentor in the Linkages Mentor Program, where she works with emerging diverse leaders and is an active member in the Latino Alliance Employee Resource Group. She also serves on the committee for the March of Dimes Organization.
When you stop learning, you stop growing. Be curious, vulnerable, and intentional in stepping outside of your comfort zone- the journey and experience will be worth it!
Valentina Fonseca Krug
Title: President & Creative Director
Name of Organization: Lola Valentina
Valentina Fonseca Krug, a native of Chile, came to the United States at the age of 10 along with her mother and sister.
Valentina has had a passion for design for as long as she can remember. She initially pursued in architecture while working for one of the nation’s largest linen rental companies where she was exposed to a variety of events types, corporate and social.
After working with clients who required specifically curated designs for their various event atmospheres, Valentina was introduced to and worked with global textile mills and realized that her true passion was in textiles and patterns. She shifted her focus from architecture to business and graduated from DePaul University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 2015.
Valentina is the Founder of Lola Valentina, a Chicago and Nationwide based creative studio dedicated to the development and production of custom made and collection driven patterns printed on a variety of textiles such as table overlays and glass. She works one-on-one with her clients to design and produce custom patterns for events large and small. Her ultimate goal is to incorporate her designs within the interior design industry and continue discovering ways to assist her clients in defining the look of their favorite spaces.
Valentina is a member of WIPA (Wedding International Professionals Association) and has styled events for Kehoe Designs, Rafanelli Events, Ron Wendt Designs, Epic Events and Jes Gordon.
“Become the architect of your life, see opportunity where someone may only see deserted land.” -Valentina Fonseca Krug
Gaspar Flores, Jr.
Name of Organization: Su Familia Real Estate
Gaspar Flores, Jr. is a 2nd Generation Chicagoland Real Estate Broker.
Gaspar Flores, Jr. is an advocate for the real estate community through his direct involvement in local and national organizations.
His local and national involvement keeps him abreast of market trends before they even happen. Since 2009 his experience has included being an integral part of a nationally recognized, top-producing team. He was also part of the Chicago Association of Realtors Board of Directors between 2015 and 2018.
In addition, in 2017 he was the NAHREP (National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals) Chicago Chapter President and is currently involved in the Illinois Association of Realtors Board of Directors.
Flores’ transactional and expert negotiating skills make him indispensable to his clients and sales team. His continued dedication to the real estate community in Illinois and to his clients has facilitated relationships and transactions for his clients for whom he maintains a “Phone Call Away Approach.”
“It would be my sincere pleasure to meet you and understand your needs, to be able to meet your expectations and become your lifelong Realtor.” –Gaspar, Jr.
Name of Organization: Gentleman’s Cooperative Garments
Chris Flores co-owner and master barber of Gentleman’s Cooperative Garments, Grooming and Events.
Chris Flores was born and raised in Chicago and is the leader of the grooming division of his business. What first began in high school as a hobby using his barber skills to connect with his friends, made its way to become his life passion and full-time career. His skills as a barber followed him to college where the bathroom of his dorm became his studio.
A kinesiology major at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Flores continued to develop his love for cutting hair during college. His referral-based clientele grew to more than 60 clients a week by his senior year. It was through his hair cutting and personal interaction skills where he really learned about people and helped build his self-confidence and empowered him to pursue barbering school to get his license.
At 26, he graduated from Denmark School of Barbering. The early self-taught years was invaluable as he mentored other students and contributed to the classroom learning environment. He soon became a member of the advisory board committee.
He has always had a passion to strive above and beyond the limits of the men’s grooming industry. Flores believes it is important to continue to grow personally and professionally through networking and building relationships with people in all industries. He constantly finds it fascinating to learn about others through this business. He has found a great sense of purpose in his professional life by helping others achieve the look they are seeking. It makes his quest incredibly rewarding.
He said proudly that Gentleman’s Cooperative has partnered with Inner Voice Chicago where they provide clothing, tailoring, and haircuts. They support people experiencing homelessness in their quest to achieve and maintain enhanced well-being, self-reliance and a place to call home.
“While hard work, dedication and determination will inevitably lead to success, the greatest life achievements are those we learn from our failures. Stay focused. The road to success is not always easy.”
Title: Senior Program Director
Name of Organization: After School Matters
Tony Diaz, Senior Program Director After School Matters 66 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601
Tony Diaz is a leader in the nonprofit and youth development world. A senior program director at After School Matters, Diaz supervises a program management staff and a team of more than 300 instructors and provides nearly 10,000 opportunities annually to teens on Chicago’s North and West Sides. Diaz has worked for the organization for more than 11 years and has dedicated his career to delivering high quality after-school and summer programming to underserved youth.
Growing up on the Southwest Side, Diaz was involved in similar programs and knows first-hand that safe and supporting environments are critical to youth development. Diaz was instrumental in the establishment of the After School Matters community center in Chicago’s Belmont Cragin community. The Michael and Karyn Lutz Center provides teens with experiences in the arts, communications, sports and STEM fields. Diaz’ favorite part of the job is speaking with youth about their challenges, hopes, and dreams.
Diaz has a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Lewis University. The son of Mexican immigrants, Diaz is proud of his heritage and attributes his success to a strong work ethic he learned from his father who rose before sunrise to go to work every day and his mother who worked to give her sons a better life. In his personal and professional life, he serves as a mentor to youth and young professionals to let them know they have someone who cares about their well-being and future success.
“Strive to be your best self, but never forget your roots and remember to empower and inspire those who will come after you and be the future generation of leaders.”
Title: Jr.QA Engineer
Name of Organization: Kenna Security
Ximena Cortez is currently working towards her master’s degree in Cybersecurity at DePaul University and works as a Jr. QA Engineer for Kenna Security.
Ximena Cortez and her family immigrated to the U.S. in 2005 and settled on the Southwest Side of Chicago. During her last year of high school, Cortez was part of the first class of Urban Alliance Chicago – where she had a paid-internship with an investment company in downtown Chicago.
Cortez received her bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Aurora University. She is currently working towards her master’s degree in Cybersecurity at DePaul University and works as a Jr. QA Engineer for Kenna Security.
She started her career as a software test engineer at a FinTech company in Chicago where she was the only Latina engineer out of 150 engineers. As she battled with imposter-syndrome, Cortez thought about different ways she could change the numbers of diversity in tech. She attended various community events and after getting the chance to share her own story as a “DACA” young professional, she became inspired to start making an impact. Cortez was determined to change the diversity numbers in tech by sharing her story and teaching others basic coding skills to get them interested in the tech field.
She has shared her journey and passion for tech with students at different schools and organizations. She led ChickTech’s first Spanish workshop on cybersecurity. She spoke at the University of Illinois at Chicago for the group, Girls Who Code. Recently, she shared her story with La Ley’s En Tu Comunidad morning show. Cortez also volunteers with Latina’s in Tech Chicago and Nuevo Foundation and serves as co-lead of AnitaB Chicago Chapter.
“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” —Woodrow Wilson
Title: Sr. Manager Of Client Partnerships
Name of Organization: PACO
Andrea Cicola is a businesswomen, strategic marketer and super connector who loves collaborating and working with people.
Andrea Cicola serves as a Senior Manager of Client Partnerships at PACO Collective, a cross-cultural marketing agency where she works with clients looking to speak to diverse audiences in an authentic and meaningful way. Some clients include ComEd, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Discover Financial, Carl Budigg and the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
Born and raised in Colombia, Cicola received her degree in Business Administration in her hometown, Pereira. She then moved to Chicago to be exposed to a more diverse way of thinking. Upon arriving in Chicago, she experienced first-hand the struggles that immigrants and people of color face as they try to advance in their profession in a new country. But she didn’t let the struggle define who she was or to limit her dreams.
Today, Cicola continues to be a strong and proud Latina who uses her story to inspire others. When she is not working on her corporate job, she serves to mentor job seekers and college students at Upwardly Global and AIESEC. She also serves as co-lead for Latinista Chicago, an organization helping women of all backgrounds garner career development and business skills.
As an advocate for diversity, equality and inclusion as well as female empowerment and career development she is committed to helping others embrace their authenticity by providing guidance and resources to support professional and personal growth.
“Don’t ever let ethnicity, gender or language define the kind of professional you know you are or can be. Be confident, show up, work hard, and always let people know you are in the room.”
Title: Project Engineer
Name of Organization: Alar Engineer Cop
Christian Castan?eda, Helping Empower Latino Youth Project Engineer Alar Engineering 9651 196th St, Mokena, IL
Christian Castan?eda still resides in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago where he grew up. He discovered his love of mathematics and physics while at the University of Chicago Laboratory High School and went on to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he received his bachelor’s in Engineering Mechanics and discovered his natural leadership ability.
Castan?eda has always been a critical thinking problem solver. Upon graduating from college, he began to utilize his engineering skills to ensure that critical facilities, such as hospitals and government organizations, secured various means of power in emergencies. He programmed and designed fuel filtration systems to ensure backup generators were activated in cases of emergencies.
Castan?eda works as a project engineer at Alar Engineering Corporation, helping a variety of clients across multiple industries solve industrial & environmental wastewater problems. He has excelled in programming complex systems as well as developing and standardizing system programs.
In addition to his work in the engineering field, Castan?eda serves as secretary of the Young Professional Board (HYPB) for the Hispanic Association for Career Enhancement, which provides networking, professional development and mentorship resources to Latinos. As secretary, he aims to help improve the organization and efficiency of the group. He is a strong believer that education provides the knowledge, skills, and values needed to succeed.
Through his work with HYPB, he hopes to strengthen the resource services for Latino
youth and guide them to a successful career.
“Stay committed to your decisions but stay flexible in your approach.”
Title: Chief Legal Counsel
Name of Organization: Illinois Department of Labor
Yolanda Carrillo is an employment attorney focusing on labor and employment law with an emphasis on litigation and government compliance.
Yolanda Carrillo currently serves as the chief legal counsel for the Illinois Department of Labor which is responsible for the administration and enforcement of 25 labor and safety laws. She serves as the attorney for the agency, providing her expertise to the director on legal matters and advising on areas of enforcement and policy.
Prior to this position, Carrillo focused on providing direct legal representation to workers and managed a statewide farmworker project. She focused her work on increasing access to legal services for agricultural workers in Illinois involving employment as well as housing, public benefits and immigration issues. She also served as the legal director of an organization seeking to advance the rights of low-wage workers through litigation and advocacy. She assisted workers in recouping lost wages and worked on legislative efforts at the state and local level.
She currently serves as a board member of a nonprofit she co-founded, Neighbors for Environmental Justice, which seeks to health and environmental issues on the Southwest Side of Chicago. She is also a cohort member of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Program – Culture of Health Leaders, a leadership development program meant to assist its leaders in advancing health and equity.
Carrillo was born and raised on the Southeast Side of Chicago to parents of Mexican descent. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Davidson College and her Juris Doctor degree from the DePaul University College of Law.
“Work hard, do not let fear or self-doubt stop you from taking on a new challenge, do not be afraid to admit you were wrong and always remember to recognize the work and input of others.”
Maria S. Bocanegra
Name of Organization: Illinois Commerce Commission
Maria S. Bocanegra was appointed to the Illinois Commerce Commission by Governor JB Pritzker on April 8, 2019, and confirmed by the Illinois Senate on May 31, 2019.
Maria S. Bocanegra is an accomplished, well-respected attorney with prior public service experience under both Democratic and Republican administrations. As an ICC Commissioner, she regulates public utilities, transportation and telecommunications entities in complex and technical matters.
Commissioner Bocanegra is actively engaged in the energy and regulatory sectors, touching on issues ranging from water usage, electrification and electric vehicles, customer service, diversity and cybersecurity.
Recently, Commissioner Bocanegra and her team convened a meeting before the ICC of more than 100 stakeholders to focus on issues related to electrification and electric vehicles. As the co-vice chair of NARUC’s National Committee on Water, her focus will be on data and energy nexuses, extreme climate events, state water plans, leak and lead detection, affordability and sustainability.
Immediately before the ICC, she served as an arbitrator at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, where she managed a docket of nearly 3,000 claims, wrote several hundred decisions and was only reversed three times during her tenure.
Previously, Bocanegra held the Public Seat on the Labor Advisory Board for the Illinois Department of Labor. She also formerly worked as an attorney litigating workers’ compensation, employment and personal injury claims.
Commissioner Bocanegra was recently selected to Negocios Now’s Who’s Who In Hispanic Chicago and the Chicago City Council Latino Caucus as a 2019-2020 Fellow. In addition, she serves as national Chair for NARUC’s Center for Partnerships & Innovation’s EV Working Group, assisting understanding of electrification for other public utility commissions. She earned her Juris Doctor from the DePaul University College of Law and her Bachelor of Arts in political science from Quincy University. She is the second Latina to be appointed to the Illinois Commerce Commission.
“Always work in service of others. In any work I do, I strive to do it competently, fairly, honestly and with integrity”.
Title: Founder – Managing Broker
Name of Organization: West Town Realty
Jessica Barrera is passionate about educating and helping families attain their dream of homeownership and future financial security.
In 2018, Barrera served as president of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP Chicago). During her tenure, she and her board planned educational and networking events throughout the year for real estate practitioners and other industry professionals. The events served to educate and empower real estate professionals serving Hispanic communities.
As the founder of West Town Realty Inc., her focus has been in training, mentoring and recruiting active real estate brokers as they have expanded services in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. She believes success is a result of complimenting passion and hard work with the right people, systems, strategies and technology.
Barrera received her bachelor’s in accounting and business management from Robert Morris University. She is a member of the National Association of Realtors, former committee member of the Grievance and Global Council with the Chicago Association of Realtors. Her advanced skills and education consist of designations as a Single-Family Residence Representative (SFR) and Accredited Distress Property Representative (ADPR) Short Sales and Foreclosures.
“Everyday wake up with a grateful heart for there is always something to be grateful for”.
Title: Cook County Commissioner
Name of Organization: Cook County
Alma Anaya is a trailblazer who not only was the youngest woman to ever serve on the Cook County Board of Commissioners, she also became the only Latina on the board in over 25 years and became one of the few formerly undocumented immigrants in the nation to hold elected office.
A native of Guadalajara, Mexico she immigrated to the United States at age six. The eldest of four children, she was raised by a single mother on Chicago’s South Side. After earning a bachelor’s degree in communications, she received a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).
With a history of major legislative accomplishments behind her, in 2019 Commissioner Anaya also helped pass an ordinance terminating the county’s gang database and prohibiting data sharing, setting a model for other jurisdictions.
During the 2019 budget cycle, Commissioner Anaya successfully pushed a budget amendment allocating funds to expand resources for domestic violence survivors, an issue personal to her because it will help connect survivors with services including trauma-informed care.
Commissioner Anaya serves as co-chair of the Cook County Complete Count Census Commission and has worked diligently with community and government partners to ensure a complete 2020 census count. She is also chair of the Cook County Commission on Social Innovation, an entity focusing on economic and workforce development. Anaya also serves as vice-chair of the Business and Economic Development Committee as well as the Pension Committee on the Cook County Board. She also serves as chair of the Real Estate Committee and Audit Committee on the board of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.