Meet our leadership team that is committed to building healthy, vibrant neighborhoods on Chicago’s West Side.
Ayesha Jaco, Executive Director
Ayesha Jaco, MAM is the Executive Director at West Side United (WSU). She leads the organization on its quest to reduce the 14-year life expectancy gap between Chicago’s Loop and 10 West Side communities. Jaco manages a multitude of local and national civic, philanthropic, community, corporate and healthcare partnerships that seek to impact over 550,000 Chicago residents by successfully deploying and sustaining economic, educational, health related and environmental strategies. Under her leadership, WSU has evolved from an idea to a strategic operation led by the voice of the community and sustained by partners dedicated to eliminating inequitable disparities.
Jaco’s groundbreaking leadership is rooted in innovative artistic and social contributions that have impacted thousands of Chicago families. Over the past decade, her community-based work has leveraged community led interventions to structural violence (Project Orange Tree Co-Founder), substance prevention (Youth Outreach Services, Manager of Prevention), arts education (Move Me Soul Dance Company, Founder), food access, study abroad opportunities for inner-city youth and college readiness (M.U.R.A.L. Co-Founder). Over the past 5 years, Jaco has maintained community serving residences with the Museum of the Contemporary Art Chicago, The Chicago Park District, The Rebuild Foundation, Northeastern Illinois University Jacob Carruthers Center for Inner-City Studies.
Ayesha is a member of the Leadership Greater Chicago Signature Fellows, Class of 2021. She is the recipient of the 2020 Health and Medicine Policy Research Group Health Award for promoting social justice and challenging inequities in health and healthcare. Ayesha is also a recent Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist and Rebuild Foundation Dance Fellow. She is a Board Member for Choose Chicago. Ayesha holds a Masters in Arts Management (Arts in Youth & Community Development) from the Columbia College Chicago.
Tenisha Jones, Senior Director for Strategy and Operations
Tenisha Jones is a civic leader, cultural organization lover and a life-long student of data. Aa a results-driven Education and Community Development Expert with 15+ years of experience in developing proposals, grant-writing, and program strategy management, Tenisha has a track record of leading highly successful cross-sector collaborations to level the playing field for underserved families across Chicago. Tenisha also brings a keen insight and understanding of challenges, needs, and solutions existing within communities to the WSU team.
Formerly, the Director of Education and Community Engagement at Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation, Tenisha served as the chief architect of the Auburn GOLD initiative on Chicago’s South Side. This education-focused reform program combats poverty by connecting principals, evaluators, funders, parents, teachers and the community to transform neighborhood schools into resource hubs capable of providing services to support academic empowerment of children and families.
In her recent role as an independent consultant with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, she served as a thought-leader in the Evaluation of Team Work Englewood Quality Life plan and implementation. Tenisha was also tapped to serve as the Policy Lead on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Internal Education Transition Team, where she played a significant role in shaping educational policies across the city of Chicago for the Mayor’s first 100 days in office.
Tenisha is a 2015 Civic Leadership Academy Fellow who serves on the Executive Alumni Committee and serves as a board member of Austin Coming Together and the Chicago Land Equity Network. She holds a B.S. from National Louis University and is an MPP Candidate at Northwestern Kellogg School of Management. Outside of the office Tenisha enjoys living the basketball-mom life, traveling to games with her daughter.
LaDarius Curtis, Senior Director of Community Engagement and Health
LaDarius Curtis has over 15 years of community engagement experience, capacity building, and developing partnerships in Chicagoland communities. As an outreach coordinator for Senator Barack Obama, LaDarius hosted small business meetings with Chambers of Commerce and community groups on both the South and West sides of Chicago, promoting Federal contracts and other Governmental business opportunities. During the Obama Administration, LaDarius served as a Presidential Appointee for a government agency that initiated and facilitated external programs between residents, elected officials, media, and stakeholders in a six-state region.
Before his work at West Side United, LaDarius was the Healthy Communities Manager at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. As a manager, he aimed to help children thrive by bringing an extension of clinical care into the community to increase health equity for all children in Chicago while better aligning the clinical and community engagement strategies. His Leadership at Lurie Children’s Hospital provided inroads into undervalued communities, where he advocated for more Mental Health and Trauma-Informed Youth services.
As a – Philanthropic Gatekeeper, Mr. Curtis Member of GoodCity Chicago for more than ten years. Ladarius managed Non-for-Profit Groups and led Coaching Sessions for N4P organizations looking to provide social services to the residents in communities. He now serves on the Executive Board Member of Austin Coming Together and Resilience Partners, LLC.
LaDarius holds a bachelor’s degree from Kenyon College in Political Science and a Master’s in Business Administration with a concentration in Project Management.
In his spare time, LaDarius enjoys spending time with his wife and two children.
Patrick Hendricks, Director of Development
Patrick Hendricks is West Side United’s Director of Development. In this role, he will help advance WSU’s ambitious mission by maximizing philanthropic support.
He joins WSU from the Obama Foundation, where he was responsible for managing relationships with corporations and foundations that invest in the Obama Presidential Center and a slate of civic engagement initiatives.
Prior to this position, Patrick held roles of increasing responsibility in fund development for three hospital systems: New York Presbyterian Hospital, Regional One Health Foundation, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
He also worked for former City of Memphis Mayor AC Wharton, Jr. managing a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies focused on developing innovative public – private partnerships designed to advance the mayor’s top priorities. In addition, he managed external relations at Shelby County Schools, Tennessee’s largest public school system during the launch of the district’s 10 year strategic plan.
Hendricks has completed leadership fellowships with the Association of Black Foundation executives, the New Memphis Institute, and Leadership Greater Washington’s Rising Leaders Program.
Patrick received his bachelor’s degree from Lake Forest College and his juris doctorate from the University of Memphis School of Law.
Eve Shapiro, Director of Data and Evaluation
Eve Shapiro is a health researcher and evaluator focused on programs that reduce health disparities. She is passionate about health equity and access to quality healthcare, education, and livelihoods for Chicagoans. Prior to her work at West Side United, she was an analyst with NORC at the University of Chicago, providing technical assistance to a variety of federal initiatives through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and evaluation services to non-profit and private organizations.
Before her life in public health, Eve was a community and labor organizer, working on green jobs with Lakeview Action Coalition (now ONE Northside) and union participation for healthcare employees at SEIU. Eve holds a Master of Public Health from Emory University and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Minnesota. Off hours, she likes to spend time with her fluffernut of a dog, bike around Chicago, and try new foods.
Sanita Lewis, Director of Anchor Mission
Sanita Lewis boasts a 20 year demonstrated history as a relationship builder, channel developer, negotiator and strategist specializing in the management of large scale projects and strategic initiatives. With the command of a diverse and multitudinous array of applications, Sanita utilizes her background in business analytics to assess an organization’s processes, determine requirements and deliver data-driven solutions.
Experienced in both the private and non-profit sector, Sanita has proven to be a dynamic and effective leader adept in the training and development of operational teams. Possessing a global mindset and experientially diverse lens she utilizes her skills to maximize operational efficiency and organizational effectiveness.
As the Director of Anchor Mission Strategies, Sanita works to fulfill the mission of West Side United (WSU) through the management, planning and operation of the Anchor Mission Strategic Plan framework. Focused on building health and economic vitality in ten west side communities she will work alongside WSU leadership and program staff to engage anchor institutions, community-based organizations, the faith community, residents, government agencies, and the Chicago business and civic community to address systemic health inequities through robust programming and partnerships.
Prior to her role with West Side United, Sanita worked with the chicago minority supplier development council (CMSDC) through a grant funded by the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). In this role she assisted minority business enterprises (MBEs) seeking to develop a presence on the African continent. Through multi-sector trade missions, workshops and training, Sanita and her team provided guidance to clients actively seeking to scale their business and effectively compete in the international market.
Passionate about the empowerment of others, Sanita spends her free time mentoring young women and girls as they prepare for their journey into the workforce.
Mariah Van Ermen, Director of Anchor Mission
Mariah Van Ermen’s professional experience has focused on measuring large-scale impact of institutional change within local government, community-based service providers, and academia. She is passionate about addressing the disparity of opportunity across Chicago’s communities.
Mariah’s current work on economic development complements the strides she has made in violence reduction, healthy school environments, and food access. With the City of Chicago’s Mayor’s Office, Mariah developed and led the public safety research and data strategy, created foundational public data transparency services, and reformed youth-related deflection initiatives.
Prior to West Side United and the Mayor’s Office, she has also held positions with the University of Chicago Crime and Education Labs, the City of Detroit Mayor’s Office, and Chicago Public Schools.