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 initiatives for the collaborative.

As a previous consultant for the inaugural Obama Foundation training day in Chicago and the Community Leaders Corps program, Karen sought ways to empower and train highly motivated young leaders from ages 18-25 to create positive change in their own communities. During her time as a social science researcher, she participated in research 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 at hospitals.

Karen 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. She has also received a series of honors for her work including the Loyola University Set the World on Fire Award, the UIC School of Public Health Rising Star award and the 35 under 35 award by the Chicago Scholars Foundation.

Elena Jimenez, Program Manager

Photo of 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.

Martina Coe, Program Manager

Photo of West Side United Program Manager, Martina Coe.
Martina Coe

Martina Coe is a health care researcher and public health advocate with a background in program management, health policy, and psychology. Her work as a mental health administrator in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, allowed Martina to witness the huge gaps in mental health understanding and policy changes. She previously worked as a Program Specialist at the American Hospital Association. While there her focused centered on population health and the social determinants of health.

Martina holds a Master of Public Health in Health Policy and Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). In academic, Martina served as a policy researcher conducting a social impact analysis on marginalized communities and organizations impacted by the Illinois Budget Impasse. In her role as a research assistant for the MidAmerica Center for Public Health Practice (MCPHP), Martina served on the planning committee for the Change Institute focusing on nutrition and physical activity.

Outside of work, Martina loves to travel. Her recent adventures have taken her to Europe and will soon include travels to South America. She looks forward to contributing and growing the West Side United goal by applying her skills and knowledge.

Stephanie Gómez, Program Manager

Photo of West Side United Program Manager, Stephanie Gomez.
Stephanie Gomez

Stephanie Gómez is a first generation Latina from the North Side of Chicago. Her parents’ migration from Colombia has informed much of her academic and professional work. She earned a B.A. in Sociology from Northeastern Illinois University with a minor in Latina/o Studies and a Master in Latin American Studies from the University of Florida. During her undergraduate career, she was part of a student taskforce carrying on generations of struggle to have a Latina/o Student Resource Center at NEIU that resulted in the Angelina Pedroso Center for Diversity and Intercultural Affairs. She also co-founded an organization, Latinas in Power (LIP), to help first generation Latinas navigate their college experience while culturally affirming their identities.

Prior to joining West Side United, Stephanie was Co-Director of Programs and Pathway Success at Public Allies Chicago, a national organization committed to advancing justice and equity by engaging and activating the leadership of young people. During her time at PAC, she analyzed organizational engagement of Latinx youth in Chicago and developed targeted outreach plans to connect unemployed and out of school youth to opportunities with Public Allies. As Co-Director of Pathways, she was responsible for developing and delivering coaching sessions to young adults geared towards educational attainment, full time employment, and national service. She is excited to bring her years of experience in workforce development to WSU’s Pathway Programs and local hiring initiatives.

When she’s not chasing her toddler all over Rogers Park, you can find her with her nose in a book. She is a self-proclaimed bibliophile and particularly enjoys reading works written by POC.