Sara’s background in investment management led to the formation of Swan Capital in 2007. Her career began as an analyst at Harris Associates L.P., from there she went on to become one of the founding partners of the equity team at PPM America. In addition to practicing investment management, she also taught International Finance at St. Xavier University Graham School of Management as well as CFA prep courses after receiving her CFA in 1995. In 2000, she purchased the retail chain, Ultimo and operated it until 2011.
In addition to the EI board, Sara serves as a trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art, is the past Chairman of Hubbard Street Dance and a member of the Economic Club of Chicago.
Sara graduated with a B.S. in Finance and Accounting from DePaul University and received a M.M. from Northwestern Kellogg School of Management. She is also a CFA.
President, Free Market Ventures
Jack is a co-founder and Vice-Chairman of OCI, and the Founder and President of the real estate firm Free Market Ventures. He began his real estate career at John Buck Company, where he became one of the company’s top brokers. After receiving his MBA from University of Chicago, Jack became a Project Manager and oversaw financing, construction, leasing, and sales of prominent office and residential buildings in Chicago and New York.
In 2012, Jack chose to explore his vision for the future in real estate on his own. He established Free Market Ventures as a firm designed to pursue opportunities, develop inspired projects, and turn ideas into reality. Jack also serves as a Trustee of the Village of Winnetka and a board member of Big Shoulders Fund and Hales Franciscan High School.
Senior Vice President, McDonald's Corporation
Mike leads the Treasury, Investor Relations, and Insurance functions at McDonald’s. Mike leads key finance strategies, including the Corporation’s global debt portfolio, shareholder return strategies and liquidity planning, while managing internal & external stakeholder expectations for clarity and confidence in McDonald’s strategy. Mike is also Chair of McDonald’s 401K Plan oversight committee. Mike and his wife Kristen live in Downers Grove, IL and are the proud parents of four children.
Prior to McDonald’s, Mike worked at Ernst & Young and Leo Burnett. He has his undergraduate degree in Accounting from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management.
Assurance Partner, Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP
Ward Hamm is a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) where he is responsible for managing large client relationships in the banking and capital markets sector. Ward began his career with PwC in 1979 and was admitted as a partner in 1991. Over the years he has worked in several PwC offices and served many of the firm’s largest financial institution clients. Ward graduated with a BBA in Accountancy from the University of Notre Dame and completed the Advanced Executive Program at the Kellogg School of Management. He is licensed as a CPA in Illinois and New York and is a member of the AICPA and the Illinois CPA Society.
In addition to his role as a director of Empower Illinois, Ward serves on the Finance Council of the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and chairs its Audit Committee. He and his wife Marge are the parents of three adult daughters and reside in Wilmette, IL.
Former U.S. Congressman, Illinois' 3rd District
Former Congressman Dan Lipinski served eight terms as a U.S. Representative for Illinois’ 3rd congressional district from 2005-2021.
Former Congressman Lipinski has been a strong proponent and avid supporter of the Invest in Kids Act Tax Credit Scholarship Program since its passage in 2017. As a former teacher, he know how critical quality education options are for students.
Born in Chicago, Former Congressman Lipinski has first-hand experience with the city’s private school landscape, having attended St. Symphorosa Catholic Grade School and St. Ignatius College Preparatory School. He went on to earn a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Northwestern University, an M.S. in engineering-economic systems from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. in political science from Duke University.
Partner, Kirkland & Ellis LLP
Pat Loughery is a Partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP in its debt finance practice. He has been practicing law in Chicago since 2016 and works with private equity sponsors and corporate borrowers in complex financing transactions, including leveraged buyouts, restructurings/debtor-in-possession financings, and back-leverage/margin loan financings.
Prior to law school, Pat served as a 5th grade teacher in Philadelphia. He is a native of Arlington Heights, IL and graduate of Our Lady of the Wayside. He went on to earn a B.A. and J.D. from the University of Notre Dame. He lives in Lakeview with his wife, Jennifer.
Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership
Karin M. Norington-Reaves is a lifelong public servant with more than 25 years of experience in education, law, advocacy, community, and workforce development. In 2012, Karin became the founding Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership (The Partnership) upon her appointment by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
As CEO and change agent, she led the merger and restructuring of three diverse workforce systems into what is now the nation’s most extensive workforce system managed by a non-profit administrative agency. Karin leads The Partnership’s mission to ensure that “every person has the skills to build a career and every business have the talent it needs to compete in a global economy.”
She oversees the administration of federal, state and philanthropic funds and the creation of effective programs that assure alignment between the skills demanded by a changing economy and those offered by the region’s labor force. She also works to generate both private and public funding to expand the services available throughout Chicagoland. In her tenure, The Partnership has raised nearly $50 million in diverse funds, including a $10.9 million grant awarded by the Walmart Foundation – the most significant gift in the history of the foundation.
A recognized thought leader on the national stage, Karin has served as a keynote speaker, panelist and presenter at a host of conferences, and convenings. Similarly, delegations from Korea, China, and Great Britain have sought to learn from her leadership and organizational experience.
Karin’s civic engagement extends to numerous organizations. She serves as a member of the Cook County Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC), the Board of Advisors for LISC Chicago, the Board of Directors of the Chicago Lighthouse, and the Board of Thrive Chicago. She also spent eight years as a mentor/sponsor for LINK Unlimited.
Karin has received local and national awards for her outstanding professional and community-driven accomplishments. Karin’s recognitions include: the 2016 Excellence in Public Service award by the Civic Federation of Chicago and the Motorola Solutions Foundation; the 2017 Woman of Excellence award from the Chicago Defender; 2018 The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future Giver award from the National Retail Federation Foundation; and 2018 Outstanding Achievement in Workforce & Labor award from Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs.
Before The Partnership, Karin served as Director of Cook County Works; Deputy Director of the Office of Urban Assistance for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and Chief of Staff for the City of Chicago’s 20th Ward. Karin spent eight years as a litigator for the U.S. Department of Justice, the Maryland Office of the Attorney General and the Citizens Utility Board in the fields of mental health law, education, contracts, and public utility consumer protection. She is a former adjunct law professor at Loyola University’s Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy. Karin began her career as a Teach For America Corps member in Compton, California.
A Chicago native, Karin holds a J.D. from Southern Methodist University School of Law in Dallas, Texas and a B.A. in Spanish Language and Literature from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She is also the proud mother of a blended family of four children.
Partner, Madison Dearborn Partners
James N. Perry, Jr. is a co-founder of Madison Dearborn Partners, a private equity firm based in Chicago. He oversees MDP’s investing efforts in the telecommunications, media and technology services industries. He sits on the boards of directors of Asurion Corporation, Centennial Towers, Liquid Web, The Topps Company and Univision Communications. Jim joined MDP’s predecessor firm, First Chicago Venture Capital, in 1984.
Jim’s philanthropic interests are focused on efforts supporting education, and assisting low income and vulnerable populations. Jim is the lead investor in Sunshine Enterprises, based in Chicago’s Woodland neighborhood, which provides instruction and coaching to inner city entrepreneurs. Jim is also a director of the Lumen Christi Institute, affiliated with the University of Chicago, and is also a board member of Chicago Public Media, which operates the public radio station WBEZ.
Jim was a founding member of the School Board of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2008 and stepped down as Chairman of the Board in November to serve as chairman of the board of Empower Illinois. He and Molly, his wife, co-chaired the Archdiocese’s capital campaign for education that has raised more than $400 million to date. Jim served as one of the first lay board members of Catholic Relief Services between 2003 and 2009 and he now serves on the CRS Foundation Board. He and Molly are actively involved with the work of Catholic Charities in Chicago.
Jim is a 1982 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and he received an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in 1985. He is a member of the Board of Advisors for Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters and a member of Booth School’s Private Equity Council at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Director of Teacher Formation and Education Policy, University of Notre Dame
John Schoenig is Director of Teacher Formation and Education Policy, an Assistant Professional Specialist, and the inaugural Director of Notre Dame’s Program for K-12 Educational Access, and Empower Illinois Board Secretary.
From 1998 to 2000, he was a member of the ACE Service Through Teaching program, in which he taught middle school English and Religion at Holy Rosary School in Shreveport, Louisiana. From 2000 to 2004, he served on the ACE pastoral and administrative staff, where he helped found both the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program and the University Consortium for Catholic Education (UCCE). In addition to his leadership work with ACE Teaching Fellows and the Program for K-12 Educational Access, Schoenig serves as an advisor to the Catholic School Advantage Campaign and is on the faculty of the Education, Schooling, and Society minor.
John received his B.A. in the Program of Liberal Studies from the University of Notre Dame and he earned a M.Ed. degree from Notre Dame.
Partner, M3 Capital Partners
Christopher Vallace is a Partner of M3 Capital Partners, a global real estate principal investment and advisory firm with offices in Austin, Beijing, Chicago, Hong Kong, London, Luxembourg and São Paulo. Mr. Vallace is a member of the firm’s Board of Directors and Global Investment Committee.
Chris has served on the Empower Illinois Development Committee since 2019 and has contributed to both the Tax Credit Scholarship Program and to Empower Illinois’ 501c3 operations to protect and advance the Invest in Kids Act. Chris has been pivotal in connecting the Empower Illinois development team with key leaders at independent Catholic high schools like Loyola Academy, and to new tax credit scholarship and 501c3 donors in the greater Chicago area.
Chief Executive Officer, Bria Health Services
Mr. Avrum Weinfeld is a prominent member and lay leader who has earned the respect of the broader Jewish community in the Midwest region, as well as in the international realm. Together with his wife, Voie, they have raised five children. He has been running healthcare facilities and a nursing home business since 2000.
Mr. Weinfeld has been an integral leader of Jewish community, recognized as a visionary, generous benefactor, and tireless activist. He is known for his indefatigable work ethic, honest communication, and ability to work with everyone.
Among the many Jewish organizations he is involved with is Agudath Israel of West Rogers Park Synagogue, which he founded and built into one of the most prominent Orthodox synagogues in the country. He has been the Chairman of the Board at Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov for over a decade, and has held the position of board member of Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov/Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi, the largest Jewish day school in the Midwest. He currently serves on the Executive Committees of Agudath Israel of Illinois and Telshe Yeshiva. He is also on the Board of Directors at the Jewish United Fund (JUF) and Arie Crown Hebrew Day School. His years of dedication, along with his remarkable talent and resources, have made him a household name in the Chicago Jewish community and Jewish communities across the globe.
Chairman, The John Buck Company
John A. Buck founded The John Buck Company in 1981 and serves as its Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Buck oversees the operation of the firm’s comprehensive real estate services, including fund management, development, financial services, and asset management services for commercial, mixed-use, residential and retail properties around the world. Mr. Buck serves on JBC’s Board of Directors and is a member of the Investment Committee.
Throughout his career, Mr. Buck has served the community through numerous civic boards and committees. In addition to The John Buck Company Foundation, which focuses on at-risk children and families within the Chicago metro-area, Mr. Buck has served on the Metropolitan Planning Council; The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago; The Lyric Opera; San Miguel Schools; and, The Big Shoulders Fund.
Mr. Buck received a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame, a JD from the University of Texas Law School, and an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of Business and Finance.
President, Centaur Capital Partners
John G. Schreiber is the President of Centaur Capital Partners, Inc. In December 2015 he retired as a Partner and Co-Founder of Blackstone Real Estate Advisors (BREA). As Co-Chairman of the BREA Investment Committee, Mr. Schreiber oversaw all Blackstone real estate investments since its’ founding in 1992. During those 23 years, Blackstone invested over $75 billion of equity in a wide variety of real estate transactions. Previously, Mr. Schreiber served as Chairman and CEO of JMB Urban Development Co. and Executive Vice President of JMB Realty Corp.
Mr. Schreiber is a past board member of Urban Shopping Centers, Inc., Host Hotels & Resorts, Inc., The Rouse Company, AMLI Residential Properties Trust, General Growth Properties, Blackstone Mortgage Trust, Inc., Hudson Pacific Properties and Invitation Homes, Inc. and he currently serves on the board of JMB Realty Corp., Brixmor Property Group, Hilton Worldwide, Inc. and is a director/trustee of the mutual funds managed by T. Rowe Price Associates and a Trustee of Loyola University of Chicago. Mr. Schreiber graduated from Loyola University of Chicago and received an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.
Executive Director for Administration and Chief Financial Officer
Brandan Allen is Empower Illinois’ Executive Director for Administration and Chief Financial Officer, where he oversees scholarship program compliance, internal FP&A, and accounting activities of the organization. Before joining Empower Illinois, Brandan held various accounting and finance roles for Consumer Technology and SaaS companies. Brandan graduated with a Master’s Degree in Accounting from Illinois State University.
Chelsie Leffelman serves as a Regional Manager for Empower Illinois. In this role, she works with schools across central and southern Illinois to implement and advocate for policies that serve their communities and their children.
After graduating Summa Cum Laude with Honors from Illinois State University, she taught special education for 4.5 years in a rural Illinois public school district. Upon leaving the profession full-time, she continued to substitute teach occasionally for her former school district.
Chelsie lives in Central Illinois with her family. She currently serves on her local school board.
Executive Director for Community and Government Relations
Bobby Sylvester is the Executive Director for Community and Government Relations at Empower Illinois, where he works with schools from Rockford to Belleville (and everywhere in between) to implement and advocate for policies that serve the communities and their children.
Bobby graduated as a University Scholar from the Catholic University of America (CUA) with a Bachelor of Arts in Politics. While at CUA, he worked for Yu Ying, a Chinese-English dual language immersion school, while also holding multiple internships involving electoral politics and public policy.
After graduation, Bobby became a teaching fellow at the University of Notre Dame with the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), through which he taught while pursuing a Master of Education. Upon completing ACE, he accepted a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English in Taiwan for the 2017-2018 school year.
Katie Taylor is a Regional Manager at Empower Illinois, where she works with schools and donors in Chicagoland and central Illinois to assist in fundraising and advocate for policies that serve their communities and their children. She previously held the role of Development Associate at Empower Illinois.
Katie received her Bachelor of Arts and Sciences from Indiana University, as well as completing a semester abroad at Charles University in Prague. After graduation, she taught English abroad in Russia and China. After relocating to Chicago, Katie freelanced and volunteered as a grant writer at nonprofit organizations specializing in education and the arts. She received her master’s degree in International Studies with a concentration in International Development from Concordia University- Irvine.
Communications and Data Manager
Julia Sullivan is Empower Illinois’ Communications and Data Manager. In this role, she plays an integral part in sustaining and promoting Empower Illinois, working directly with the Communications Director to develop and execute communications initiatives that advance the organization’s mission and engage its constituents. She also works with the Operations Team to provide data support, as well as maintain and improve the organization’s technology platforms, including EmpowerXChange and Salesforce.
Julia received a Bachelor of Arts from Georgetown University in 2015.
Susan Walker has stepped into the role of Financial Analyst at Empower Illinois following several years of serving as bookkeeping consultant. After earning her CPA and working as controller of a real estate firm, she began providing finance and consulting services to clients in various industries, including not-for-profit. Susan graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison with a degree in Economics.