Strategic Advisory Council
Born from our community and built for our community, Cultivate Chicago's Strategic Advisory Council represents local, civic, business and nonprofit leaders who lend their voice and expertise to guide our collective vision for cultivating a sustainable and equitable future.
Co-Founder & CEO
Urban Growers Collective
Erika Allen (she/her) is the Co-Founder & CEO – Operations for Urban Growers Collective and the President of Green ERA Educational NFP and Co-Owner of Green Era Sustainability Partners. Previously, Allen founded and was the Director of Growing Power – Chicago for 15-years from 2002 to 2017. Allen is the Board President of the Chicago Food Policy Action Council, and also serves on the board of Grow Greater Englewood and Growing Home. Allen received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MA in art psychotherapy from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and uses her experience as a visual artist to consult with individuals and organizations to support their visioning of social and economic changes. She is passionate about social justice and working with multicultural groups in the elimination of racism and oppression using integrating creative and therapeutic techniques alongside food security and community development. Erika advises on the urban agriculture strategy for AGC’s future campus.
Vanessa Flores Andersen
Sustainability & Property Operations Manager
Ace Hardware Corporation
Vanessa Flores Andersen is an environmental scientist with a background in environmental education, green construction and corporate sustainability. She attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador. While working on her undergraduate degree, Vanessa spent three months in the Galapagos Archipelago, where she observed the Galapagos tortoises that led to Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, the dynamic volcanic activity throughout the islands, and their pertinent flora and fauna. She had the opportunity to work with Hacienda Tranquila, a nonprofit organization, and assist in educating the local population of San Cristobal Island regarding the importance of environmental stewardship. Their collaborative effort encouraged the community to prevent the spread of invasive species, protect their wildlife, and evaluate the efficacy of local policies.
In her current role as the Sustainability and Property Operations Manager for Ace Hardware Corporation, Vanessa is responsible for developing and implementing a long-term sustainability strategy across the organization. She works with internal and external business partners to enhance approaches and processes and provide effective guidance to foster change and innovation. Vanessa also manages the built environment at Ace Hardware’s corporate campus and provides support to the facilities management teams at each of the fifteen retail support centers. Key areas within her 2022 strategy are to grow the employee-led sustainability council, provide access to environmental education for employees, conserve natural resources throughout the Ace supply chain, generate renewable energy at the retail support centers, and support our local communities through partnerships and volunteerism.
Vanessa was born and raised in the West Lawn neighborhood on Chicago’s southwest side. She played volleyball and soccer throughout the neighborhood schools and learned to drive at Midway Airport. She knew at a young age that she wanted to have a meaningful career, travel, learn about other cultures and customs and most importantly, make her immigrant parents proud. Vanessa firmly believes in the power of education to advance sustainability and have a more equitable and just world.
Pon Angara is Director of Barkada Circle®, a team of artists mentoring nonprofits on how to tell more compelling stories about their missions. Pon helps leaders use the narrative approach to problem solving for sparking conversations, building community and launching initiatives that create impact. He has delivered keynotes and workshops on the power of storytelling at several association conferences and foundation seminars.
Since he began working with nonprofits, Pon saw gaps and inequities in America’s education system. When he was introduced to the Academy for Global Citizenship during its early development, Pon realized that the school would be the beacon and catalyst for the transformation and innovation needed to build a new ecosystem for learning. He helped to create AGC’s brand and served on the Board of Directors in 2005–2007.
Barkada is a word in the Filipino language that means "best friends." When he’s not working with stories, Pon searches for his next great foodie find! He’s always ready to take you to the best Filipino restaurants in Chicago.
Angela Brooks, AICP
Illinois Office of the Corporation for Supportive Housing
Angela Brooks is a talented and passionate community advocate who brings a wealth of expertise in housing development, policy, and implementation across private, public, and nonprofit sectors along with her passion for access to housing and community development. She is the Director of the Illinois Office of the Corporation for Supportive Housing and previously spent a decade at the Chicago Housing Authority.
Angela has a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from the University of New Orleans and a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies with a concentration in Housing and Community Development from Jackson State University. She is a certified planner with the American Institute of Certified Planners and currently serves as a National Board member of the American Planning Association and is the Vice President of Membership for the Ely Chapter - Lambda Alpha International.
Lastly, Angela is very involved in her community and holds membership in Theta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc, Hoffman Estates Chapter of the Links, Incorporated, Gift of Hope Ambassador, Mentor with both Big Brothers Big Sisters and Jackson State University National Alumni Association Chicago Chapter. Angela is an avid cyclist and triathlete and serves on the Board of Bike Illinois and is a member of the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago.
President & CEO
Metropolitan Family Services
Ric Estrada is CEO of Metropolitan Family Services, one of Illinois’ largest and best-respected human services agencies. Since joining Metropolitan in 2011 he has helped the agency more than double in revenue and families served. Ric has three decades of human services leadership experience. Prior to joining Metropolitan he served as First Deputy Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS). He previously served as Executive Director of Erie Neighborhood House in Chicago. Ric serves on the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois as well as on the Board of Directors of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the Woods Fund of Chicago, the Grand Victoria Foundation, A Better Chicago and Erie Elementary School.
Honored as an American Marshall Memorial Fellow, Ric also has been recognized as a Leadership Greater Chicago Distinguished Fellow. He has received the City Club of Chicago John A. McDermott Award for Distinguished Social Leadership, the University of Illinois at Chicago City Partner Award, and the University of Chicago’s Inaugural SSA Social Impact Alumni Award. In addition, Ric was named a Roberto Clemente honoree by the Chicago Cubs and has received the NFL Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award from the Chicago Bears. Additional accolades include being named “Person of the Year” by the Corporate Responsibility Group of Chicago, receiving a Kellogg CEO Perspectives Fellowship, and earlier in his career, being selected as one of Crain’s Chicago Business’ “40 under 40.” Ric’s educational background includes an MBA from the University of Illinois at Chicago, an M.A. in Social Service Policy and Administration from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, and a B.S. in Psychology from Loyola University of Chicago.
Executive Creative Director
Liz is the Executive Creative Director at Dropbox, leading the Brand Studio Design team through engaging storytelling, brand forward experiences and consistent brand application across the end to end customer journey. She's a creative, photographer, mistake-maker, plant mama and baby mama to an unstoppable toddler. Her journey and passion with AGC started all the way back around 2012 when she had the pleasure to see the institution's mission in practice as the original designer and photographer for the school's website and marketing materials. She's been able to see the school and its brand evolve as they pave the way forward for a new and better approach to education at Catalyst Southwest. Continuing that advocacy now as a member of the Strategic Advisory Council is a natural extension of her past decade of admiration and support for AGC's mission. She's fallen in love with the AGC's approach towards serving the whole child and fostering environmental stewardship in their daily practices and even got to meet their first schoolyard chickens, a real celebrity moment for her.
Attorney & Partner
Morgan Lewis Law Firm
Brent played an instrumental role in the founding of the Academy for Global Citizenship and was a member of the Founding Board of Directors. He spent most of his childhood on Chicago’s south side with a family that emphasized educational vigor. He understands that supportive role models who encourage and enhance a youth’s personal and educational experiences can be essential contributors to a successful future. Having spent several years of his youth in Latin America and having attended an International Baccalaureate school, Brent understands the value of developing a global perspective at a very young age. As such, Brent is passionate about dedicating resources to develop a diverse and well-rounded educational foundation for Chicago’s youth.
As an attorney and current Partner at Morgan Lewis law firm, Brent has more than 20 years of experience litigating intellectual property and other complex commercial disputes for clients in jurisdictions throughout the United States. Throughout his career, Brent has served as lead counsel in numerous patent, trademark, copyright, and complex commercial licensing litigations. Brent has experience across a variety of sectors and industries, with a particular focus on the technology, automotive, fintech, and consumer product sectors.
Othello Meadows III, J.D.
Blue Meridian Partners
A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Meadows owns and operates The Meadows Group, a neighborhood redevelopment consulting firm that focuses on helping communities meld the complexities of economic and real estate development into strategies that engage and empower the communities in which they exist.
Prior to these endeavors, Mr. Meadows served as President and CEO of Seventy Five North Revitalization Corp., a community revitalization and development organization. Meadows also served as Executive Director of the Omaha Workforce Collaborative, a non-profit housed at the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, designed to restructure the workforce development efforts of the Omaha metropolitan area. Meadows returned home after nearly 15 years in the southeast order to run a non-partisan voter registration drive that registered over 10,000 new voters in eastern Omaha prior to the 2008 presidential election.
Before returning to Omaha, Meadows operated his own law firm, Othello H. Meadows, P.C. in Atlanta, Georgia where his practice focused on criminal defense, family law, and general civil litigation. Mr. Meadows attended East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina on a basketball scholarship where he earned his BA in Psychology. He later received his Juris Doctor from North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, North Carolina. Mr. Meadows serves on several boards in the Omaha area and he and his wife Tulani are the proud parents of two sons, Garvey and Gibran.
Aasia Mohammad Castañeda
Community Partnerships Manager
Chicago Food Policy Action Council
Aasia (she, her) identifies as a South Asian Chicana, born and raised, Chicagoan. She is a mother, daughter of immigrants, descendant of farmers, and a determined organizer focusing on food cultures and self-care. She is a natural community weaver, always making links, and finds joy in the fruition of radical ideation. She was part of the inaugural Multicultural Leadership Academy, currently on the Leader's Council for People of the Global Majority in Outdoors, Nature & Environment, a Network Architect for Vital Lands Illinois and serves on the Board of Directors for the Advocates for Urban Agriculture as well as the Advisory Council for the Environmentalist of Color Network. At the Chicago Food Policy Action Council she co-leads the Urban Steward Action Network and is part of the governance structure for the Illinois Worker Cooperative Alliance. As a southwest side resident and parent of a student at the Academy for Global Citizenship, Aasia is excited to lend her expertise and passion for sustainable food systems to the Strategic Advisory Council.
Founder & Principal
APMonarch Architecture Firm
Alicia Ponce is the founder and principal of APMonarch, a Chicago based Female and Latinx owned Architecture firm. Since founding the firm in 2007, Alicia’s expertise and passion to design healthy buildings and equitable communities have supported many clients in designing radically healthier projects. Her reputation for resilient and eco-conscious architecture secured APMonarch’s role as the Sustainability Architect and direct protégé to Santiago Calatrava and his firm’s design proposal for the 2019 O’Hare International Airport Global Terminal. The international competition drew 1,200 teams and five were selected for the final presentation. The firms project portfolio includes a master plan for the Field Museum, a carbon neutral youth center in Mexico, and a Living Building Challenge project in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. Alicia considers APMonarch the pollinators of the built environment designing healthy environments that look good, feel good and perform great.
Currently, Alicia is working on the Cicero Corridor Study and the LeClaire Development located directly east of the Academy for Global Citizenship’s new community learning and sustainability hub where Alicia plans to implement sustainable and walkable community design strategies.
Alicia is proud to be among the <1% of licensed Latina architects in the U.S. and is registered in Illinois and Wisconsin. Alicia is a contributing author of Today’s Inspired Latina Vol. VI Europe Edition. In the book, she writes about her purposeful journey to architecture, entrepreneurship, and connection with nature.
Chief Executive Officer
Edgar Ramirez joined Chicago Commons in 2010 as Associate Executive Director before being named CEO in 2013. As a community organizer in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood prior to joining Chicago Commons, Edgar led significant campaigns at Enlace Chicago and Erie Neighborhood House. He worked on issues such as leadership development, green space improvement, anti-violence campaigns, childcare income eligibility, immigration reform, and youth job development. Edgar has served on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s mayoral transition team ad-hoc committee focusing on the reopening of early education centers in light of COVID-19. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, Elevate and the Latino Policy Forum. Edgar also serves on the Mayor Lightfoot's Every Child Ready Chicago Working Group. Edgar is a Leadership Greater Chicago fellow (2016) and a member of the Economic Club of Chicago. He earned a master’s degree from the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago in Policy Analysis and Community Organizing, and a bachelor’s degree from DePaul University.
Edgar also serves on the Early Childhood Design Committee at the Academy for Global Citizenship and excited to be serving as a Strategic Advisory Committee member. He looks forward to participating in the ambitious efforts of the Academy for Global Citizenship to catalyze the former LeClaire Courts site as a hub of education excellence, environmental awareness and positive community development.
Rosa Ramirez Richter
Director of Chicago Programs & Policy
Healthy Schools Campaign
Rosa is the Director of Chicago Programs & Policy at Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC), a national nonprofit organization that works to make schools healthier places for all children. Her work focuses on integrating health and equity into education policy and practice, and building cross sector support and collaboration that supports student health and school wellness. She mobilizes parents, teachers and principals to be agents of change at the school and district levels, and uses the lessons learned from that work to advocate for key policy and practice changes. She provides strategic direction for school wellness priorities, including transforming the school meal program and reimagining Chicago schoolyards into places that support outdoor play and active learning.
Early on in her career, Rosa was drawn to AGC’s passion to serve the whole child and collaborated with AGC leaders to share their model with the broader school community through teacher and principal professional development programming and other initiatives. Since then, Rosa has championed AGC’s innovative model and continues to be impressed by the powerful and positive impact the school has had on the surrounding southwest neighborhood of Garfield Ridge, which also happens to be the neighborhood in which she grew up!
Rosa holds a BA in Public Policy and Sociology from DePaul University and an MS in Community Development from the University of California at Davis.
Greater Southwest Development Corporation
Adrian Soto serves as Executive Director for Greater Southwest Development Corporation (GSDC) where he has overall strategic, operational, management and regulatory responsibility for the organization. Soto develops and drives a local and inclusive economic development plan, managing appropriate City, County, State relationships and resource availability to support GSDC’s mission. Having grown up in Chicago Lawn, he has a personal stake in the future of the neighborhood and is committed to improving the quality of life for the greater Southwest community.
For the past 17 years, Soto has proven to be an effective, results-oriented leader with a keen ability to build confidence and relationships across a diverse array of stakeholders. Soto’s experience in business and non-profit sectors gives him a unique lens that enables him to move forward complex, high-stakes projects efficiently with an eye toward community collaboration and partnership.
Most recently, Soto served as Chief Strategy Officer for Esperanza Health Centers where he was responsible for supporting the mission of Esperanza by identifying and implementing key strategic initiatives. He led the development of a 26,000 sq./ft. building project financed through New Market Tax Credits (NMTC) with three separate Community Development Entities (CDEs) and total project size of $17.8 million that was completed in May 2019.
Adrian is a Chicago native whose parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing and Management with a concentration in Entrepreneurship from Southern Illinois University, has completed a post-baccalaureate Executive Education program at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business in Chamber Leadership, and is a graduate from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Entrepreneurship Program.
Alumnus, Academy for Global Citizenship
Pre-Med & Finance, Howard University (Class of 2024)
A proud alumni from the very first graduating class at the Academy for Global Citizenship, Tavaris spent eight years cultivating a genuine love for learning while embodying International Baccalaureate learner profile traits and attitudes to become a listener, risk-taker, principled, knowledgeable and caring global citizen. Tavaris transfered his elementary foundation to earn an academic high school scholarship and completed high school with a 4.92 GPA at Marist Catholic High School. Tavaris enjoyed his time at Marist as a student three-sport athlete competing in track, rugby and football. As a Howard University Bison, he has continued his dedication and determination to his success, maintaining a 3.7 GPA while serving as the rugby team Vice President. Tavaris is on the path to earn his BBA degree in finance, and will attend dental school following his undergraduate career to become an orthodontist. He hopes to return to his Chicago community some day to open his own orthodontia practice. Tavaris is not only committed to his education and career goals, but also to his family and community.
Vice President of Network Member Services
Purpose Built Communities
Alexandra Wiggins (she/her) is Vice President of Network Member Services with Purpose Built Communities – a nonprofit that supports a national network of local leaders seeking to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty through a cross-sectoral holistic neighborhood revitalization model. Alexandra is a lawyer by training and brings her legal acumen to the process of facilitating public-private partnerships and agreements that ensure the neighborhood ecosystems where low income children live and thrive will support their success both within and outside of the classroom. She is a former elementary educator and Teach For America Metro Atlanta alumna who aims to ensure as many doors are open to the children and families who are often afforded the least agency in their futures.
Reflecting on her time as an educator, Alexandra’s desire to ensure high quality education is accessible for all students regardless of socioeconomic status led her to explore the intersection of education law and policy – specifically focusing on the constitutionality of educational gerrymandering and halting additional forms of educational segregation. This passion provided her the opportunity to work with former US Senator Mary Landrieu on drafting the initial DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) legislation in support of undocumented students and children while in law school and eventually returning to Georgia to work on equitable educational initiatives for rural educators and students with the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.
Alexandra also serves as a member of the Drew Charter School Board’s Mission Committee in Atlanta’s East Lake neighborhood. Drew Charter School is at the center of the East Lake Atlanta revitalization effort – a project that serves as the impetus for the Purpose Built Communities model. The Mission Committee seeks to ensure equitable enrollment policies are top of mind so that Drew continues to serve a significant number of economically disadvantaged students to help break the intergenerational cycle of poverty by eliminating the achievement gap based on race, economically disadvantaged status, and disability status.
President, Hearst Community Organization
Community Engagement Liaison, Catalyst Southwest
Joann Williams has played a central and longstanding role in organizing community collaboration and the engagement of local voices. As a resident of the community for 54 years, Joann currently serves as Founder and President of the local Hearst Community Organization, established in 1987, and a Community Engagement Liaison for the Community Wellness & Sustainability Hub. Joann has also facilitated fresh produce and healthy meal distribution in partnership with the Academy for Global Citizenship’s programs to increase food access among senior citizens, those experiencing homelessness and large families within the community.
Joann has been instrumental with ensuring that neighborhood resident voices are heard throughout the design and planning process of the LeClaire redevelopment. In addition to representing the community in ongoing monthly meetings with the project leadership team, Joann is playing a leading role in developing a Community Benefits Agreement with another key developer in the LeClaire Courts community and was actively involved in executing our current operational Memorandum of Understanding along with other local community organizations and residents. In addition to outlining extensive community engagement and support, these comprehensive documents include partnership commitments such as local hiring practices and community voice and inclusion with expanded programming.
The Community Benefits Agreement outlines hiring CHA residents and resident-owned businesses, community use of AGC facilities, and community voice and stakeholder engagement in project planning. Additionally, the MOU in place with the Hearst Community Organization and LeClaire Courts Local Advisory Council commits to inclusionary hiring and business participation, focused on community minority and women-owned businesses and local workers, a Union Project Labor Agreement, and monthly meetings with community leadership for ongoing collaboration.
In her letter of support, Joann has shared that she is “excited about AGC’s mission to cultivate the next generation of globally environmentally minded leaders who are making our world a better place while also emphasizing a healthy living life-style with their food and nutrition programs. We look forward to working with you to see this groundbreaking project bring benefits to our community for generations to come.”