Education: BA, Public Policy, DePaul University | BA, Sociology, DePaul University | MS, Community Development, University of California at Davis
Hobbies: I wouldn’t consider myself a photographer, but I play around with photos a lot. I’m saving for a Canon G10. I love being physically active, whether it’s walking, skipping or running. It makes me enjoy life a lot more. Other than that I enjoy cooking and trying out new recipes.
Who are you?
I’m the Director of Chicago Programs and Policy at Healthy Schools Campaign. In my position, I get to interact with different stakeholders, from parents and teachers to school leaders and Chicago Public Schools administration. My goal is to promote nutrition and fitness in Chicago Public Schools either by helping teachers incorporate health-promoting ideas into their core subject areas or helping parents and community members understand the tools and resources available to them to make healthy changes at the school level.
Simple changes can go a long way, like replacing sugar-filled classroom birthday celebrations with ones that focus on the child instead of the sugary treat.
What makes your job great?
It marries the issues I’m most passionate about—food policy, environmental justice and health disparities. Before graduate school, I never thought much about the food system and its connection to health and wellness. I think it’s important to know where your food comes from, make sure it’s high-quality and make sure that the people working to produce food are getting fair wages and treatment. I hear a lot of people saying that “you can vote with your fork,” meaning you can choose who you support. But everyone doesn’t get to cast that vote. Organic food is becoming very boutique-ish, and people are being priced out. My job allows me to help people advocate for what they can control in their environments to make sure they are eating healthy and living healthy lifestyles.
When did you come to HSC?
I came in February 2009. Before that, I worked for an environmental justice organization that focused on air and water quality, open space, public transit and food. That’s where I met Jovita. That experience prepared me for the mix of community organizing, relationship building and policy explication that I do now. People talk about all these grand policy ideas, but it’s quite different to be the one knocking on doors, hosting late night meetings with community members to help them see what a certain policy change will mean to them.
Why did you join HSC?
My role at HSC really blends advocacy and community organizing with the policy issues that interest me—food justice and health. After working several years in the fair housing and environmental justice field, I knew I had to gain more skills and I went off to graduate school.
At U.C. Davis, known for their specialties in agriculture, I had a great opportunity to explore the history and challenges of our food system. I always knew I wanted to bring my skills back to my community, and Chicago is home. HSC does a great job of using Chicago as their learning lab and projecting our lessons learned to a national audience. That is really unique.
Where does your motivation come from?
What strikes me is our very personal connection to food. Not just tastes and preferences, but we have a historical connection. For me, my grandfather was given a lot of land in the Mexican agrarian reform system and was able to grow his own food. Each one of us has a relative who used to grow his or her own food, and it’s a struggle to reconnect with that and bring that back.
Addressing health disparities is also critical. People in my family either currently suffer from or have passed away from diabetes, an illness that could have been prevented. I look at my beautiful nephew, and I want the best for him in life. So, my motivation is our future—our children. We have all these scientists and dieticians telling us what we should eat, but we really just need to reconnect with our history and go back to what’s simple and natural.