ILLN Opinion+: Andy Wade

On this episode of ILLN Opinion+, we spoke with Andy Wade, the Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI Illinois). NAMI Illinois is Illinois’ branch of a national grassroots organization that aims to support, educate and advocate for people and families affected by mental illness. NAMI’s 20 local affiliate offices currently serve over 50,000 people a year throughout the state. 

With so much misinformation and stigma surrounding conversations about mental health, Executive Director Wade described the need to normalize talking about these issues, citing that mental health is simply an extension of physical health. It is something all humans deal with.

“Everybody has mental health and we all, frankly, have days where our mental health might be better or worse than on other days, so the degree to which a mental health condition affects our lives is really the thing to pay attention to. The idea that some people have mental health issues and other people just don’t, that’s false,� he said.

It’s important to note that mental health is not universally experienced. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the topic because our understanding of the world and how we navigate it are so uniquely dependent on a variety of factors, one being race. Executive Director Wade says that there are currently gaps in the programs catered to minority groups, but NAMI looks to expand the way they offer their services.

“We are looking at everything through the viewpoint of equity, and equity means everybody gets what they need to thrive and succeed. And if you look at our society right now resources and support systems aren’t equally distributed,� he said.

In order to better serve the Black and Latinx communities, NAMI launched two culturally competent video series, Sharing Hope and Compartiendo Esperanza, that encourage these groups to partake in mental wellness dialogues in ways that resonate with them.

“If you ask about mental health, a lot of times people will clam up. If you ask about wellness, stress, how you’re feeling, it’s kind of a myth that people won’t talk about mental health issues, but we have to talk about them in the right way,â€� he explains. 

Executive Director Wade expressed NAMI’s awareness of a lack of resources in regards to Spanish language content and was very transparent in their efforts to fill that void through implementing new programs, such as Compartiendo Esperanza, building relationships with other organizations, and encouraging more bilingual and culturally competent professionals to join the mental health workforce.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

NAMI Illinois: https://namiillinois.org

NAMI Illinois en Español: https://namiillinois.org/en-espanol

Compartiendo Esperanza: https://namiillinois.org/compartiendo-esperanza/

Sharing Hope: https://namiillinois.org/sharing-hope/

Jeanette Chavarria-Torres on building a successful business and reputation

Jeanette Chavarria-Torres’ neon yellow jacket and headgear strike the eye against shades of brown and silver metals in the background. While bulldozers encircle the area and a red crane rotates in the sky, Chavarria-Torres glances to her right at the ALLY construction site, 1229 W. Concord, in Lincoln Yards and has a moment of contemplation.

“Sometimes, I can’t believe it. It’s important to me what I do, and I know in my own way I’m making a difference, and that’s important to me. And I know that a lot of people now depend on me, and that is a lot of pressure sometimes,� she said through tear-filled eyes.

Jeanette Chavarria-Torres, owner of DCH Construction & Hauling
talks about overcoming challenges in reaching goals.

Jeanette Chavarria-Torres owns Franklin Park-based DCH Construction & Hauling, which moves material to and from construction sites. DCH is currently working under its largest deal since its inception in 2014, a half-million-dollar contract with mega-developer Sterling Bay on its Lincoln Yards development.

Lincoln Yards is branded “Where Chicago Connects� and consists of over 50 acres of land bridging the Bucktown, Wicker Park, and Lincoln Park neighborhoods. The new infrastructure is projected to develop in phases over ten years and create approximately 10,000 construction jobs during the process.

Of those jobs, Sterling Bay has expressed a commitment to ensuring the inclusion of traditionally marginalized communities with about 30 percent participation from minority businesses and 10 percent from women business enterprises, according to a recent report presented before the Department of Planning & Development.

“I always say diversity is a verb, not a noun, and it has to be measurable,â€� said Keiana Barrett, Director of Diversity & Strategic Development at Sterling Bay. 

Keiana Barrett, Sterling Bay, and Jeanette Chavarria-Torres, DCH Construction & Hauling talk as work is underway on the Lincoln Yards megadevelopment in the background.

Chavarria-Torres says she gained the attention of Sterling Bay through networking and maintaining a relationship with Walsh Construction and the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA), an organization that advocates for the growth of minority-owned women businesses. She says building connections is vital for anyone attempting to establish themselves in this industry.

“Definitely get connected with organizations that can help you meet the right people, networking is everything and building relationships,� she explained.

Earning a significant contract didn’t come easy to DCH Construction. However, Chavarria-Torres is honest about her journey and the struggles she faced in building her business as a 22-year-old single mother.

“I don’t come from connections. Honestly, every customer that I have, I have earned every single one of them by knocking on their door to ask for an opportunity. So I think that the hardest thing for me one, was that I was a woman, but I was also a very young woman,� she said. “I had to build my reputation.�

In her words, Chavarria-Torres used her savings to buy the “dinkiest� trailer and spent three years pitching herself to contractors before finally landing a gig with Walsh Construction. She credits her persistence and honesty to getting her foot in the door.

“I didn’t tell them I can take on the whole job, I just told them if I can get a piece of that contract, [and] perform well at my capacity, that’s all that I wanted,� she said.

This transparency established her reputation in the industry.

“They always know if Jeanette says that she can get you 10 trucks, she can get you 10 trucks and if I say I will get you 50, I will get you 50 trucks. I’ve learned what my capacity is and I don’t over-commit,� she explained.

Success in this field meant more to Chavarria-Torres than just establishing a business. It was a redemption story.

Her involvement in the industry came at an early age. Her father also owned a trucking business but faced challenges due to his language barrier as a native Spanish speaker. She says that as a 10-year-old girl, she helped him complete his paperwork, which branched into a passion for trucking as she grew older. Her father eventually lost his business and filed for bankruptcy after a deal with a contractor fell through.

“I decided then in high school that I was one day going to open a trucking company to kind of redeem ourselves from what happened,â€� she said. 

When she approached her father with the idea, he stressed the importance of education. 

“Under one condition that he would one day help me was that I needed to come home with a 4-year degree in business and accounting,â€� she said. 

She followed through with her promise, earning a 4-year degree in Business Administration, and a minor in Accounting from Dominican University.

She says that although her parents are not verbally expressive, she knows that they appreciate her hard work and dedication.

“I know they’re proud of me and I just want them to know that all their sacrifices and what they left behind in Mexico were worth it because it gave us a better life,� she said.

Barrett also expressed admiration of Chavarria-Torres’ journey and emphasized the importance of minority representation in all industries.

“We’re always happy to be able to collaborate with firms such as Jeanette’s that has such an inspiring story of how she’s been able to triumph and continue to move forward… I always say young people aspire to be what they see. So when they see individuals that look like them, it gives them a sense of hope and it broadens their lens to know what opportunities exist for them,� she said.

Keiana Barrett, Director of Diversity & Strategic Development at Sterling Bay – shares insights on being intentional in making diversity measurable.

Chavarria-Torres hopes her story motivates others to pursue business ventures despite the difficulties. 

She said, “I want other people to see that you can make it even though there’s a lot of obstacles. I don’t like to say obstacles, challenges, but I don’t think there’s a challenge that I have not been able to conquer. You just figure it out.�

Although there were many obstacles along the way, DCH Construction has grown from one “dinky� truck to now owning six. It has expanded its subcontracting area, allowing for collaboration with other women minority-owned businesses, and has earned a half-million-dollar contract with one of the largest real estate firms in Chicago. Chavarria-Torres hopes this experience creates a lasting relationship with Sterling Bay.

Chavarria-Torres poses with model of the future Lincoln Yards at Sterling Bay offices.

“This is my first big, private job so it’s a huge honor for me to just be part of the Lincoln Yards project and I’m very thankful for Walsh Construction and not only them, but Sterling Bay that have really opened the doors to want to see me succeed, and I know that this is just the beginning of many projects that we’ll be on together,� she said.


Cover Photo: Jeanette Chavarria-Torres at the construction site of Lincoln Yards. Credit: Sterling Bay

Ric Estrada: Representation Matters

Since 1857, Metropolitan Family Services has empowered families to learn, earn, heal, and thrive. Founded as the Chicago Relief and Aid Society, the organization has helped families get through the devastating hardships of poverty, world wars, epidemics, and natural disasters.

“We are very proud in all the areas that are important to our community,” said Ricardo “Ricâ€� Estrada, president and CEO of Metropolitan Family Services. “Economic stability, education, emotional wellness, and empowerment,” he continued in describing “the four E’s” paramount in realizing the non-profit organization’s mission.

Estrada was a guest on the Latino News Network (LNN) podcast, “3 Questions With…�, where he shared how Metropolitan Family Services assists marginalized communities that have proven to be resilient once again through almost two years of COVID-19.

Pandemic aside, he believes too many children are being left behind due to parents working several jobs to make ends meet. “It is incumbent on us as a society to make certain that people have a living wage so that children can be children; could learn and have their parents at home,” said Estrada when talking about how many children, particularly in immigrant families, have to help raise their younger siblings, especially during remote learning.

21.5 percent of Hispanic-Latino residents of Chicago, Illinois live below the poverty line, according to Welfare Info.

“I am excited to join the board of ComEd because the company is and will be at the forefront of our region’s energy, environment, workforce, and community investments,� said Estrada about his recent appointment as an independent director with ComEd.

He is the only Latino on the board of the largest electric utility in Illinois, and the sole electric provider in Chicago. “I think we need a Latino voice there to make certain that our community is not ignored, but is a part of every opportunity,” Estrada said about how he plans to guide ComEd on initiatives addressing the environmental challenges that impact the company and the public.

A poll by Earthjustice shows that registered Hispanic-Latino voters have a strong commitment to conservation, the environment, and a genuine interest in how climate change impacts their families and communities.

Estrada also serves on the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois as well as on the Board of Directors of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the Woods Fund of Chicago, the Grand Victoria Foundation, A Better Chicago, and Erie Elementary School.


SUGGESTION: Ricardo Estrada Named To ComEd Board Of Directors


“As a Latino, Latina, Latinx – we seem to be not seen in the media,” said Estrada about the lack of representation in newsrooms. “We need journalists to make sure that these stories are told accurately, with the right nuance, with the right perspective.”

Last year,  the U.S. Government Accountability Office produced a report on how the absence of Hispanics-Latinos in major newsrooms, Hollywood films, and other media industries deeply skewed non-Hispanics’ perceptions of that community.

Estrada and his wife, Beatriz Ponce de León, reside in Chicago and are the parents of two young adult daughters.


To listen to more episodes, click on this link: 3 Questions With…

“Me Mataron A Mi Bebé…They Killed My Baby”

The Little Village community is again mourning the death of a child due to gun violence.

Eight-year-old Melissa Ortega was running errands with her mother, Araceli Leaños, on West 26th street on Saturday when a gunman opened fire. Melissa was struck twice in the head and later died at Stroger Hospital.

“Me mataron a mi bebé. Me la mataron…mi princesa mi dulce niña,” wrote Leaños in a Spanish language statement released by the family. “They killed my baby. They killed her… my princess, my sweet girl.”

According to an internal police report obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, the intended target is a member of the Gangster Two-Six street gang. The report states that the suspect, being treated at Mount Sinai for gunshot wounds, has been arrested 13 times and convicted of two felonies. Investigators say Gangster Two-Six has been known to feud with the Latin Saints and Latin Kings gangs.

Melissa and her mother immigrated to Chicago from Mexico this past August, according to a statement in a GoFundMe fundraiser set up to help pay for the child’s funeral expenses and to bring her body back to her hometown of Tabasco. “They were both excited to start a new life in Chicago and build their American Dream,” the fundraiser organizer wrote.

A memorial for 8-year-old Melissa Ortega, at the scene of her fatal shooting in the 3900 block of West 26th Street in Little Village, Chicago. September 23, 2022 (Photo Credit: Lisa Fielding, WBBM)

Dozens of people gathered at a growing memorial near where Melissa was killed Sunday afternoon, leaving flowers, candles, and other gifts. “Por favor ya paren tanta violencia,� said Maria Monroy in Spanish at the rally. Monroy, whose 16-year-old daughter was shot and killed in Little Village in December 2019, said to please stop the violence.

“How many children must we lose before we change course?” wrote Representative Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a resident of Little Village, in a statement. Garcia called Melissa’s death “a senseless, heartbreaking casualty of the gun violence.

On March 29, 2021, a police officer shot and killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo. Adam, investigators say, was with known gang member Ruben Roman Jr. the night of his death. Police were responding to gunshots being fired in the area.


SUGGESTION: Living (And Dying) In Fear

An impromptu mural in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood now commemorates the site where a police officer shot and killed teenager Adam Toledo.

“We simply must hold the shooters accountable for this horrific crime,� Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. “Please come forward so that Melissa [Ortega’s] family will know that there is justice for her.�

Lightfoot insisted the key to reducing gang violence must include her controversial plan to go after their assets. “If we go after the profit motive we’re going to reduce the incentive for the gangs, we’re going to reduce their ability to buy illegal guns and use their profits to continue to further other business.â€�

Last week, City Council members were presented with changes to the forfeiture ordinance that has come under fire since it was presented in September. “We believe that ordinance is just a PR move right now, so the administration can say that they are doing something about crime, but the reality is it’s not going to change much,” said Ald. Rossanna Rodriguez Sanchez, 33rd Ward.

Although Lightfoot’s narrative is that gun violence and gangs are one and the same, data analyzed by The Trace, a nonprofit newsroom covering gun violence found that for nearly 34,000 shootings in the past decade, detectives labeled fewer than three in 10 of them gang-related. Police categorized the cases that way even in instances when they didn’t have enough information to make an arrest, according to the report.

“If in the course of the investigation of these shootings, CPD is looking in its own data for information about whether the people involved were gang-affiliated,� said Deborah Witzburg, former Chicago’s Inspector General for Public Safety, “it’s looking at the very same data that we identified as profoundly problematic and which the department acknowledged to be problematic.�

A follow-up analysis released last year of the 2019 audit by the then Inspector General Joseph Ferguson found that Chicago Police Department officials continue to use records that list approximately 135,000 Chicagoans as members of gangs and disproportionately target Black and Hispanic-Latinos. Approximately 95 percent of the more than 134-thousand Chicagoans listed as gang members by the CPD are Black or Latino.

Residents and community members gather to remember Melissa Ortega. If you have any information contact the @Chicago_Police or leave an anonymous tip at http://CPDTIP.com. January 23, 2022 (Photo Credit CPD)

While investigators looking into the shooting death of Melissa Ortega say they have strong leads, no one has been arrested.

Superintendent David Brown said at a news conference Monday that Chicago police will be increasing patrols in Little Village.

“We have to work together to make change,� Brown said. “Every effort we make today impacts the safety of our city tomorrow.�


ILLatinoNews partners with The Chicago Reporter in best serving the Hispanic-Latino communities of Illinois.

“Me Mataron A Mi Bebé…They Killed My Baby”

The Little Village community is again mourning the death of a child due to gun violence.

Eight-year-old Melissa Ortega was running errands with her mother, Araceli Leaños, on West 26th street on Saturday when a gunman opened fire. Melissa was struck twice in the head and later died at Stroger Hospital.

“Me mataron a mi bebé. Me la mataron…mi princesa mi dulce niña,” wrote Leaños in a Spanish language statement released by the family. “They killed my baby. They killed her… my princess, my sweet girl.”

According to an internal police report obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, the intended target is a member of the Gangster Two-Six street gang. The report states that the suspect, being treated at Mount Sinai for gunshot wounds, has been arrested 13 times and convicted of two felonies. Investigators say Gangster Two-Six has been known to feud with the Latin Saints and Latin Kings gangs.

Melissa and her mother immigrated to Chicago from Mexico this past August, according to a statement in a GoFundMe fundraiser set up to help pay for the child’s funeral expenses and to bring her body back to her hometown of Tabasco. “They were both excited to start a new life in Chicago and build their American Dream,” the fundraiser organizer wrote.

A memorial for 8-year-old Melissa Ortega, at the scene of her fatal shooting in the 3900 block of West 26th Street in Little Village, Chicago. September 23, 2022 (Photo Credit: Lisa Fielding, WBBM)

Dozens of people gathered at a growing memorial near where Melissa was killed Sunday afternoon, leaving flowers, candles, and other gifts. “Por favor ya paren tanta violencia,� said Maria Monroy in Spanish at the rally. Monroy, whose 16-year-old daughter was shot and killed in Little Village in December 2019, said to please stop the violence.

“How many children must we lose before we change course?” wrote Representative Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a resident of Little Village, in a statement. Garcia called Melissa’s death “a senseless, heartbreaking casualty of the gun violence.

On March 29, 2021, a police officer shot and killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo. Adam, investigators say, was with known gang member Ruben Roman Jr. the night of his death. Police were responding to gunshots being fired in the area.


SUGGESTION: Living (And Dying) In Fear

An impromptu mural in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood now commemorates the site where a police officer shot and killed teenager Adam Toledo.

“We simply must hold the shooters accountable for this horrific crime,� Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. “Please come forward so that Melissa [Ortega’s] family will know that there is justice for her.�

Lightfoot insisted the key to reducing gang violence must include her controversial plan to go after their assets. “If we go after the profit motive we’re going to reduce the incentive for the gangs, we’re going to reduce their ability to buy illegal guns and use their profits to continue to further other business.â€�

Last week, City Council members were presented with changes to the forfeiture ordinance that has come under fire since it was presented in September. “We believe that ordinance is just a PR move right now, so the administration can say that they are doing something about crime, but the reality is it’s not going to change much,” said Ald. Rossanna Rodriguez Sanchez, 33rd Ward.

Although Lightfoot’s narrative is that gun violence and gangs are one and the same, data analyzed by The Trace, a nonprofit newsroom covering gun violence found that for nearly 34,000 shootings in the past decade, detectives labeled fewer than three in 10 of them gang-related. Police categorized the cases that way even in instances when they didn’t have enough information to make an arrest, according to the report.

“If in the course of the investigation of these shootings, CPD is looking in its own data for information about whether the people involved were gang-affiliated,� said Deborah Witzburg, former Chicago’s Inspector General for Public Safety, “it’s looking at the very same data that we identified as profoundly problematic and which the department acknowledged to be problematic.�

A follow-up analysis released last year of the 2019 audit by the then Inspector General Joseph Ferguson found that Chicago Police Department officials continue to use records that list approximately 135,000 Chicagoans as members of gangs and disproportionately target Black and Hispanic-Latinos. Approximately 95 percent of the more than 134-thousand Chicagoans listed as gang members by the CPD are Black or Latino.

Residents and community members gather to remember Melissa Ortega. If you have any information contact the @Chicago_Police or leave an anonymous tip at http://CPDTIP.com. January 23, 2022 (Photo Credit CPD)

While investigators looking into the shooting death of Melissa Ortega say they have strong leads, no one has been arrested.

Superintendent David Brown said at a news conference Monday that Chicago police will be increasing patrols in Little Village.

“We have to work together to make change,� Brown said. “Every effort we make today impacts the safety of our city tomorrow.�


ILLatinoNews partners with The Chicago Reporter in best serving the Hispanic-Latino communities of Illinois.

ILLN and DePaul University announce partnership

Illinois Latino News (ILLN) is proud to announce its new partnership with DePaul University, a partnership investing in the next generation of journalists. The collaboration between ILLN and DePaul University will provide students with mentoring, real work experience, and greater visibility for their work. Marla Krause, Journalism Instructor at DePaul University, and Faculty Advisor to […]

Source

Sylvia Puente on leading with ‘ganas’

While the holiday malaise has abated the battle to redraw Chicago’s 50 wards, for the time being, both Latino and Black council caucuses are taking a breath, eyeballing each other, looking for signs of weakness before the next round. Latinos demand more wards in the new map (15 Latino wards and 16 Black wards), arguing […]

Source

Irina Matchavariani, RJI Student Joins ILLatinoNews

Seven students at the Missouri School of Journalism will work at local news organizations around the country this summer as part of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute’s (RJI) Student Innovation Fellowships program, gaining hands-on experience helping the outlets connect with their audiences. Students will work on a wide range of projects for the partner […]

Source