Staff

Executive Director – Nedra Sims Fears

Nedra Sims Fears is Executive Director of the Greater Chatham Initiative (GCI). Fears is an economic development expert who specializes in strategic planning, financial modeling, community development financing, and program management.  At GCI, she

  • created a new Chatham Center Chicago—a branded commercial retail area that has an accompanying online directory of 300 merchants and service providers
  • Collaborated with partners to undertake multi-prong activities that contributed to the recent uptick in Greater Chatham housing sales and prices—making Chatham a bright spot in Chicago’s housing market.
  • In 2020 she and others are establishing
    • FoodLab Chicago—which will improve 25 food businesses located on Restaurant Row corridor located on 75th Street
    • an Arts District by starting a makers’ space in collaboration with The Silver Room.
  • Led the completion of an economic development plan for the four neighborhoods
  • Secured MacArthur Foundation, Chicago Community Trust, Federal Express, Exelon Corporation, etc., funding

During the last recession she as a business development internal consultant with First Children’s Finance, Fears improved the operations of 45 early care and education centers managed by universities, public school systems, and private owners. She utilized researched based curriculum and program evaluation benchmarks. Centers had gains in revenue, net income, operating reserves, and market share; decreased delinquent accounts; and/or improved educational outcomes.

Earlier in her career Fears financed $1 billion in low- and moderate-income single-family and multi-family housing for Fannie Mae, City of Chicago Department of Housing and Community Investment Corporation.

Fears is a National Committee member for Middle Neighborhoods—an entity that promotes middle neighborhoods.  She is a Harvard Loeb Fellow. Fears holds a BS from Cornell University in Interior Architecture and a MBA in finance from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She had an ideal childhood in the Chatham community and recently purchased and rehabbed Ernie Banks former house a few blocks from her family home for her big multi-generational family. She’s married with two young adult daughters who came home due to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) Pandemic.

If you would like to set up a meeting or phone call with the Executive Director, please contact Rene Thomas, at 773-644-1451, x 106 or via email at rene@greaterchathaminitiative.org.

Industrial Cluster Manager
John Handler

JHandler@GreaterChathamInitiative.org

John works with the 2,500 businesses in the Greater Chatham area in particular promoting and growing the leading industrial clusters of Fabricated Metals, Transportation, Distribution & Logistics (TDL) and Food Processing & Packaging. John is leading our charge into Urban Manufacturing and entrepreneurial development & incubation.  His 24 years in the food and beverage sector provides him deep insight to lead our small business and restaurant corridor development initiatives.  John directs our FoodLab Chicago project.

Mr Handler grew up in manufacturing first building cars at Chrysler in downtown Detroit. Then Ingrid and EKCO Housewares.  Was CEO of GB Engineering pioneering 3D technologies in product development and tool building.  Founded Truck Dispatching Innovations consulting to 100+ companies pioneering last mile route optimization, GPS and mobile technologies.  Deep small business insight having owned and operated restaurants and coffee shops for the past 24 years.  Mr Handler has extensive international experience – 3yrs Southern Africa, twice set up factories in Mexico, sourced and supported product in China.  Engineering degree in advanced Manufacturing and an MBA from Harvard Business School with an organizational behavior and Industrial Strategy focus.

Communications Coordinator
René Thomas

rene@greaterchathaminitiative.org

As Communication Coordinator René is responsible for scheduling, coordinating and follow up for meetings and other activities at GCI.  She also coordinates outreach events for GCI’s Restorative Practice Program and is the point person for GCI’s Peer to Peer Program.  In addition to coordinating these important activities, René records and transcribes minutes for board, executive and committee meetings.  As a former Business Education teacher for CPS, she easily communicates, coordinates and disseminates information.  She has over 40 years of combined experience in the non-profit, corporate and educational arenas, with a B.S. in Education from Southern Illinois University.  As a life-long resident of Greater Chatham, she is excited about the Greater Chatham Initiative and her role to help Greater Chatham re-emerge as communities of opportunity and choice.

Restorative Practices Coordinator
Brenda F. Boyd

brenda@greaterchathaminitiative.org

As a Restorative Justice Practitioner for more than fifteen (15) years, I have cultivated relationships between school districts, community stakeholders, law enforcement, and youth focused organizations to create opportunities for community building.  I possess a Master degree in Criminal Justice and Bachelor degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, both focusing on Restorative Justice and earned at Governors State University, an Associate degree in Paralegal Studies (ABA approved program) from South Suburban College and have multiple years of comparable work experience in Restorative Justice, Court Mediation, Contract and Business Arbitration, Conflict Resolution, and Alternative Dispute Resolution.

I am a forward-thinking Restorative Justice Practitioner and Facilitator with experience implementing restorative justice projects and programs in community and school environments with vested stakeholders.  Working with adolescents, families, and youth at-risk, particularly in traditionally under-served schools and communities in Chicago, the south suburbs and Las Vegas, I have worked for and/or partnered with College of Southern Nevada, Clark County School District, South Suburban Community Development Corp., Chicago Bar Association’s Restorative Justice Project, Illinois Balanced and Restorative Justice (IBARJ), Nevada Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission’s Eviction Mediation Program, Clark County Justice Court, and Sistahs S.T.R.O.N.G. Inc.  These partnerships have allowed me the opportunities to develop and implement proactive and responsive restorative practices including circles. peer mediation, restorative conferences, mediations, and World Café practices in order to foster safe, supportive, and positive school and community cultures.

Grounded in the principles of Restorative Justice, my position as Restorative Practices Coordinator for Greater Chatham Initiative has allowed me the opportunity to implement programs that give young people and adults the tools to build meaningful relationships and address the inevitable conflict that happens in the community.

I am proud of our current and planned Restorative Practices strategies that include Circles and Circle Training, Trauma/Healing Circles, Landlord-Tenant Mediation, Community Conferencing, Victim-Offender Mediation, and Restorative Roundtables.  I am excited about our planned community engagement events that include Coffee with a Cop, Teen Talks, and Pop-up Events to foster trust, relationship building and community restorative support.

As Greater Chatham Initiative’s Restorative Practices Coordinator, I am continuously looking for restorative community strategies that counter people’s experience of isolation and alienation by building trusting, safe spaces where all participants have a voice and a role, and where our shared humanity as well as our struggles and achievements are recognized.

MMRP Coordinator
Lishelle Bishop

lishelle@greaterchathaminitiative.org

Born and raised on the Southside of Chicago, She has been in the Real Estate industry since 2003.   “A Refreshing Real Estate Experience” is the slogan of her Real Estate company and this translates in all things she does in the industry. Her success is mainly due to honest and personalized customer service to all clients.  Along with being the owner and managing broker of Kaylis Realty Inc, she is also the Greater Chatham Initiative’s MMRP Coordinator, Licensed Residential General Contractor in the City of Chicago and Owner of Kaylis Construction, LLC, Licensed Property Manager, a published Writer and Partner in a 3 woman collaborative for empowering women, launching in the fall of 2021 on Youtube and other platforms.  Kaylis Realty Inc, is housed in the heart of Chatham which is also the area that she consults for the  City of Chicago’s MMRP program.   The idea of ‘refreshing” is to give people opportunities and training that they might not get personalized from other professionals.  Lishelle is constantly growing relationships with local residents and volunteers in her community.  The key is educating and leading people with a soft hand to a brighter future in property ownership for family legacies.  She is the key to your new home and new life.

Social Media Coordinator
Melissa Parker

melissa@greaterchathaminitiative.org

As the Social Media Coordinator Melissa is responsible for planning, implementing, and monitoring all of GCI’s social media strategy to increase brand awareness, improve marketing efforts and increase traffic to our website. She is also the executive assistant to the Executive Director providing administrative support. Growing up in the Greater Chatham area gives her the ability to successfully connect and relate to the residents in the community through social media. Melissa also has a Master’s degree in Data Journalism which enhanced her skills to provide a variety of interactive multimedia components that will keep our supporters engaged and aware of the opportunities around them.

Operations Consultant
Matthew Williams

matthew@greaterchathaminitiative.org

Matthew Williams works with Greater Chatham Initiative as an Operations Consultant. He is responsible for building operating systems for new initiatives. He also works in the Food Lab program providing technical assistance to the cohort members. Matthew was born and raised in Chicago. After graduating from Cornell University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Sociology, he worked in the operations department of a large Outdoor Media Company for four years. He worked as the Director of Operations at a tech Start up for the next two years. His experience has helped him develop a skillset to build systems, work collaboratively, and communicate effectively.

FoodLab Chicago Coordinator
Tamieka Hardy

tamieka@greaterchathaminitiative.org

Tamieka Hardy has always possessed a zeal for food dating back to childhood. She is known for stating how much she admired the ways meal times unite family and friends, especially during the holidays. The drive to perpetually recreate this bond drove her to pursue a career in the food industry.

Tamieka gained an understanding of the correlation between diet and health while pursuing an Associate’s Degree in the Culinary Arts at Kendall College in Chicago.  This knowledge along with the desire to coordinate healthier eating habits for people in her community, a community where diet derived illnesses are prevalent, drove her to focus on dietary habits and the biological and chemical attributes associated with dietary trends.  Tamieka continued her education, attending Dominican University, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in the dual majors of Food Science and Nutrition, and Culinology®, and then a Master of Food Safety and Technology from the Illinois Institute of Technology.  Her academic experiences instilled an understanding of the functionality of foods in the diet.

Tamieka lauds a diverse career in the food industry.  She has functioned in roles of quality assurance, regulatory management, food safety oversight, research and development, ingredient applications, product commercialization and foodservice, and food writing.  She advocates implementing a well-rounded diet and healthy lifestyle choices to improve quality of life.  Tamieka achieves this by unifying experiences through her career in culinary science, food safety, and regulatory affairs to innovate and implement food innovation solutions.

In her spare time, Tamieka consults in food safety and food R & D solutions. She also enjoys gardening, outdoor activities, and creating new works as a mosaic and mixed media artist.

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