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.
Eve Shapiro, Senior Director of Programs 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.
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.
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.
Jennifer Marcsisin, Director of Health and Healthcare
Jennifer Marcsisin, MPH, RDN, LDN, is a nutrition expert and leader in the community and healthcare sectors. She is an advocate of health justice and food sovereignty. Jennifer joined the WSU team in 2019 as the Food Access Program Manager and was promoted to the Senior Program Manager of Health and Healthcare in October 2022. As the Director of Health & Healthcare, she directs WSU’s equitable food, hypertension, and maternal and child health strategies. Prior to joining the WSU team, Jennifer worked as a clinical dietitian where she managed dietetic technicians and food service employees in long-term and acute care facilities.
She has served on Slow Food Chicago’s Executive Board as a Food Justice and Policy Co-Chair and on the Associate Board for Advocates for Urban Agriculture. Jennifer is a Past Chair of the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group under the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In addition, she spent three years volunteering for the Green City Farmers Market and completed the Chicago Conservation Corps program through the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
Jennifer earned her Master of Public Health (MPH) degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago where she concentrated on community health outcomes. She completed her dietetic internship at the University of Kentucky and Frankfort Regional Medical Center, where she was presented the Outstanding Coordinated Dietetic Intern Award. She represented the University of Kentucky Student Dietetic and Nutrition Association at the 2012 Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit in Honduras and studied abroad in 10 countries on four continents through the Semester at Sea program. Jennifer received her Bachelor of Science in Dietetics degree from the University of Kentucky. In her spare time, Jennifer enjoys home cooking, watching documentaries, and traveling to new places.