West Side United Team

Ayesha Jaco, Senior Program Director

West Side United is thrilled to introduce its new Senior Program Director, Ayesha Jaco.

Photo of West Side United Senior Program Director, Ayesha Jaco.
Ayesha Jaco

Ayesha is a philanthropist, educator and choreographer and Co-Founder of M.U.R.A.L. (formerly the Lupe Fiasco Foundation). She has partnered with many Chicago based organizations to provide comprehensive social services, substance abuse prevention, food equity, study abroad and artistic programming for over 18,500 inner-city youth and their families. In 2008, Jaco founded the youth dance company Move Me Soul and has provided over 1,000 Chicago teens and young adults with professional dance training and life skill development.

Currently, Jaco is a faculty member at The Northeastern Illinois University; Jacob Carruthers Center for Inner-City Studies. She was featured in Hype Magazine South Africa for her artistic prowess and youth work and she was recently awarded the Power 25 Chicago Award by Walker’s Legacy for her commitment to excellent leadership, community achievements and philanthropic contributions. Jaco holds a Bachelor of Science in Dance and Mass Communication from Illinois State University and a Masters of Arts Management (Arts in Youth and Community Development) from Columbia College Chicago. Ayesha is excited to lead the work of West Side United. You can reach Ayesha at ajaco@westsideunited.org.

Karen Aguirre, Program Manager

Photo of West Side United Senior Program Manager, Karen Aguirre.
Karen Aguirre

Karen Aguirre is a health researcher, policy advocate, and civic engagement youth mentor interested in promoting health equity within communities of color who have been marginalized by structural violence. She currently serves as program manager for West Side United and oversees the education and health/healthcare initiatives of the collaborative.

Karen previously served as a peer advisor for the inaugural Obama Foundation training day in Chicago and now serves as a consultant for the community leaders corps program which seeks to empower and train highly motivated young leaders from ages 18-25 to create positive change in their own communities. She also serves on the board of UniTeach, a youth led nonprofit dedicated to serve Chicago-area students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to be more civically engaged. In 2018, she was also awarded the 35 under 35 award by the Chicago Scholars Foundation.

Karen Aguirre holds a Master of Public Health in Health Policy and Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) where she was a Healthy Brain Scholar for the CDC and a Schweitzer fellow. She received her Bachelor of Science in Health Systems Management from Loyola University Chicago. In academia, Karen served as a social science researcher for multiple studies related to foster care, breast cancer health disparities, cognitive health among older Latino adults, smoking behaviors among communities of color, and comprehensive care models.

Elena Jimenez, Program Manager

West Side United Program Manager Elena Jimenez
Elena Jimenez

Elena studied finance and economics in Mexico City and started her professional career at the Mexican Derivatives Exchange. Her love for the sea motivated her to move to Cancun, Quintana Roo, where she worked for different banks and bank segments. She also did volunteer work and started a couple of entrepreneurial projects.

In 2016, after witnessing huge economic disparities in her city and feeling the need to contribute to the creation of more and better opportunities for everyone, she moved to Chicago to pursue her Masters in Public Policy at the University of Chicago. In academia, she worked as Research Assistant at the Behavioral Insights and Parenting Lab and as Teaching Assistant for microeconomics, political economy and financial management courses. In her new role as ADG Fellow at the International Innovation Corps she is supporting West Side United as Program Manager in two initiatives: Economic Vitality and Neighborhood and Physical Environment.

Outside of work, she is an avid self-learner/aspiring polyglot who likes to take long walks in the woods with her dog and learn french using apps and podcasts. She looks forward to contributing to WSU’s ambitious goals by applying the skills and knowledge from her professional and academic experiences.