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.
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.
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.
Senior Scholarship Specialist
Clarissa is a Scholarship Specialist at Empower Illinois, where she is the first point of communication between Empower Illinois and the families, schools, and donors it serves.
Clarissa earned her Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in Forensic Criminal Investigation at Lewis University in 2018.
Senior Director of Finance and Compliance
Brandan Allen is Empower Illinois’ Senior Director of Finance and Compliance, where he oversees the Tax Credit 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.
Emma Ciavarella is Empower Illinois’ Communication Director. In this role, she is responsible for setting communications strategy and conveying the organization’s internal and external messages through content development, campaign planning, media relations, and stakeholder communications.
Emma began her career in public service, working with the Illinois Department of Public Health, the United States Senate, and the Illinois State Senate.
Emma received a dual-major Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and History from Loyola University Chicago in 2016. She completed her Master of Science in Communication degree from Northwestern University in 2018.
In 2021, Emma joined the American Enterprise Institute’s Leadership Network, Millennial Cohort.
Kimberly Cummins is a Communications Consultant at Empower Illinois. In this role, she coordinates digital media and design projects. Before joining the Empower Illinois team, Kimberly worked as an Administrative Assistant at one of Chicago’s top real estate firms.
Kimberly earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Journalism from Loyola University Chicago in 2012, and is a native of Cleveland, Ohio.
Director of Operations
Chris Davis is the Director of Operations at Empower Illinois, where he is responsible for overseeing the daily operations and Empower Illinois systems, as well as leading the team delivering service to families, school partners, and donors. Chris brings over twenty-five years of experience in both the non-profit and for-profit spaces. His career has involved many different industries and fields, but Chris has always maintained a footing in the operations or service delivery areas.
Chris has a degree in Fine Art from the University of Tampa and a Bachelor’s in Business Management from Western Governors University.
A Scholarship Specialist at Empower Illinois is a first point of contact for stakeholder inquiries. In this role, Alyssa’s responsibilities include answering calls and responding to emails concerning the services at Empower Illinois. Alyssa is experienced in retail and call center service. With her expertise, she is able to build and strengthen relationships between people, programs, and services.
Alyssa will soon graduate with her AA in Business and Economics. She has recently completed a two-year apprenticeship program with Walgreens to earn her degree. Through this scholarship program, she has worked with different organizations on coaching and professional development.
Anthony Holter, Ph.D., joined Empower Illinois in February 2018 to provide high quality, operational leadership across the scholarship granting, advocacy, government affairs, and fundraising units of the organization. Anthony brings nearly two decades of teaching, program evaluation, and non-profit leadership experience to his role as President.
Anthony previously served as Executive Director of Empower Illinois, Executive Director of the Fulcrum Foundation (Seattle, WA), and Director of Program Evaluation and Research in the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame. (South Bend, IN).
Anthony received his Bachelor of Arts from Saint Mary’s University, his Master of Education from the University of Notre Dame, and his Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Brian is a Regional Manager at Empower Illinois, where he works with schools across northern and central Illinois to implement and advocate for policies that serve their communities and their children.
Prior to joining Empower, Brian participated in PLACE Corps a teacher service corps in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Following PLACE Corps, Brian returned home to his alma mater, Marian Catholic High School, in Chicago Heights, Illinois where he taught social studies for eight years while also serving as Director of Campus Ministry & Mission Integration for three years. During this time, Brian completed a Masters in Educational Leadership as a member of the Remick Leadership Program at the University of Notre Dame.
Niko is a Scholarship Specialist at Empower Illinois. In this role, he is a point of contact for family, school, and donor inquiries. He focuses on providing the best customer service to all stakeholders. He has over eight years of customer service experience in various industries.
Niko graduated from Hartwick College with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater Performance.
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.
Customer Success Manager
Araceli Mendoza is the Customer Success Manager at Empower Illinois where she is responsible for managing the day-to-day workflow, acting as an escalation point for customer issues, and providing direction to the Customer Success Team regarding customer & process questions.
Araceli brings her experience in customer service to the organization as well as her education in project management. She graduated Salutatorian in her High School class and is currently pursuing a degree in Human Resources.
Senior Finance Associate
Christian Padilla is a Senior Finance Associate at Empower Illinois. He works to process incoming donations and outgoing scholarship awards with the finance team. Christian first joined Empower Illinois as a Customer Success Agent and hopes to continue learning as a Finance Associate, while remaining customer-oriented.
He graduated from Knox College in Galesburg, IL with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Anthropology/Sociology and a minor in Philosophy.
Ivan Ramirez is a Regional Manager at Empower Illinois, where he works with schools and donors in Chicagoland and northern Illinois to implement and advocate for policies that serve their communities and their children.
Ivan was born in Waukegan, Illinois, and his parents were born in the State of Guanajuato, Mexico. He graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in Kinesiology. Ivan previously worked as a Public Affairs Specialist for the Illinois Department of Central Management Services. Ivan also served as a Director for the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA), where he developed and led their public outreach strategies to advance minority training and services in Lake County. He also served as a Coordinator of Marketing and Outreach at HACIA and an Account Representative at CDW Corporation.
Senior Director of Community and Government Affairs
Juan Rangel is the Senior Director of Community and Government Affairs at Empower Illinois, where he develops and executes community engagement and advocacy strategies and manages the organization’s government and political relationships.
Juan brings 30+ years of experience in the field of community organizing and community development within the school reform circles locally and nationally. He began his career in 1989 as an elected local school council member following the passage of Chicago’s historic school reform law. He went on to serve as President and CEO of the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) and founded the UNO Charter School Network in 1998. Under his leadership, the UNO charter schools grew to represent over 7,500 families within 16 school campuses across Chicago’s Hispanic immigrant communities.
In 2001, he also formed the Metropolitan Leadership Institute (MLI) where many of today’s Hispanic leaders and elected officials began their careers within the civic arena.
Juan Rangel holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Northeastern Illinois University.
Maurice is a Scholarship Specialist at Empower Illinois. In this role, his focus is on providing quality service to Empower Illinois’ stakeholders. He is committed to the stakeholder’s satisfaction by providing everyone with accurate and complete information and engaging them to ensure all their needs have been met. Maurice’s experience contains over five years of customer service and civic engagement with local communities.
Maurice comes from a political and civically engaged background where he has worked to empower individuals and communities. He will soon graduate with his bachelor’s in Political Science from Illinois State University.
Communications and Data Manager
Julia Sullivan is Empower Illinois’ Communications and Data Manager. Under the guidance of the Operations Director and Communications Director, she is primarily responsible for tax credit scholarship (TCS)-related internal and external communications. Additionally, she manages the organization’s CRM platform, and supports a variety of departments with data and communications-related tasks.
Before joining the Empower Illinois team, Julia held marketing, communications, and public relations roles in both the non-profit and healthcare sectors. She graduated from Georgetown University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts.
Rebecca Sword is an Executive Assistant at Empower Illinois, assisting both the President and the Director of Development in administrative tasks.
A Chicago native, Rebecca received her Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education at North Park University. After graduation, she taught at several Chicago area schools for five years. Prior to joining Empower Illinois, she worked as an executive assistant in a legal setting.
Director of School and Community Partnerships
Bobby Sylvester is the Director of School and Community Partnerships 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.
Maris Harrington Tallentire
Director of Development
A bridge builder and creative problem solver, Maris, a native of Chicago’s North Shore, lived in Paris for 20 years and relocated back to the Chicago area in 2013.
A mission-driven leader with over 25 years’ experience serving in development, fundraising and marketing roles in diverse organizations across the arts, education and healthcare sectors, Maris believes in the power of people and philanthropy.
She has served as Director of Philanthropy and Advancement at the Lycee Francais de Chicago, founding Director of Development at the Great Lakes Center for the Arts in Petoskey, Michigan, and Principal Gifts Officer at Loyola University Chicago. Maris was Founder and Principal of a Communications Consulting Firm in Paris where she also taught English as a second language to children and adults in public and private schools as well as in corporate and private settings.
A graduate of Regina Dominican High School in Wilmette, Illinois, Maris received her Bachelor of Arts in French and history from Allegheny College, Pennsylvania. She received an advanced diploma in French language and civilization from the Institut Catholique in Paris and studied art and architecture at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris.
A classically trained violinist, Maris has taught and played the violin in diverse chamber groups and orchestras in the Paris area, touring Europe on several occasions. She has served on boards of non-profit organizations including the North Shore Counseling Center, the Misericordia Women’s Board, and the Women’s Board of the Alliance Francaise.
Together with her husband, David, they have 6 young adult children. They enjoy playing golf, exercising, walking their dogs, traveling, reading, and doing crosswords.
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.
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.
Justine Gagne Weidel
Administration and Compliance Manager
Justine Gagne Weidel is the Administration and Compliance Manager at Empower Illinois. In this role, she manages the administrative and compliance functions of the office, organizes core operational procedures, and develops processes that facilitate collaboration and coordination among all team members. Justine also serves as the team’s HR administrator and has obtained a certification in benefits administration through GCG Financial.
Before joining the Empower Illinois team, Justine worked in customer service management for a group of Chicago-based health clubs and coordinated the organization’s in-kind donations program.
Justine is active in the Chicago performing arts community and can be found relaxing with her husband and dog in her spare time. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2012 from Oakland University in Rochester, MI.
Mauricio is a Scholarship Specialist at Empower Illinois. In this role, he is a point of contact for family, school, and donor inquiries. He focuses on providing the best customer service to all stakeholders. Mauricio strives to provide them with accurate information, identify needs, and build relationships of trust between himself and Empower Illinois stakeholders. Mauricio has nearly eight years of experience in various roles across the hospitality industry.
Mauricio graduated from Northeastern Illinois University in 2020, with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management. Mauricio is also fluent in Spanish and English.
Mary Clare Gourley
Mary Clare Gourley
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