Lead and Policy Organizer
Esther staffs the POWER-PAC IL Early Learning Campaign and supports the parent leaders in the Metro East area of Southern Illinois. She has been an organizer with COFI for almost a decade. She is an Equity Leaders Action Network Fellow with BUILD and is also a PhD Candidate at Adler University. Esther is a proud mother of three.
Emily organizes parents in Chicago and across the state fighting for mental health resources in their communities, quality school meals, and affordable utilities. She loves facilitating parents as they translate their vision into action and draws energy and inspiration from her mom, sisters, and other strong women that show up to care for each other and their communities.
Em Creahan has been a policy organizer with COFI for three years, mostly supporting the Stepping Out of Poverty Campaign. This work has included a focus on deepening community power in spaces of fines and fees justice, utility affordability, tax credits, and more. Em has a Masters of Social Work from the the University of Chicago, with an emphasis in community organizing. Em believes in the power of parent voice and collective family action in shaping systemic change, and is also enjoying building a family of her own with her partner and his two little ones. Em enjoys exploring the outdoors and going on hikes with their plott hound, Abel.
Deputy Director, Operations and Special Projects
Giselle provides organizational leadership across several departments with an emphasis in COFI’s administration and project implementation. With nearly 20 years of experience in nonprofit management, Giselle enjoys supporting staff and parent leaders in implementing programming while encouraging growth. A proud daughter of Mexican immigrant parents, she and her husband stay busy raising three beautiful young people!
Senior Organizer, Local Illinois Organizing
Sara’s passion is to work with diverse parent groups to support them with developing their leadership skills and capacity to impact change in their own lives, families, and communities. She believes in The COFI Way as a way to strengthen family voices and transform communities, plus build relationships between parents and community organizations, advocacy groups, and policymakers.
Jacqui supports COFI by managing external communications, storytelling, and media relations. She’s excited to join the team and amplify parent stories and victories using strategic communications and her experience in nonprofit and government communications. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and being an aunt to her new niece, biking on the lakefront path, and cooking new recipes.
Syretta assists with all office administrative duties, and organizes logistics of COFI meetings and events. She has worked previously in residential property management. She enjoys crafting, making t-shirts, and creating event decor and personalized gift items for family and friends.
COFI Center for Action and Learning Manager
Jennifer leads COFI’s Center for Action and Learning. Her role supports many of the COFI-trained community partners across the nation. With a background in community engagement, early childhood capacity building work, and on-the-ground experience implementing The COFI Way, Jennifer is passionate about supporting communities to create systemic change. Based in Chicago, Jennifer enjoys running or biking on the lakefront path and watching the Chicago Bulls.
Maria Christina Martinez
Maria Christina first got involved with COFI at a Self, Family & Team Training as a Whittier School parent many years ago. She later became an Ambassador and Teambuilder, and now serves as Projects Associate at COFI. As a mother of three and grandmother of six, she loves to help and support parent leaders in their efforts to make a difference in their communities. Her passions are Zumba, arts and crafts, and traveling.
Kiela McNair was born and raised in Chicago. Throughout many years of education and work in nonprofit spaces she has honed her skills in operations management and supporting nonprofits behind the scenes. In 2017, Kiela finished a two year service program, Public Allies, which has provided extensive professional development. Outside of work, Kiela’s passions include writing, traveling, and teaching herself to make jewelry and clothes, sew, and knit. As a first time parent she is tired but energized to challenge the norm to create a better world for her daughter.
Lead Organizer, Evanston
Talibah’s COFI journey began in 2013. After completing COFI training and joining POWER-PAC IL, she became even more actively involved, most notably as a key leader of the Early Learning Campaign. Additionally, she has also served as an Ambassador, Peer Trainer, and Teambuilder. She became a COFI Community Organizer in 2018, and now spends her days in support of and collaboration with parent leaders who are continuing to make a difference in their communities. She is the proud mother of four beautiful children.
Tracy Occomy Crowder
Deputy Director, Policy and Organizing
Tracy has been with COFI since 2005. She oversees the statewide policy work and supervises organizers. Tracy is also a Senior Trainer with COFI Center for Action and Learning. Before COFI, Tracy served as Administrative Director and Statewide Organizer for the Statewide Housing Action Coalition. In that role, she organized advocates and public housing residents around affordable housing issues at the statewide level in Illinois. She is mother of a grade-school son and stepmother to a young man. Tracy is a lifelong South Side Chicago resident.
Aida Palma Carpio
Aida supports the Elementary Justice Campaign of POWER-PAC IL focused on policy and advocacy to end the school-to-prison pipeline and promote investments in school-based social and emotional supports and Restorative Justice. She also supports parent teams in Kane County to develop local campaigns. Aida grounds her organizing work in her family’s community activism growing up that paved the way for her as a formerly undocumented immigrant and first-generation student. In her free time, Aida enjoys playing Mariachi and being part of art spaces that center Black and Brown activism and Latinx histories.
Ellen is a co-founder of COFI and has been the Executive Director since its founding. Ellen is a long-time organizer who has done community, electoral, and labor organizing, working previously at the Midwest Academy, United Neighborhood Organization, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers, AFSCME Council 31, among others. She is a proud foster and adoptive mother of two adult children and three grandchildren who keep her very busy in her off-time.
Rooted in Restorative Justice and the persevering practices of African American ancestors, Christian is an organizer focused on creating liberated intergenerational communities that seek relational wholeness through difficult conversations and listening hearts. As Sister Assata Shakur said, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” When there is time for self, Christian enjoys self-reflecting, adding plants to their 200+ house collection, and going on adventures with their family.
Amy Snodgrass Mukanda
Amy supports COFI’s efforts to build and grow a diverse funding base to increase visibility of COFI and amplify parent voice and leadership. Prior to COFI, Amy held a variety of roles within non-profit administration, grants management, and program development. She is excited to build on recent momentum to sustain and grow COFI’s work by centering relationships, community, and impact. Amy lives in Chicago with her family and has two school-aged children who teach her something every day.
Senior Trainer and Finance Coordinator
Graciela has worked for the past 17 years with COFI developing parent leaders and parent leadership teams in schools and communities across Chicago, Illinois, and nationally to share The COFI Way. Graciela has also served as finance coordinator for COFI. Prior to her work at COFI, Graciela was a COFI-trained parent leader and a Parent Organizer and Community School Coordinator in Chicago with West Town Leadership United. Graciela is the mother of a former Chicago Public School student, now an adult and a college graduate.
Parent Initiated Projects Coordinator
Gabriela manages COFI’s efforts in elevating parent leadership through parent-led projects. Her background in immigration policy and nonprofit management allows her to connect her experience with her passion to see families like hers create positive outcomes and produce powerful changes throughout their communities. A proud first-generation college graduate and daughter of immigrants, she enjoys exploring new nature trails in Chicago with her family and enjoying our amazing lakefront.
COFI Team Builders
Kane County Team Builder
Having grown up in Guatemala, Nisela faced a cultural shock when she came to the USA. After feeling alone and isolated without friends and family, she enrolled in ESL classes, where she heard about COFI, and decided to join as a parent leader in 2015. Nisela has knocked on doors to promote early childhood education in Elgin, is very involved in her children’s school and her community facilitating Parent Cafes, and she is also part of the Kane County Health Department Parent Council. Nisela is married with two children and two dogs.
Metro East/Southern Illinois Team Builder
Lettie Hicks has been a parent leader for almost 10 years with Parents United for Change in East St. Louis. She is also an ambassador, peer trainer, COFI Board of Trustees member, and most importantly, a mother of three and native of East St. Louis. She believes that parents need to be at the table when decisions are made about them. Lettie uses her skills as a COFI-trained parent to empower other parents to step into their leadership and create changes in their lives and communities. In 2021, she joined four other COFI leaders to form a national fellowship addressing economic justice for women of color.
Chicago Southside/Westside Team Builder
Dexter is an outspoken advocate for removing police from schools and has been featured on various local and national outlets speaking about his work in POWER-PAC IL. He serves as a Restorative Justice Peace Keeper at Melody STEM Elementary (West Garfield Park) to coordinate one of the only parent-led Peace Centers in Chicago Public Schools. A foster parent and an adoptive father of over 25 years, and now a proud grandfather, Dexter is committed to supporting young people in his community in any way he can.
Evanston/North Suburban Team Builder
Rocio Mancera is a member of PEACE-POM (Parents of Evanston Advocating for Children and Education – Parents on a Mission). She is a longtime Evanston resident and serves on the Bilingual Parents Advisory Committee in her district. Rocio tirelessly works on improving access to mental health services along with combatting the social stigma stopping many Black and Brown families from seeking help. Originally from Mexico, she is a proud mother of four.
Chicago Southwest/Northwest Team Builder
Esmeralda Martinez has been a parent leader with the Southwest Chicago branch for six years. She is an Early Learning Ambassador, a Family Leader with Raising Illinois, and a Parent Leader with BRIDGES, a mental health advocacy group. Esmeralda is a proud mother to three children and lives in the Little Village community. She is always ready to fight for positive changes for all.
Alma El Issa
Communications Manager (UPLAN)
Alma oversees UPLAN’s external messaging and highlights its parent-led advocacy and organizing campaigns. With a strong background in parent engagement and leadership, as well as previous experience as a communications consultant, she brings a wealth of knowledge to this role. Alma takes pride in being a mother to four children and loves cheering on her daughters at school performances and supporting her sons in their Lego robotics competitions.
National Director (UPLAN)
Erin leads the team of incredible UPLAN staff, member organizations, and parent leaders. Prior to coming on board with UPLAN in 2017 as an organizer, Erin implemented family leadership in community schools in her hometown of Chicago. As a proud mom of two, Erin can be found changing diapers, running around the playground, and showing her daughters the power of their voices to make change.
Administrative and Program Manager (UPLAN)
Jacqueline has a passion for using her event planning and coordination skills to support the important parent led work UPLAN does every day. Prior to joining staff in 2020, Jacqueline worked for nonprofit organizations that specialized in reaching students and families in lower income communities. She is a proud aunt to over 25 nieces and nephews and a “plant mom” to over 35 tropical plants.