Our Board

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Niquenya Collins

President, Cultivate Collective 

Owner & Head Chef, Cocoa Chili’s

Born in LeClaire Courts, Niquenya Collins is a multiplatform entrepreneur with over 25 years' experience in management consulting, coaching, training, and development. She partners with small business owners, aspiring entrepreneurs, executives, and nonprofit leadership teams to bridge the gap between where they are now and where they need to be to build successful, sustainable, and revenue-generating business systems. Niquenya has functioned in a variety of roles spanning multiple industries such as information technology, banking and finance, hospitality, retail, insurance, medical, and real estate, to name a few. This vast experience has well positioned Niquenya to be a dynamic corporate, workforce development, and entrepreneurship trainer as she is able to easily connect the dots from classroom to real world scenarios for learners of all ages. 

 

A natural problem solver, Niquenya is a Master of Marketing, communications, and business analytics. She often publishes articles and short educational works that break down complex concepts into easily digestible wisdom nuggets for the average professional. She has also coached executive leadership teams of nonprofit organizations across the city of Chicago both in private practice and in partnership with The Executive Service Corps of Chicago. Niquenya possesses a master’s degree in Business Administration, a Bachelor of Science degree in Technical Management, a Professional Diploma in Computer Network Sciences, and certifications and awards in various disciplines including coaching, training, and mediation. Niquenya’s family has lived in the LeClaire Courts area on the southwest side of Chicago for her entire life, so it is important to her to see our community thrive.

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Kris De la Torre

Sustainability Coordinator
Academy for Global Citizenship

Kris De la Torre (she/her) is the Sustainability Coordinator at the Academy for Global Citizenship. Her work in sustainability, experiential education and social justice has taken her to over 15 countries. Through travel and a deep connection to her Mexican ancestry, she brings a global lens to facilitate nuanced conversations that build a joyful, collective vision, even in the midst of a trans-apocalyptic world. She hopes to shape and support the Cultivate Collective by centering racial justice and authentic community engagement. 

 

Previously, she facilitated a Critical Participatory Action Research initiative with Advocates for Urban Agriculture that emphasized equitable funding distribution and financial fluency for BIPOC farmers.  Kris spent five years working for the Chicago Botanic Garden as a coordinator for transitional jobs and youth development programs.  She has stewarded land in rural and urban settings to grow and maintain a diversity of fruits, vegetables and livestock. Kris received her M. Ed. in Human Development & Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a Certificate in Culinary Nutrition from The Natural Gourmet Institute in New York, NY and a BA in Museum Education & Spanish from Lake Forest College. 

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Melissa Finley

Founder & CEO, Helping Hands Homeless Foundation

Officer, LeClaire Hearst Park Advisory Council

Melissa Finley’s family has lived in LeClaire Courts for 31 years. Melissa is the Founder and CEO of Helping Hands Homeless Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization. As a driving force and visionary behind a women-led nonprofit, Ms. Finley started out in 2017 to help end world hunger and prevent ongoing homelessness in the Greater Chicago Area. She helps individuals less fortunate out on the street and those residing in shelters. 

 

Melissa knows the importance of being without, having been homeless before and living out of her car. Melissa provides continuous support in the City of Chicago and has developed multiple sponsorships and partnerships with amazing businesses, including The Hatchery, Bonfire, Greater Chicago Food Depository, and the Chicago Furniture Bank. Melissa is excited to lend her activism, community leadership, and nonprofit experience to furthering Cultivate’s mission and impact.

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Anslem Elumogo-Gardner

Chief of Staff

Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago

Anslem joins the Cultivate Collective board with nearly 15 years of community building work and as a staunch advocate for social and racial justice. He has held leadership roles in the city, recently at Greater Southwest Development Corporation, a partner of Cultivate Collective. He is presently the Chief of Staff at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and with his background in community building and social justice looks to push the institution to engage with the city more thoughtfully. Anslem is thrilled to be among the first board members of Cultivate Collective as he understands and appreciates the importance of elevating the voices of those impacted. He has a deep passion for creating generational wealth in communities that have unjustly become the product of years of disinvestment. He knows from living and working in the south and southwest side of Chicago that it is full of life and ambition and sees the opportunity on this board and through this project to cultivate and support those ambitions. He's hopeful that other cities can see the power of this project and emulate it to cultivate the same. 

 

Anslem lives on the south side of Chicago with his wife and ever-growing family. He earned his MBA at the University of Denver and moved to Chicago five years ago to be closer to family and help make one of the greatest cities in the world even greater for everyone, especially its residents. When not volunteering or working, he spends time trying new wines, traveling, playing basketball, or hanging at the lake with the dogs. 

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Jesse Íñiguez

Co-Founder & Director of Coffee Operations
Back of the Yards Coffee Co.

Born to Mexican immigrants from Jalisco, Jesse Iñiguez is the Co-Founder of Back of the Yards Coffee Co. a woman- and minority-owned coffee company located in Chicago's southwest side and one of the few Latinx owned coffee companies in the country. A lifelong resident of Back of the Yards, Jesse is no stranger to the pervasive needs of Chicago's black and brown communities and the lack of resources to address them. As a business owner, active community member, and parent to Academy for Global Citizenship students, he is excited to contribute his skills and experience as a Founding Board Member of the Cultivate Collective.

 

In 1999, as a freshman in college, he walked into a coffee shop for the very first time, and quickly understood the value that something like that could have in his community. That is why, in 2016, he and his partner decided to open up a specialty coffee company in Back of the Yards in order to create a profitable and sustainable business model that would not only provide a much-needed safe space for his community, but that would create jobs, stimulate the local economy and create real social impact.

 

In the short time the company has been around, it has proven that having a social mission isn't just good for the soul, but it's good for business. Since the creation of the coffee company, he and the shop have been on the cover of industry magazines, have been featured on multiple media stories, both national and local, have been awarded multiple grants and awards, and were recently featured as "Hispanic Heroes" for a national campaign. In 2018, Jesse was the recipient of the BMW Ultimate Drive Award. You can find his coffee in grocery stores and other coffee shops and restaurants in the Chicago area and is currently working on expanding nationwide.

In 1999, as a freshman in college, he walked into a coffee shop for the very first time, and quickly understood the value that something like that could have in his community. That is why, in 2016, he and his partner decided to open up a specialty coffee company in Back of the Yards in order to create a profitable and sustainable business model that would not only provide a much-needed safe space for his community, but that would create jobs, stimulate the local economy and create real social impact.

 

In the short time the company has been around, it has proven that having a social mission isn't just good for the soul, but it's good for business. Since the creation of the coffee company, he and the shop have been on the cover of industry magazines, have been featured on multiple media stories, both national and local, have been awarded multiple grants and awards, and were recently featured as "Hispanic Heroes" for a national campaign. In 2018, Jesse was the recipient of the BMW Ultimate Drive Award. You can find his coffee in grocery stores and other coffee shops and restaurants in the Chicago area and is currently working on expanding nationwide.

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Sarah Elizabeth Ippel

Founder & Executive Director
Academy for Global Citizenship

Sarah Elizabeth has had the honor of working hand-in-hand with Chicago's southwest side community members, families, and local leaders since 2005. Since founding a local community-based, non-profit organization (the Academy for Global Citizenship) seventeen years ago, she has had the opportunity to collaborate with local voices who have together created a vision for the Cultivate Collective's community learning, sustainability, and wellness hub.

Today, the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) is collaboratively led by a Latino Director of Early Childhood Learning, a Hispanic Lower School Principal, and Latina Upper School Principal, who have cumulatively been part of AGC's journey for over 30 years. As the founding team has grown to over sixty-five colleagues, it has been central to AGC's mission to cultivate a faculty and staff that is representative of the 96% minority community that they serve. Over 85% of AGC's faculty and staff either live directly in the community, grew up in the community, are bilingual, and/or ethnically reflect AGC's constituents. Many of these voices have been instrumental in collaborating with neighborhood leaders to collectively lend their hopes and dreams that has laid the foundation for Cultivate Collective's mission to grow resilient, equitable and vibrant communities from within. AGC’s history of working in partnership with Chicago’s southwest communities for nearly two decades and proven track record through community-led frameworks has laid the foundation for Cultivate Chicago and will continue to inform the Collective's social justice-centered approach. It is imperative to Cultivate's mission that both the vision for the future and the programs today are shaped by and tailored to the unique challenges, opportunities and voices within the community and believe that a community-led organization best positions our model to remain place-based and locally informed.

Since earning a Masters of Philosophy from the University of Cambridge in England at 21, Sarah Elizabeth has traveled to over 100 countries across six continents, extensively immersing herself in educational philosophies and world languages, as well as creating international alliances that have informed the design and culture of the Academy for Global Citizenship. In addition to studying the application of successful educational frameworks in various cultural contexts across the globe, Sarah Elizabeth served as Vice President of Education on the governing board of the United Nations Association, where she fostered the broader implementation of The Growing Connection, an organic gardening initiative established to cross-culturally connect children and educators across continents through technology. Sarah Elizabeth has further completed studies in Nonprofit Management at Harvard Business School. When she is not traveling around the world, speaking about the Academy for Global Citizenship’s vision for systemic change, Sarah Elizabeth enjoys honing her skills as an urban farmer and beekeeper.

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Valerie Levingston

Board Committee Chair, Cultivate Collective

Valerie Levingston is proud to be part of the four generations of her family who grew up on the Southwest side of Chicago and currently call the LeClaire community home. Her parents, children and grandchildren have all been a part of this community which is why she feels inspired to join the Cultivate Collective Board. She feels it is important to influence what happens in her neighborhood and she believes in leading change. 

 

Ms. Val is an enthusiastic beauty and wellness practitioner with over 30 years of experience in the industry. She is also an impassioned advocate for the aging. As a licensed cosmetology instructor, esthetician, and massage therapist, she has held a variety of positions in several major Chicagoland area schools and high-end spas including: educator, esthetician, massage therapist, manager, and stylist. Ms. Val believes that there is no beauty without health; therefore, she continuously educates herself on both traditional and alternative therapies incorporating nutrition, aromatherapy, herbs, and other modalities for optimal health and wellness. She asserts that prevention is key so everyone should partner with their healthcare provider to advocate on behalf of their own health and well-being. Ms. Val partners with individuals who desire to adopt total wellness as a way of life.

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Nathan Sánchez

Alumnus, Academy for Global Citizenship
Aerospace Engineering, University of Michigan (Class of 2024)
 

Born and raised on Chicago's southwest side near the Cultivate Collective community hub, Nathan is excited to lend his voice and passion as a Founding Board Member. As a member of the Academy for Global Citizenship's first graduating class, Nathan developed a lifelong love for learning and is currently pursuing his degree in Aeropspace Engineering at the University of Michigan. While at AGC, Nathan could be found under the solar energy learning lab and demonstration wind turbine in the school's playground which contributed to his curiosity and interest in STEM.

Nathan is the Injector Lead on Michigan Aeronautical Science Association (MASA), a collegiate rocketry team that focuses on developing bipropellant liquid rockets. Nathan led the design, analysis, and testing of MASA’s injector, while also developing Piping and Instrumentation Diagrams and ground support equipment for engine testing. As an older brother to two more AGC graduates pursuing STEM fields, Nathan believes in the power of education for cultivating a thriving future generation.

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Rolando Santoyo

Owner
La Selva Shop

As a member of the Garfield Ridge community for the past ten years and as a local business owner, Rolando is excited to be part of the Cultivate Collective's Founding Board as he is committed to addressing the needs of our community and ensuring environmentally friendly options for future generations. Rolando is happy to have a public school like the Academy for Global Citizenship so close to his home that provides an opportunity to educate our children about saving the environment around us.  In addition to being an artist, Rolando is the owner of La Selva Shop, a unique product line of clothing and accessories that started with the intentions embracing community pride in the Back of the Yards and southwest side of Chicago.

Rolando has been an active member in the community since his teenage years. He started at Holy Cross/Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish as a muralist, musician, graphic designer, web designer, mentor, art teacher and a parish council member. During his high school years, he was commissioned to paint murals in the gymnasium of Seward Academy and exterior walls of the Holy Cross/IHM Parish Youth Center and community garden. Rolando holds a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts Multimedia Production and Design / Computer Graphics (BFA) from the International Academy of Design and Technology.

 

Rolando is also a mentor and leader in the community. He is a member of The Peace and Education Coalition (PEC), a coalition that develops leaders and fosters neighborhood networks that promote education, strengthen families, and build peace. He has contributed through judging scholarship recipients for the Back of the Yards Dreamers and Allies Run Scholarship Fund and the Peace and Education Coalition Scholarship Fund.

 

Rolando is a member of Padrinos, an organization that helps raise funds for after school programs in obtaining resources for the children of the Back of the Yards. Rolando is also a committee member of the Back of the Yards Dia de los Muertos Celebration, a community-led organization that produces the Day of the Dead festivities that brings art and culture to the community.

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Nancy Villafranca-Guzman

Deputy Commissioner, Programming

Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events (City of Chicago)

Nancy Villafranca-Guzman has over twenty years of experience in the art, culture, and education fields. She joined the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) in 2021 as their Deputy Commissioner for Programming. Prior to her arrival at DCASE, she was the Vice President for Education and Engagement at the Chicago History Museum where she oversaw the Museum’s school and public programs and initiatives, and the visitor engagement teams. From 2015-16, she was also the Chicago office Director of the Inter-University Program for Latino Research (IUPLR), a national Latino research consortium headquartered at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

 

As Director of Education at the National Museum of Mexican Art, a position she held for almost ten years, Nancy led a team of educators and artists, and guided the development of museum-based curriculum for cultural understanding and launched many of the Museum’s long-standing arts education programs.  Nancy also taught Social Science and Humanities in two Chicago public schools. She received her undergraduate degree in Secondary Education from DePaul University and her Master’s Degree in Instructional Leadership from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Nancy recently completed a second Master of Art in Museum and Exhibition Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

 

She is a first-generation Chicagoan and Mexican-American, a southwest side community member, and a mother of two wonderful children who experienced first-hand a well-rounded education at the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) since 2008.  While remaining an active parent at AGC, she volunteered in various capacities including as President of the Community Council from 2014-2016.

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Felicia Watson

Secretary, LeClaire-Hearst Park Advisory Council

Felicia Watson wants to see young people thrive across the city of Chicago through well-resourced schools and abundant out of school opportunities. As a mother of three, a college graduate and an experienced educator who continues to share her gifts as a substitute teacher for Chicago Public Schools, she recognizes the potential of our young people to lead the way to a better Southwest side. Felicia is a Chicago native who grew up in the LeClaire/Hearst community and following a decade in Oklahoma, calls the Southwest side home once again. She serves as the secretary for the LeClaire-Hearst Park Advisory Council and uses her experience as part of various not-for-profit committees to inform her activism and leadership.  

 

Felicia is passionate about joining the Cultivate Collective Board in order to address the issues of equitable resources for every generation, but especially for teenagers and young adults on the Southwest side of Chicago.​

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Margo Wright

Hearst Community Organization Member

Margo Wright is a Chicago native who spent her childhood in the LeClaire Courts community where she demonstrated an early enthusiasm for organizing and social justice as a member of her school’s Student Government. After many years away, during which she became a mother, a college graduate, and a well-established advocate and professional in workforce development and transitional jobs, she returned to the Southwest side of Chicago to provide care and support to her elderly parents. During Margo’s career of over 30+ years in job placement and workforce development on behalf of City Colleges of Chicago and the Federal Government, she hosted job fairs and provided training on essential skills like resume writing, interviewing, and computer literacy. She is a mother of three and an active member of the Hearst Community Organization. She is a Trustee member and a participant on the Mother’s Board at the LeClaire Missionary Baptist Church. Her commitment to her faith includes preparing a weekly Sunday breakfast for congregants since 2007. 

 

She is passionate about joining Cultivate Collective in order to amplify the voices of her community members and ensure economic prosperity through job training and workforce development.