Meet our Executive Director, Senior Director for Strategy and Operations, Senior Director of Anchor Mission Strategies, Senior Director of Community Engagement and Health and Director of Data and Evaluation.
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.
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.