Monserrat Ayala, Organizer
Monse joins SWOP staff as a long-time resident of Gage Park. Before coming to SWOP, she led the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council’s Hoops in the Hood program and worked with Increase the Peace in Chicago Lawn to provide youth with alternatives to violence. In addition to working with young people and community organizing, Monse is passionate about civic engagement and restorative justice and loves to discover new neighborhoods and take photos and paint in her free time.
Jeff Bartow, Executive Director
Jeff has been organizing in the Chicago metropolitan area since 1989 after spending 10 years organizing in Fort Worth, Texas. Jeff has been a resident of Southwest Chicago since 1992. He joined SWOP as Executive Director in September 2002. Prior to becoming the Executive Director of SWOP, he served as the Executive Director of the Interfaith Leadership Project of Cicero, Berwyn and Stickney for nearly a decade.
LaDarius Beal, Organizer
LaDarius joins the SWOP staff as a long-time resident of the Roseland community. He grew up on a block where everyone knew everyone else and looked after each other. He wants to organize to help create that spirit in every neighborhood in Chicago. LaDarius is a pastor in the Church of God in Christ. For fun, he enjoys fishing, biking, hiking, swimming, and spending time with close friends.
Jessica Biggs, Southwest System of Care Organizer
Jessica comes to SWOP as our System of Care Organizer to lead the Southwest System of Care work. Jessica is a former Chicago Public Schools principal and brings a commitment to finding avenues for schools and communities to work together to support the growth of each. Jessica has worked in community-based youth development organizations and as a teacher prior to her tenure as principal of Burke Elementary School in the Washington Park Neighborhood. She grew up in the Chicago area before spending time in the Bay Area and is happy to be back home. Jessica likes to follow local politics, is an avid reader and recently has learned to enjoy cooking—she does it pretty well, too!
Chris Brown, Director of Operations
Chris joined SWOP in July of 2016. He has worked as an organizer, funder, program manager, and researcher. Having grown up in Missouri, Chris is a St. Louis Cardinals fan. After eight years working at LISC, Chris joined SWOP to get back to his organizing roots. His work at SWOP covers fundraising, communications, human resources, and other tasks that support the organizing work.
David Castro, Education Organizer
Castro is returning to SWOP after a two-year hiatus. Most recently, Castro has worked as the Student Transition Coordinator for the Ogden-Jenner School merger, taught at the university level, and is working on his PhD. in Education from Loyola University. Castro was raised in the Albany Park community, but has many family members in Southwest Chicago. Castro is bringing his personal and professional experiences with CPS, and his organizing background, to SWOP in order to work with educators and others to improve schools in the community. Mysteriously, Castro is both a big Cubs and Mets fan.
Sierra Jones, Elev8 Director
Sierra first started working with SWOP and the Elev8 program at Marquette, when her sister let her know about the program. Sierra knew that it was the job for her because she wanted to make an impact in children’s lives and in their community. Sierra worked with young people after school for three years before taking over the program. She believes that change must happen in the community to create a safe environment for students within the schools. Naturally shy, Sierra is finding her voice leading the comprehensive community school program. Sierra loves living in Chicago Lawn after living in different areas around the city. Also, she enjoys family game night where she is very competitive when it comes to playing Taboo.
Harry Meyer, Director of Vacant Property Reactivation
Born and raised in Gage Park, Harry has been working in Southwest Chicago for more than 30 years. Harry was a member of the SWOP Strategy Team for a number of years before joining the staff in 2013. He leads SWOP’s Reclaiming Southwest housing development campaign. Harry has a strong interest in preserving the community, which is why the housing work is so important to him. He’s an active leader at Ashburn Lutheran Church and an avid photographer and has taken several of the pictures you see on the SWOP website.
Maggie Perales, Organizer
Maggie has lived in the Southwest Chicago community for 30 years after moving to the community from Little Village. She has been an active member and leader at St. Nick’s parish for almost as long as she’s been in the neighborhood. She and her husband raised their four sons in the community, sending them to the local parish school. Maggie started at SWOP as a part-time bookkeeper in 1997, but realized that her passion wasn’t numbers, but was organizing. She is active in SWOP’s immigration, health, and the Parent Mentor Program Statewide work, and is the organizer for St. Nicholas of Tolentine & Queen of the Universe.
Rafi Peterson, CeaseFire Director
Rafi is a long-time resident of Chicago Southwest. He grew up in Altgeld Gardens on the far south side of the city and played multiple sports as a young man at Carver High School. Rafi is very active as a leader at the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and runs a house for men transitioning out of prison and into the community. He is an avid reader and competes with Jeff Bartow to see who can read the most books.
Carlil Pittman, Morrill Family Engagement Organizer
Carlil grew up in the community and attended Gage Park High School, where he started his organizing career with SWOP around ending zero-tolerance policies in schools that would decrease the volume of the school-to-prison pipeline. After spending time as a youth leader with SWOP, Carlil worked for the last three years as an organizer with Communities United working on anti-violence initiatives. Carlil comes back to SWOP to work with families at Morrill Elementary School as part of the Sustainable Community Schools program. In his off time, Carlil has his hands full with four young boys. Carlil is a big bowler and has a high score of 248. Carlil is excited to bring his knowledge and skills that he has obtained as both an organizer and family oriented individual back to his community.
Amanda joins the SWOP staff as an organizer. Amanda is from southeast Pennsylvania and most recently worked there as a social worker and an outdoor educator with various populations. She has also worked extensively in Albania and other Eastern European countries with at-risk youth and is passionate about empowering all kids to take control of their future. She is excited to be living in Chicago and be learning about and engaging in community organizing. For fun, Amanda likes to dabble in acrylic and oil painting, jewelry making, photography, and other areas of art. Additionally she enjoys spending time exploring her local community, traveling abroad, learning new languages, and playing guitar.
Edith Robles, Bookkeeper
Edith is a 20 year resident of Southwest Chicago and has been a long-time leader at SWOP. Along with her husband Sergio, she has raised a son and a daughter in the community. Edith is very active at her church, St. Nicolas of Tolentine and serves as the Religious Education Director at the parish. She is a big reader of religious books and loves numbers, which makes her the ideal person to be SWOP’s bookkeeper.
Joel has returned to the SWOP family after working for two years at Gage Park High School. He grew up in Chicago and has worked with a number of organizations leading programs for young people. Joel and his wife live on the Southwest side of Chicago where they are raising their four children. Joel will be leading all of SWOP’s youth-focused work, in both schools and the community. In addition to his work at SWOP, Joel is an assistant pastor at his church. For fun, watches a lot of Chicago Bears’ football.
Imelda Salazar, Organizer
Imelda was born in Guatemala and came to Chicago after experiencing missionary work in Mexico. She fell in love with her adopted city and felt compelled to take on the issues she saw in communities in Chicago. While her background is in organizational management, she found she naturally had all the skills to be a good community organizer. She has been at SWOP since 2007. She works on the issues of immigration, leadership development, and churches. Imelda is a strong trainer for SWOP and has led neighborhood and city-wide community organizing trainings in both English and Spanish.
Jasmine Serrano, Teen Reach Manager
Jasmine Serrano leads the Teen REACH program at Morrill School. Jasmine has work with SWOP as a consultant for the last four years on Teen REACH, Play Streets and other youth-oriented programming. She started as a youth leader when she was 16. Jasmine is a graduate of Marquette Elementary School and Gage Park High School. She is also a vegetarian and the proud parent of one cat.
Adriana Velázquez, Organizer
Adriana grew up in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in the Southside of Chicago, where she got her first organizing experience working with friends in her parish to bring awareness and action around the issues of immigration and education. When she was placed at SWOP through One Summer Chicago, she was surprised to learn that she could build a career doing what she’d been doing in her community as a volunteer. Adriana graduated from Northeastern Illinois University in 2015 with a Bachelors in music. She is also the lead vocalist of Quinto Imperio, a local latin alternative band whose music is rooted in the stories and culture of the Latino and Immigrant community. She has participated with SWOP since 2012, and stepped in as organizer in 2015. Adriana works on the issues of immigration and leadership development. She works on the Parent Mentor Program as part of the statewide Parent Engagement Institute team and as Organizer and Trainer locally for Azuela, Mckay, Pasteur, and Sandoval Elementary Schools.