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Officers and Consultants

LISC/Chicago organizes capital and other resources to support initiatives that will stimulate the comprehensive development of healthy, stable neighborhoods and foster their connection to the socioeconomic mainstream of the metropolitan region. LISC's (and its affiliates') $640 million investment in Chicago neighborhoods since 1980 has leveraged $4.9 billion in financing from private and public sources.


Susana Vasquez, Executive Director, LISC Chicago

Susana Vasquez was named LISC Chicago's executive director in 2011. Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Chicago makes financial investments through grants and loans to support comprehensive development of neighborhoods throughout metropolitan Chicago, and provides technical assistance through community planning, program management, and organizational development. Vasquez oversees a staff of 15, program budget of $9 million and loan portfolio of $14 million.

Vasquez joined LISC in 2003 as a program officer and soon became director of the office's most ambitious effort—the New Communities Program, a 10-year initiative to support comprehensive community development across 16 neighborhoods. As director of that program, she helped define and expand the field of comprehensive community development, while raising more than $60 million from private and public sources to support neighborhood work. In partnership with the City of Chicago's Digital Excellence Initiative, Vasquez also developed the Smart Communities program, which promotes meaningful adoption of digital technology in five Chicago communities.

Vasquez began her career in Chicago as an organizer on the Affordable Housing Campaign led by the Chicago Rehab Network, as a tenant organizer at the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, and as a senior community organizer at The Resurrection Project, where she became the deputy director. Vasquez went on to earn a master's degree from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. She has a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Vasquez has previously served on the boards of the Community Economic Development Law Project, the Crossroads Fund and the Chicago Foundation for Women. She currently serves on the Advisory Committee of the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

Joel Bookman is the director of programs for LISC/Chicago. Bookman led comprehensive community development efforts on Chicago's Northwest Side for 25 years while serving as chief executive of the North River Commission and Lawrence Avenue Development Corporation. He has served as a consultant in strategic planning, economic and real estate development, and nonprofit management, and as a lecturer in nonprofit management at the North Park University Graduate School of Business. Bookman holds a master of urban planning and policy degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Keri Blackwell is LISC/Chicago's Deputy Director for Programs, overseeing emerging neighborhood initiatives, support program integration and the development of LISC's performance management system. Previously she was a senior program officer with responsibility for Chicago Lawn, Little Village, North Lawndale, the Near West Side and Albany Park. She also oversees special initiatives including Neighborhood Sports Chicago, public safety, and arts partnerships. Blackwell has worked for LISC for more than 10 years, starting at its national office in New York before coming to Chicago. Prior to that she worked for the Democratic National Convention Committee. She holds a bachelor's degree in sociology and social welfare from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Ricki Granetz Lowitz, a senior program officer, advises NCP communities on workforce development and oversees the 12 Centers for Working Families in Chicago, which offer job placement and career advancement services, one-on-one financial coaching and improved access to public benefits. Lowitz earlier worked on employment issues for the Comprehensive Community Revitalization Program in the South Bronx, the program after which NCP is modeled. She holds a master's degree in public policy from Columbia University.

Jennifer McClain, a program officer, is responsible for the on-going management and training for the client tracking system used by the different Centers for Working Families sites across the country. She holds a master's degree in business administration from the Keller Graduate School of Management and a bachelor's in computer science from Dillard University. She previously worked for eight years at the Abraham Lincoln Centre on Chicago's South Side.

Sandra Womack is a senior program officer for four NCP communities—Pilsen, Washington Park, South Chicago and Englewood—and works on Great Neighborhoods and employment initiatives for LISC/Chicago. Womack also administers the Leadership Fund, which provides training and technical assistance to community development organizations, and she manages LISC Chicago's/AmeriCorps program. She holds a master's degree in business administration from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.

Chris Brown, who directs the New Communities Program, previously was the director of education programs at LISC/Chicago, overseeing the Elev8 program which has transformed five middle schools in Chicago through academic, health, social support, and community organizing efforts. He also worked on green and food programs at LISC. Brown previously consulted with non-profits and foundations on education and community organizing issues, was the education program officer at the Steans Family Foundation, directed the Schools and Communities program at the Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, was the community development program officer at the United Way, and was a community organizer with ACORN. In addition to his professional work, he has chaired the Jones College Prep and Boone Elementary Local School Councils.

Dionne Baux is a program officer for the Smart Communities program which is promoting digital technology in five NCP neighborhoods. Prior to joining LISC in 2010, she was a financial planning analyst for Chicago's Department of Community Development. Previously, Baux was a senior account coordinator for Target Group Inc., a consulting firm that promotes human capital development, and a research study program coordinator for Northwestern University's Department of Preventative Medicine. She has a bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a master's in government from Roosevelt University.

Gordon Walek joined LISC/Chicago as its communications manager in 2008, after a 9-year stint as a communications officer with the national LISC office. A graduate of The Ohio State University, he spent 20 years as a wire service and newspaper reporter and a newspaper columnist before coming to LISC.


To supplement LISC staff, the NCP program uses a "scribe team" of contract writers, designers and photographers to manage and implement the program's communications components.

Patrick Barry is an expert on urban issues and Chicago neighborhoods, with 26 years experience as a free-lance journalist and editorial consultant. He has written for the Chicago Sun-Times, U.S. News & World Report and many nonprofit organizations. Barry directs staffing and manages the content for all NCP communication vehicles.

John McCarron worked for the Chicago Tribune as a reporter, columnist and editorial writer for 29 years and was vice president for strategy and communication for the Metropolitan Planning Council. McCarron writes articles and reports, and serves as NCP's in-house critic.

Ed Finkel has 17 years experience as a writer and editor, serving as managing editor of The Neighborhood Works and editor of the magazine and web site for Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. He contributes to LISC/Chicago publications and is managing editor of this web site.

Other scribes are Maureen Kelleher, a former teacher and education writer with 11 years experience at the school-reform journal Catalyst-Chicago; and Elizabeth Duffrin, a writer and editor of education textbooks and award-winning writer at Catalyst-Chicago, and Carl Vogel, who for years has chronicled urban development.

The NCP communications team also includes public relations consulting from MK Communications; photographers Eric Young Smith and Juan Francisco Hernandez; the multimedia skills of Sarahmaria Gomez and Alex Fledderjohn of TuMultimedia; the graphic design firms Kym Abrams Design and Tuan Do Graphic Design; and Webitects, the firm that created this web site.

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