Peggy A. Montes Unsung Heroines Award

Service Information

About the Peggy A. Montes Unsung Heroine Award
As an annual event in observance of Women’s History Month, Cook County presents the Unsung Heroine Award to 18 women, one from each district of Cook County and one countywide, whose contributions to their communities, families and professional endeavors have been so vital, but seldom recognized. This award, consistent with the purpose of Women's History Month, is designed to recover and tell the story of the powerful impact women have had throughout history on the development of our social, cultural, economic and political institutions. In this spirit, the County honors these remarkable women as a way to bring their stories to light, to thank them and to celebrate the achievements of the many women through the history of Cook County whom they represent.

About the award name
Peggy A. Montes served as Chairperson of the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues. An educator, fundraiser, leader, and champion of women’s issues and rights, Montes was the driving force behind the very first Unsung Heroine Award for the women of Cook County. On March 16, 2010, the Cook County Board of Commissioners and members of the Commission on Women’s Issues renamed the award in Montes’s honor as a way of recognizing her remarkable achievements on behalf of women and girls. 

2024 Peggy A. Montes Unsung Heroines of Cook County

Wanda Carter - At-Large

Wanda Carter created a grant to help establish a homeless shelter with wrap-around services called the Good Samaritan Hope House of Chicago. She worked with the original pastor on educational programs for the clients. In 1999, she started the Omnibus Roundtable Chicago Communication News Media that still runs today and is an all-volunteer effort. It has a free online community newspaper with vital local news and resources for underprivileged, underserved populations. Wanda is a very active, lifelong volunteer, even at 73. She leads a weekly podcast called Woman to Woman, allowing insights and critical discussions by and for Cook County Black and brown communities. Her guests are often single moms, students and grandmothers who are raising their sons’ and daughters’ children. Guests and the audience for her Woman to Woman podcast are often community activists who share their resources and mindfulness with the community. She is a proud African American mother of four children, seven grandchildren (one at the age of 33 was a victim of gun violence) and 11 great-grandchildren.

From 2000-2017, Wanda designed, implemented and coordinated training and educational programs for nonprofits working with youth and adults. From 2011-2015, Wanda was a personal assistant to the elderly or disabled, getting medication, cleaning and preparing their clothes, house and meals. Wanda holds a GED and attended Walden, National Louis University and the Central YMCA Community Colleges. She is a tireless education advocate, especially for women and girls.

Edie Jacobs - 1st District

Edie Jacobs founded Get To Work, Inc. as a community-based, justice-driven alternative to temporary agencies that prey on immigrants and shut out Black westsiders and other Chicago area workers. In addition, Get To Work differs from other nonprofit job readiness programs in that Edie has repeatedly led and organized calling out and confronting structural racism – the widespread and unlawful segregationist employment model – that is a lived experience for so many westside workers, both in hiring and on the job.

Edie actively searches for and maintains relationships with people who face barriers to employment, such as previous incarceration or homelessness. To date, she has impacted hundreds of individuals through her work. Her method of outreach and engagement is primarily organic and hands-on because she believes in the power of meeting people where they are and being radically hospitable in building new relationships. She cultivates relationships with local businesses, corporations and other employers. She believes in advocating for inclusive hiring practices. She works closely with employers and employees she accompanies to address any issues or barriers related to hiring and retention.

Edie raises awareness about her community's challenges through Get To Work and advocates for practices that promote justice on the job. She has partnered with Black Workers Matter to provide workshops and educational resources to employers on creating inclusive workplaces.

Shawnie Jones - 2nd District

As a dedicated catering professional, Shawnie Jones' commitment to delivering exceptional services stems from a passion for creating memorable experiences through food. With meticulous attention to detail, a keen sense of taste and a knack for anticipating client preferences, she consistently strives to exceed expectations.

Shawnie brings creativity to the table, ensuring each event is a culinary journey that leaves a lasting impression. She is not just a catering person; she is a culinary enthusiast devoted to making every occasion extraordinary.


Karen Calloway - 3rd District

Karen Calloway’s dedication to Kenwood Academy is unwavering, and her commitment to create a supportive and nurturing environment for her students is essential. Her leadership has been instrumental in fostering a sense of community within the school, where students feel empowered to pursue their post-secondary goals and become leaders in their own right. Karen is extremely focused on preparing students for the global marketplace, and because of this, she has propelled Kenwood Academy to new heights of success.

Every day, Karen approaches her role with enthusiasm and a genuine desire to see her students thrive. She humbly acknowledges the privilege of serving in her position at Kenwood Academy, recognizing it as a unique opportunity to make a lasting impact on the lives of her students. Kenwood Academy’s students are the future, and Karen is dedicated to ensuring the school provides an education on par with the best funded schools in the country.

Valerie McDaniels - 4th District

Valerie McDaniels has 38 years of experience in child welfare. She is a retiree of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Service in the Division of Child Protection. She retired as an associate deputy director in the Bureau of Operations in 2015. She also worked with private agencies and currently works part-time with Safe Coalition, specializing in Human Trafficking. Valerie’s tireless work in her community stems from her church ushering and working with families and she is passionate about those in need. The most important aspect of the help she provides is changing communities one neighbor at a time. Valerie’s heart fills with joy when she hears from others that she is making a difference.

Valerie holds a Master of Arts from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration (SSA) and a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Illinois State University. She served on a number of boards: Lansing Human Relations Commission, Chairperson; Executive Board of Prevent Child Abuse of Illinois, President; L.O.S.T., Inc., Board Member; Gifts from Liam, Board Member; Common Ground Organization in Lansing; Illinois State University Black Colleague Association; University of Chicago SSA Alumni Board of Directors; DBW Scholarship Commission; Certified Team Leader and Military Lead Reviewer; and Case Reviewer for Council on Accreditation N.Y.

Valerie is a Lansing, Illinois resident who enjoys time with her husband, Steve, along with church, family and friends. She desires peace, happiness, faith and hope for all.

Dr. Lamenta Sweetie Conway - 5th District

LaMenta Sweetie Conway, MD, MPH has celebrated over 25 years as a physician, teaching in top academic hospitals in the Midwest for most of her career.

In her current professional role, she is the deputy chief of medicine for the Illinois Department of Corrections, where she and her team are responsible for the medical care of more than 30,000 offenders in custody in the Illinois state prisons. In her leadership role at the state, she has forged numerous community-based and academic medicine partnerships to improve the care of the population she supports.

Outside of medicine, Dr. Conway is known by most as simply “Sweetie,” a childhood name that followed her first into her semi-professional career as a singer of soulful gospel music and later into her professional circles. She is known best for her warm and exuberant personality and bedside manner as a physician and clinical educator devoted to the care of vulnerable populations and the practice of compassionate bedside medicine.

Dr. Conway decided to formalize her lifelong legacy of mentoring young people in the art of compassionate medicine and service when one of her cousins was paralyzed following a gunshot wound to the spine intended for someone else. This pivotal moment followed the murder of her 15-year-old cousin on Mother’s Day, just six months earlier, and inspired the creation of I Am Abel Foundation, a Chicago-area pipeline organization devoted to raising the next generation of healthcare heroes.

Dr. Shelly Amuh - 6th District

With over 30 years of experience as a practicing physician and nonprofit leader, Dr. Shelley Amuh has dedicated her career to advocating for health equity and fighting disparities in healthcare. Born and raised on the south side of Chicago, Dr. Amuh earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago and her Doctor of Medicine from the University of Illinois College of Medicine. She completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Wayne State University. Throughout her career, Dr. Amuh has worked in private practice and as a hospitalist in the Chicagoland area, most recently at Advocate Trinity Hospital.

Dr. Amuh is the founder and chief executive officer of the Puddle Project, a nonprofit organization. The Puddle Project provides one-on-one mentorship to pregnant teens and their partners. The organization's network of health, academic and financial resources provides teen mentees with the tools they need to successfully prepare for parenthood, complete high school and become responsible adults. The Puddle Project partners with schools throughout the Chicagoland area, including Simpson Academy for Young Women, Homewood-Flossmoor High School, Hillcrest High School and Thornton Township High Schools District 205. Their work directly impacts the lives of mentees who otherwise may have nowhere to turn.

Jackeline Gongora - 7th District

Jackeline “Jackie” Gongora currently serves as the policy and practice manager for Telpochcalli Community Education Project (Tcep) in the Little Village area. Tcep is a grassroots community organization that mobilizes youth and adults for social justice.

Jackie was born and raised in a small rural town in Mexico. She lost her father at an early age, leaving her mother as the main provider for eight children. She joined the workforce at the age of 11 to help financially support her family.

Jackie immigrated to Chicago at the age of 20. She went on to get married and have four children. In 2003, Jackie began as a volunteer with Tcep and later became the lead organizer. She has taken an active leadership role by advocating for community resources and sharing community perspectives with key stakeholders. During the pandemic, Jackie organized parents and secured resources for families in need, including making free masks. Jackie’s genuine intentions and passion for community work continue to drive her work and advocacy.

She believes Tcep has and will continue to be the light on her path. Her life trajectory has not been easy, but her resilience and determination will continue to empower others.

April M. Curtis - 8th District

April M. Curtis has utilized her lived expertise as an alumnus of the Illinois Child Welfare system and as a professional in the field to serve as a national child welfare and juvenile justice expert and advocate for over 20 years. She is the chief of staff at Youth Guidance, working on issues of juvenile justice and violence reduction, and she is a founding board member of Foster Care Alumni of America. She is a senior fellow for the Child Welfare League of America and the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, the Federal Transition Age Coalition and the National Mental Health Coalition. She also currently serves on the Puerto Rican Agenda.

Beyond her professional endeavors, April actively volunteers in her Chicago community, focusing on family preservation, civic engagement and violence reduction. April is a graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with her Master of Social Work with a concentration on Leadership and Social Change. April, a diligent advocate and leader, works to help youth and families in her community solve problems, advocate for themselves and improve their lives. April is passionate about ensuring kids like her make it, always remember their culture and take advantage of education.

Yeulanda Degala - 9th District

Yeulanda Degala serves as the founder and chief executive officer of Good Neighbors Network. Drawing from her personal experiences as a child raised by a single mother and her reliance on the Free Lunch program, Yeulanda launched a grassroots effort from her home during the early stages of the pandemic to collect snacks and raise awareness about hidden hunger affecting local children. Over time, Good Neighbors Network has expanded, spearheading various initiatives, such as providing essential school supplies, distributing coats and offering holiday gifts.

Driven by her own experience seeking higher education, Yeulanda made sure to place a strong emphasis on empowering first-generation college students with scholarships and dorm room supplies with her work at Good Neighbors Network.

Yeulanda's upbringing in the small orange grove community of Wimauma, Florida instilled in her the value of neighborly support, where individuals relied on one another in times of need. Good Neighbors Network aims to uphold this tradition by continuing to provide assistance where it is most needed. Yeulanda is a graduate of the University of Florida and comes from a long line of community activists. Additionally, she serves on the Board of Directors at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, has led numerous Parent Teacher Association committees and is an avid volunteer for causes around Chicagoland.

Fannie Sanchez - 10th District

Fannie Sanchez was born and raised in Chicago and has two adult children. She is a proud daughter of immigrant parents, an Ecuadorian mother and Cuban father.

She has devoted over 30 years to public and community service between family and employment obligations. She has worked for her employer for over 30 years and loves it as it allows her the financial stability to continue to support her donations and the ability to volunteer her time.

In 2023, the need for migrant support significantly increased. This also shed light on homeless and families in need. Fannie became more engaged in volunteering by distributing supplies at stations and shelters. She gathered more than 100 suitcases in less than a week while tracking and distributing supplies to families prior to moving to other shelters. She solicited and sourced donations of clothes, shoes, blankets and over-the-counter medicine and worked alongside multiple volunteers to support migrants, families in need and the unhoused.

Alice Chiu - 11th District

Alice Chiu, a Chicago native, boasts over a decade of experience as an administrator in the field of home healthcare. Her educational journey began at Lincoln Park High School's International Baccalaureate Program and continued at Occidental College, where she honed her skills. Fluent in English and Chinese, Alice's bilingual abilities enable her to effectively bridge service gaps for seniors.

Beyond her administrative duties, Alice is a dedicated healthcare advocate, volunteering her time to improve healthcare literacy for underserved seniors on Chicago's south and west sides. Collaborating with the Chicago Housing Authority, she ensures that low-income seniors have access to essential healthcare programs, striving to meet their needs holistically.

As a liaison, Alice connects seniors to vital resources from city and state agencies, fostering a comprehensive support network. Her commitment to senior well-being, coupled with her extensive experience and compassionate approach, positions her as a respected leader in the field of home healthcare. Alice's mission is clear: to ensure that every senior in Chicago receives the care, respect and attention they deserve as they navigate their golden years.

Blair Janis - 12th District

Chicago has experienced an unprecedented influx of forced migration. For many months, migrants had to live in the lobbies of police stations, awaiting shelter placement. Since spring 2023, Blair Janis has been organizing and co-leading a group of neighborhood volunteers, faith leaders, community groups and elected officials to ensure that asylum seekers at the 19th Police District Precinct and local shelters were welcomed with dignity and had access to the supplies, food and care they needed through rapidly changing circumstances. Together, they provided 106 continual days of meals at the precinct, distributed over 1,500 coats and 300 welcome kits, ran a free store for three months and so much more. When new neighbors needed medical care, Blair worked with volunteers to arrange doctor appointments, transportation and vaccine clinics.

Blair has dedicated countless hours forming a robust mutual aid network to help fulfill basic needs of new residents and unhoused Chicagoans, as well as supporting their transition to shelters and long-term housing. She and the mutual aid network continue to provide ongoing support to new neighbors in shelters and housing.

Sheerine Alemzadeh - 13th District

Sheerine Alemzadeh has worked to transform responses to gender-based violence in low-income communities of color as an activist, litigator, educator and organizer. As the co-founder and co-director of Healing to Action, Sheerine collaborates with survivor leaders across Chicago to ignite innovative, community-sustained strategies to address gender-based violence in low-income, Black, brown, immigrant, LGBTQ and disability communities. Sheerine began her career litigating sexual harassment, unemployment, sexual assault and civil rights cases. She co-founded the Coalition Against Workplace Sexual Violence, a collaboration between rape crisis agencies, civil rights organizations, workers centers and government agencies. Healing to Action formed out of the Coalition’s work in 2016, after Sheerine and her cofounder, Karla Altmayer, saw a clear need for survivors from communities most impacted by gender-based violence to lead solutions that responded to their lived experiences.

Since its founding, Healing to Action has graduated multiple cohorts from Healing Generations, a pioneering leadership development program for survivors across Cook County, and launched the Survivor Power Institute, an intensive training program for activists, advocates, organizers and other social justice workers fighting to end gender-based violence in their communities. In Time Magazine, Me Too founder Tarana Burke named Healing to Action as one of the top five organizations in the country leading the future of the Me Too Movement.

Beth Nabors Powers - 14th District

For more than three decades, Beth Nabors Powers has been a recognized leader in the nonprofit community. Beth started her career serving as a family therapist for women recently reunited with their children after successfully completing residential care for substance abuse. Those experiences led her on a path to being hired to merge two nonprofits (NW Suburban PADS and HOPE NOW, Inc.) forming what is now known as JOURNEYS | The Road Home.

For more than 20 years, she has served as the executive director of the organization, helping develop JOURNEYS into a highly regarded and highly successful institution serving individuals and families facing homelessness throughout the northwest suburbs. Most recently, Beth completed a successful $6.2 million capital campaign that built a new, state-of-the-art community building with 42 shelter beds, seven affordable housing units and an enhanced day center offering free counseling and case management services with the focus of feeding, clothing and housing the poor and struggling neighbors among us.

Beth has served on a variety of committees for both Saint Viator High School, Arlington Heights Rotary Club and other community organizations.

Kathy Evita Bojczuk - 15th District

Kathy Evita Bojczuk uses her legal knowledge and skills to provide positive change for her clients. In her current position as the supervisory attorney at Life Span, Kathy helps survivors of domestic violence in obtaining and litigating orders of protection and family law cases. Kathy mentors and supervises attorneys, paralegals and interns in her role as supervisor.

Before that, Kathy was a solo practitioner in her own private practice for 12 years, concentrating her practice in family law matters. Being fluent in Polish, a large portion of her clients were Polish and non-English speakers.

Kathy also devotes her time to volunteering with the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) and Polish Advocates Society. At the ISBA, she is active in helping to make systematic changes. At the Advocates Society, Kathy is on the Board, an executive officer and chairperson of the Public Relations and Newsletter Committee. As a proud Polish American, Kathy finds dedicating her time to this organization to be a worthwhile and fulfilling endeavor.

As a daughter of a strong Polish immigrant mother, Kathy was taught from a young age to work hard and help others. She is committed to continuing those values in every aspect of her life. Kathy resides in Des Plaines with her husband, former Des Plaines Alderman Artur Zadrozny, and two daughters, on whom Kathy imparts the same values of working hard and helping others.

Debra Fiorito - 16th District

Debra Fiorito is a lifelong public servant and community leader from Franklin Park who began her community involvement organizing local moms from the neighborhood to revitalize an area of Mannheim Road by successfully advocating for the removal of an adult entertainment establishment.

Inspired by the collective power of women and community organizing, Debra joined the Parent Teacher Association, raising significant funds for local school programs. Shortly after, she was appointed to the Leyden Credit Union Board where she served for four years.

In 1994, she was elected as the village clerk of Franklin Park as the first woman to serve in the position and went on to serve two consecutive terms. During this period, she become a lead fundraiser for the Leyden Bears football team, helping the facilities establish the first concession stand and other vital resources for eight years.

Debra served as the president of the Women's Republican Organization of Leyden Township for 12 years, hosting various fundraisers for local students to receive scholarships.

Debra has dedicated her life to educational and family initiatives, all while raising three children. She continues to stay involved as a Lions Club member and appointee for the Redevelopment of Mannheim Road, a local revitalization project.

Arlene Adams - 17th District

Arlene Adams’ passion and dedication to the betterment of the community in Palos Park, where she has lived with her husband for 50 years, has spanned decades.

Throughout the years, Arlene has volunteered with public schools, Joseph P. Kennedy School, McCord Gallery and Cultural Center, Garden Club, Woman’s Club and Our Lady of the Woods. Her commitment to excellence is evident in everything she does, including recently helping to select the flower that represents Palos Park. Furthermore, Arlene’s dedication to her country and those who serve is apparent in her involvement with the Blue Star Memorial and singing on behalf of the Garden Club at the Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies in Palos Park.



2023 Peggy A. Montes Unsung Heroines of Cook County


Cristina De La Rosa - At-Large  

Cristina is the Executive Director of Erie Neighborhood House, a nonprofit social services agency serving over 13,000 low-income, primarily Latine/Latinx families and individuals through education and empowerment. As a daughter of Mexican immigrants, leading in this capacity is an honor and the result of her dedication to connecting historically marginalized communities with access to resources. Cristina began her tenure with Erie House in 2011 as an outreach worker, bringing awareness to groups across the City about affordable housing programs and services. She gradually moved into management of programs and departments. Previously as the Senior Director of Programs, Cristina aimed to build strategic partnerships and identify new funding sources and opportunities to deliver program excellence. Prior to joining Erie House, she worked for seven years at the Chicago Federation of Labor as a program coordinator and case manager, working with dislocated and unemployed individuals. Currently, Cristina serves on the UCAN Program Advisory Committee and is a board member of Revolution Workshop, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides construction workforce development for unemployed or underemployed people in partnership with area businesses.   

Khalilah Johnson - District 1

Khalilah Johnson is the Executive Director for the Austin Chamber of Commerce. Growing up working in her family's busines, Khalilah understands the unique needs of local small business owners. She combines her passion for helping entrepreneurs with her love for education, to help identify the most pressing needs of the membership and works to find the resources and tools to help them succeed. Khalilah continuously seeks to stay ahead when it comes to locating grants, funding and resources needed to move the Austin Chamber forward. She brings a strategic and systemized approach to the Austin Chamber. As an Austin resident she is passionate about the local business community. Prior to her role as the Executive Director, Khalilah was a project manager, developing various training programs for the transit and insurance industries.

A native of Chicago’s Westside, she graduated from Eastern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science degree in Technology and attended Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center. Khalilah enjoys cheering for her favorite team, the Bulls, and spending time with her husband and two children, and volunteering her time with local community-based organizations.

Nakisha Hobbs - District 2

Nakisha Hobbs, a Chicago native and fourth generation educator, began her journey in community organizing and education as an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In response to the negative impact of high-stakes testing, Hobbs mobilized a group of peers to develop an African-centered tutoring program designed to empower marginalized youth. Hobbs continued her passion to address inequities in education by co-founding It Takes A Village Family of Schools in 2004. This pipeline educational system, which currently services birth through eighth grade, serves over 900 children daily and redefines the purpose of urban education.

Her impact reaches multiple communities as Hobbs served as an executive member of the Illinois Early Learning Council (2018-2020), and is currently the President of the Depaul Speech and Language Pathology Community Advisory Board and is a Founding Board Member of Child Care Advocates United (CCAU). Hobbs earned a Masters of Education from Roosevelt University, Bachelors in African American Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Education degree from MIU. She is a loving wife and proud mother of four children. 

Nathalie Loma - District 3    

Nathalie Loma was born in 1987 in the beautiful country of Cameroon. Sadly, two months after her birth, Nathalie’s father passed away. The sudden passing of Nathalie’s father created financial hardships for Nathalie and her mother. To make ends meet, Nathalie’s mother taught herself to sew and became a seamstress and dressmaker specializing in African fabric and special event clothing.

Nathalie grew up watching her mother enjoy making beautiful clothes for others while providing for her family. She watched and learned from her mother and fell in love with fashion. She shares, ”I remember 
seeing my mom look at fabric and ask it what it wanted; it was as if she knew the garment would speak back to her. This is something I have cherished and incorporated in my work as a designer."

Pursuing a better life through education, Nathalie moved to the U.S. in 2006 to study Journalism and Broadcasting. After graduating, she hosted red carpet events, fashions and worked as a fashion writer. She quickly realized her love for fashion was embedded in her DNA and as much as she loved broadcasting and journalism, fashion was pulling her in every direction. With the need to become a designer Nathalie rented a small workroom and spent every working moment designing and sewing her line. With perseverance and commitment, she opened her online store, Nathalie Loma. 

With her mother as her role model and support, Nathalie has been able to overcome life challenges and pursue her dreams. She mentors and encourages students in high school because more than anyone Nathalie understands the importance of following your heart’s desire.

Desiree Billups - District 4  

Desiree Billups is the Founder of Family and Friends of Northwest Indiana (NWI). Her organization is dedicated to individuals with developmental disabilities, seniors and the homeless community. She started the organization after the death of her older sister, Claudia Blake, who died while working in a home that serviced people with disabilities. Her sister loved helping people and she instilled that in Desiree. After her sister’s death, she continued her dream and started hosting monthly dances. She gave those with a disability a prom that they could call their own. Then, she started hosting giveaways to help those who were having a hard time. She never thought that starting an event in her basement could help so many people. After years of writing donation letters, people noticed that she was helping her community and sponsors started attending her events. They started to be able to help more people daily. During the pandemic, they were on the frontlines making sure that their community got food, PPE supplies, clothes and whatever she could get donated. She is known in her community as the giveaway queen. The kids call her the toy lady because for every kid she came across, she would give them toys. If they needed new coats or shoes, she would give them to them, too. Her organization strives to help anyone in need. And she continues giving from the heart.

Karimiah Mckee - District 5

Karimiah is a mother, wife, engineer, and community advocate. She grew up on the south side of Chicago with her mom, sister, and four brothers. She graduated from Kenwood Academy and received her B.S. in Computer Information Systems from Grambling State University and later received MBA in Technology Management. She resides in Flossmoor with her husband of 20 years and their 3 children.

Karimiah is a Network Engineer and has served as a Girl Scout STEAM Troop leader for the past 8 years. She is also a STEAM Mentor in her community and has served CPS students. She is in leadership positions for Jack & Jill South Suburban, National Coalition of 100 Black Women (where they advocate for women and girls), District 161 PTO Board, and neighborhood Block Captain. Her STEAM impacts have influenced many men and women to change careers to engineering and young people to pursue a career in STEAM. Her prayer is that more women in low income communities will have a career option in technology, which will change their financial situation. She does what she does because for her, representation matters while advocating for a better community where people are thriving and working together.

Rev. Brenda K. Mitchell - District 6

Brenda's son Kenneth was murdered one week after his brother Kevin left to serve in his third tour of duty in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. A single parent, Kenneth left behind three sons, one of which never got to meet his father. Brenda created a Grief Support Group, “Healing Circles," in the South Suburban Region to deal with the issues of trauma launching out of the Faith Community. She is a MOMS Demand Action Co-Chapter Lead for the State of Illinois, Senior Fellow with Everytown Survivor Network, Inter Faith Outreach Leader, and a member of the advocacy organization Purpose Over Pain. She most recently become involved with Covid-19 Survivors for Change, facilitating groups to navigate through trauma and the devastation of their grief process. She is also an Ordained Minister with Full Gospel Christian Assembles, Int. and uses those tools to help herself and others achieve wellness. She has become strong advocate for PTSD, Trauma Informed Care and Resources. Identifying that the root cause analysis in Survivors of Gun Violence and Survivor Communities deals directly and indirectly from long term exposure to poverty, lack of economic development and systemic institutionalized trauma. 

In addition to her advocacy work she has more than 25 years of proven progressive experience in the area of Human Resources Management. Her experience is diverse in the areas of Human Resources Operations, recruitment, labor relations, compensation/benefits and training with a concentration in employee relations. Her passion is in the area of employee relations and enhancing the values, skills of employer/employee relationships when they are in conflict. Her passion is in interpersonal communications and conflict resolution. She also has been a seasoned politician serving a ten-year term as a Trustee in the Village of University Park.

She has received an MBA from Olivet Nazarene University and Bachelor from Trinity International University. 

Sahida Martinez - District 7

Sahida has over 30 years of experience doing community-based work. In Mexico, her home country, she was a high school teacher, with a focus on administration, human resources, research and marketing. After moving to Little Village in Chicago, she began to take on volunteer leadership roles. She has been the Local School Council President, Bilingual Committee Vice-President and member of the Parent Teacher Organization and the No Child Left Behind Committee at her children’s schools. She connected with Enlace as a participant and leader of the Eli Whitney Community School. She became very involved with the Healthy Schools Campaign and, when Enlace began to develop its community health worker (CHW) initiatives, she was an early participant. She was hired part-time as a health promoter in 2014 and full time in 2017. In addition to facilitating wellness education, doing community outreach and supporting community members in connecting with healthcare and social services, she now supervises a team of full time CHWs and oversees the development of new initiatives, including community-driven research projects. She has taken an extensive number of trainings that have allowed her to become a Certified Application Counselor, a peer support group facilitator, a mental health first aid provider, a diabetes educator and a COVID-19 navigator. She was also part of the pilot cohort of Richard J. Daley College’s new bilingual CHW certificate program that received their certificates in December 2020; she was actively involved in advocating for and creating this program. She is the co-author of an article, released in 2021, focused on the role of CHWs in the pandemic. She was also a member of the CHW team when Enlace received the 2020 Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois Healthy Community Award for its CHW Health Equity Initiative at the LISC Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards.

Juanita Barraza - District 8

Juanita Barraza is a long-time resident of the Humboldt Park and Logan Square communities where she raised her four daughters, and is now helping with her seven grandchildren. At the age of 13, she arrived in Chicago as an immigrant from Mexico, and later got married. At the age of 28, after having her daughters and years of experiencing domestic abuse, she divorced her husband. It was then, as a single mother, that she began formal schooling for the first time in her life and brought her desire to learn English. When her daughters were in elementary school, she witnessed injustices within the school system, which fueled her desire to speak out without having dominated the language.

She devoted most of her life to public and community service. She worked at a medical center for 21 years, and then ten years assisting people in her community access WIC benefits. Although she recently retired from social services, she remained involved and active in the community. She has been a volunteer with Palenque LSNA, Grassroots Illinois Action Humboldt Park, and an active precinct captain for various ballot referenda and progressive political candidates. She is known by many in the community to be a strong advocate and canvasser, building deep relationships with neighbors and often winning the vote in support of favored issues or candidates by strong margins in her home precinct. When her community was threatened by gentrification, she became a leader in the fight to freeze property taxes near the Bloomingdale Trail and stop demolitions in the surrounding communities. She has also organized to win a non-binding referendum in support of rent control and continues to be an active volunteer for progressive policies and candidates in her community.

Sue Walton - District 9      

At age 35, a single mothe Sue Walton completed her Bachelor and Master of Science Degrees. Her tenure of 20 years in District 211 included teaching and coordinating vocational training. She identified use and abuse of drugs and alcohol as a deterrent to academic success, and through ther classroom initiatieves, it led to the adoption of a new model used throughout the district.  

She became a board member and President in 1976 with Community Child Care Center and remained active in affordable childcare, parenting and fund raising until 1985. 

In 1985, she was selected to steer a pilot program, Parents Anonymous, to support parents. The Blue Bow Committee was formed to bring awareness to National Child Abuse Prevention. The coalition of Cook County stakeholders came together for the Annual Sue Walton Blue Bow Award to recognize notable leadership in child abuse prevention. She continues to serve on the committee.

Friends of the Creek began as a volunteer group interested in stormwater management when she served as Alderwoman in Rolling Meadows from 2003-2005. The goals were to establish education, awareness, fundraise and provide students and parents with Earth Day Activities each year. In 2007, the city adopted the committee as the Rolling Meadows Environmental Committee. 

Nancy L. Wade - District 10    

In 2020, Nancy Wade and Ashley Woodthorp organized the Heart of Lincoln Square Neighbors Association Save Your Ash campaign (HOLS SYA). The campaign gives people in the HOLS area an opportunity to protect their street ash trees from an invasive insect, the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) that has killed half of Chicago’s public ash trees since it arrived in 2008. Ash are about 12%, or 45,000, of Chicago’s street trees, about 1,000 in each ward. Chicago had been successfully treating them for EAB up until 2018 when that budget was cut. Letting them die and removing them is ten times more expensive than treating them.

Nancy and Ashley recruited volunteers to survey the local ash, tie signs to trees, and talk to neighbors door to door. Funds were raised to treat almost all of HOLS ash trees and protect them for two years. They reinstated the campaign in January 2023 for continued protection. Their goal is to continue to preserve the many benefits trees provide: crime reduction and increased income, better physical and mental health, flood and heat island prevention, and wildlife habitat. They continue to lobby the City of Chicago to restore funding.

Diane Geers - District 11    

As a Catholic school educator for 44 years, Diane Geers has experienced a multitude of rewarding accomplishments through coaching, mentoring, and fundraising efforts for numerous organizations. For 30 years, she coached girls volleyball at various schools and parks, led as the fundraising coordinator for Breast Cancer Night and fundraising treasurer for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, and volunteered for a decade in the tutorial program for Valentine Boys and Girls Club.

Her involvement as a Chicago Park District community activist is unparalleled, giving generously of her time and talents to many, particularly as a mentor and model to young girls and teens. Her life has been a life of service above self.


Kathleen Trainor - District 12  

Kathleen Trainor was born in Lincoln Square and has lived here for many years. She has always loved getting involved in her community in various ways. She was fortunate to have meaningful work all her life –a 40-year career in affordable housing, followed by a few years as the Director of the Common Pantry in North Center.

In 2020, Kathleen began volunteering for her new 47th Ward Alderman, Matt Martin. Soon thereafter, a long-awaited senior development – Ravenswood Senior Living -- opened its doors. The demand for this housing was tremendous. The application was online and that presented a barrier for many seniors. So she began helping seniors apply, assemble the documentation they needed, get answers to their questions, and advocate for them. She loved the work, and it clearly filled a need. She could tell these folks had no one else to turn to for help, and she assisted about 100 seniors. She continues this work, expanding services to include helping seniors retain their housing, identify alternatives, drive them to appointments, and tap resources to cover moving costs, security deposits and other expenses (a big thank you to Common Pantry’s Housing Fund!). As she has shared, "It is so gratifying to have found a way to help that is so important and appreciated!"

Luisette Kraal - District 13    

Last summer, a chance encounter with newly arrived asylum seekers sprung Luisette Kraal into action. Word of a dinner invitation spread, and hundreds of hungry migrants just off the bus from Texas arrived at her home. Witnessing their needs, she sought donations and quickly created a free store in Sabka Shaara’s storefront church basement to distribute clothes and shoes. Her efforts expanded, and she now offers hot meals, shelter, grief sessions to process trauma, transportation, medical care, and holiday parties. Dubbed Nuevos Vecinos, her rapidly created organization has created a welcoming community for more than 1000 asylum seekers.

A native of Curacao in the Dutch Caribbean, Luisette is a nurse, writer, Bible teacher, life coach, Dutch Bible translator, and pastor’s wife. She holds a Master of Science in Nursing from the Rijks University in Maastricht, Netherlands, and a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from Moody Theological Seminary. Luisette and her husband provide ministry to the Spanish-speaking refugee community and are guided by their “Saved to Serve” life slogan. Luisette has two biological daughters and fostered three sons with AIDS and cancer.  

Volunteers and donations to Nuevos Vecinos are recruited through the all-volunteer Refugee Community Connection group on Facebook.

Liz Kunkle - District 14    

Liz Kunkle was raised in Winnetka and moved back in 2008 with her young family. As a long-time avid recycler, she enthusiastically joined her elementary school’s Environmental PTO committee. She quickly became chair of the committee and stayed in that role until her youngest child graduated. In 2011, she founded Go Green Winnetka, one of numerous community environmental advocacy groups in the Go Green Illinois network that focus on issues in their own communities, share best practices, and collaborate to address challenges across municipal boundaries. Since then, she was appointed to Winnetka’s Environmental and Forestry and Plan Commissions and has been integrally involved in drafting the community’s Sustainability Plan and 2040 Comprehensive Plan. More recently, she quit her “day job” as a trademark attorney to focus on environmental issues full-time. She has worked for Collective Resource Compost, a woman-owned food scrap pick-up and compost company, and is a Board member and Policy Committee co-chair of the Illinois Food Scrap & Composting Coalition, a nonprofit advancing diversion and composting of all organics in Illinois. Everything Liz does is with an eye toward raising environmental awareness, inspiring people to take individual and collective action, and creating more sustainable, just, and climate resilient communities.

Kathryn Cawley - District 15    

Kathryn (Kasia) Cawley is the first woman Police Chief in Hoffman Estates. She has served the District 15 community on the police force for 23 years moving up in the ranks to lead the department. In a short time, she obtained funding to hire the first police social worker to assist in response to police calls, especially calls involving domestic violence. She began her career in the Air National Guard, where she served in Security Forces. She holds a bachelor's degree in Sociology and a master’s degree in Public Safety Administration. She also graduated from Northwestern University's School of Police Staff and Command. Kasia serves on the Board of Directors for the Major Case Assistance Team and is involved with organizations such as the Hoffman Estates Charitable Foundation, the Children’s Advocacy Center, Habitat for Humanity and Special Olympics. Outside of her Police Chief role, she enjoys spending time with friends and family and her book club. She is married and is mother to a 15-year-old daughter. She is going the extra mile in May when she will compete in a 6-mile obstacle course race with the proceeds going to first responders and their families.

Antonia Ruppert - District 16    

Antonia Ruppert is an Illinois artist who has been creating for over 25 years. She creates paintings that tell a story, and she fell in love with art as a child upon seeing her Dad draw after coming home from work. The oldest of six siblings, she recalls drawing horses and people on tons of pink paper that was gifted to her by the dentist office. Now creating on canvas, panels and paper using all kinds of paint, she is inspired by stories of unity, love and hope.

Currently, Ruppert is excited about her work in various Chicagoland communities and throughout the 16th District, sharing her passion for arts and artivism. On the board of Sarah's Inn, a domestic violence awareness and prevention agency, she seeks to uplift her entire community with creative expression. She has been Featured in the Museum of Science and Industry Black Creativity Exhibition, Moraine Valley CC Regional Showcase and the Dupage Art League's Best of the Best Exhibition. Her favorite paintings and murals can be found in numerous regional venues. These include: University of Chicago Hospitals, Chicago Public Library, Acorn Public Library, Addison Public Library, Austin Childcare Network, Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Forest Park Park District, Berwyn North School District 98. Elmwood Park Public Library. Grand Prairie Services, Living Springs Community Church, Markham Public Library, Moving Everest Charter School, Oak Forest Park District and the Oak Park Area Arts Council and City of Berwyn, City Hall. 

Mary Ann Hansen - District 17

Mary Ann Hansen is a Chicago Public Special Education Case Manager, School Counselor and Teacher, Acting Social Worker, Acting Nurse, Acting Psychologist, Acting Assistant Principal, Acting Community Liaison, Acting School Substitute, School Lunchroom Monitor and Administrative Secretary (Retired). She was also a School Counselor having been employed by the Palos Hills Police Department from 1980-1989 as their school liaison, child and adult counselor, social worker and crisis intervention and community liaison.

As a member of this community, she was born at Mercy Hospital, May 6, 1947, and has lived in Palos Park jer entire life. Her mother, Ruth Hansen, was a Tinley Park District 142 teacher. Her father, Howard Miles Hansen, was a Chicago Police Officer and later employed by the Illinois Department of Revenue. Jer grandfather, William Peter Hansen, worked for the New York Central Railroad, and her grandmother worked as a Chicago Public School Truant Officer. All f them and their careers helped develop her personality, education, experiences, goals, interest, curiosity, drive, determination, communication skills, respect, kindness and caring. As a politician, she learned most from her father when she served as a Moraine Valley Trustee from 1977-1980.


2022 Peggy A. Montes Unsung Heroines of Cook County

The 2022 nominees were announced on March 10, 2022. Watch live at

Carlisa N. Thomas, At-large

Crystal E. Gardner, District 1

Asiaha Butler, District 2

Annette Nance-Holt, District 3

Belle K. McClandon, District 4

Virgil Jackson, District 5

Lamekia Davis, District 6

María Esparza, District 7

Rosario Villalobos, District 8

Arielle Strauss, District 9

Eva Panczyk, District 10

Kathleen Cavallone Turney, District 11

Willie Shaw, District 13

Michelle Valiukenas, District 14

Dominice LaPorte, District 15 

Jamie Kucera, District 16

Donna Adam, District 17


2021 Peggy A. Montes Unsung Heroines of Cook County

Sameka Ducette Gates, At-large  

Debra Vines, 1st District

Sheila Jackson McNary, 2nd District

Barbara Ellzey, 3rd District

Linda Blair, 4th District

Vanessa Brown, 5th District

Jacquelyne Underwood, 6th District

Nury Ortega, 7th District

Diana Mireles, 8th District

Mary Lio, 9th District

Killian C. Walsh, 10th District

Sarah Dynia, 11th District

Marci Sieracki, 12th District

Jane Balaban, 13th District

Amy Oberholtzer, 14th District

Mary Jo Imperato, 15th District

Elva Serna, 16th District

Josephine Coleman, 17th District

2021 Peggy A. Montes Unsung Heroine Awards Program Book


2020 Peggy A. Montes Unsung Heroines of Cook County

Diara Brooks, At-large

Phyllis M. Logan, 1st District

Dr. Carrol Collum, 2nd District

La Shawn Stanton, 3rd District

Lanette Warbington, 4th District

Lorena Varela, 5th District

Mia Carter, 6th District

Sandra Mendez, 7th District

Janece Ortiz, 8th District

Dr. Carolyn V. Kirschner, 9th District

Colleen Martin, 10th District

Gerri Neylon, 11th District

Carolina Brueck, 12th District

Kathy Tate-Bradish, 13th District

Agnes I. Wojnarski,M.D., 14th District

Sherrine Peyton, 15th District

Nadine Boyle, 16th District

Nancy Mott, 17th District


2019 Peggy A. Montes Unsung Heroines of Cook County

Nazneen Hashmi, At-large

Bobbie Jean Ward, 1st District

Anne Gordon, 2nd District

Erin Toole Williams, 3rd District

Julia A. Hunter, 4th District

Lori J. Wilcox, 5th District

Dannen Rose, 6th District

Ilda Hernandez, 7th District

Ashley Novoa, 8th District

Dorothy Malachowski, 9th District

Joyce Dugan, 10th District

Amy McNicholas, 11th District

Janet Giangrasse, 12th District

Karen Chavers, 13th District

Stephanie Zwilling, 14th District

Joane McLeod, 15th District

Judith De La Mora-Macias, 16th District


2018 Peggy A. Montes Unsung Heroines of Cook County

Esther Wong, At-large

Charmaine V. Rickette, 1st District

Clemente "Tina" Hardaway, 2nd District

Robin Pratts, 3rd District

Nyota T. Figgs, 4th District

Kelley D. Nichols-Brown, 5th District

Karen O'Dea, 6th District

Maria R. Raygoza, 7th District

Kate Maehr, 8th District

Kara Blomquist, 9th District

Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth, 10th District

Modie Lavin, 11th District

Linda P. Mellis, 12th District

Emily Williams Guthrie, 13th District

Peggy Babcock, 14th District

LaTasha Unseld, 15th District

ShaunTe Raines, 16th District


2017 Peggy A. Montes Unsung Heroines of Cook County

Joyce A. Chapman, At-large

Savonya L. Rogers, 1st District

Gretchen Slusser, 2nd District

Vanessa L. McNorton, 3rd District

Angela Hurlock, 4th District

Tina Sanders, 5th District

Stella Hernandez, 6th District

Idalia Flores Guzmán, 7th District

Carmen Medina, 8th District

Mary Ann Miller, 9th District

Patrice Quehl, 10th District

Pamela Munizzi, 11th District

Cari A. Meyers, 12th District

Josefina Alvarez, 13th District

Mary Beth Beiersdorf, 14th District

Laurie Stone, 15th District

Kathy Donahue-Coia, 16th District

Rebecca Lerfelt, 17th District


2016 Peggy A. Montes Unsung Heroines of Cook County

Sabrina Herrell, At-large

Annie Marie Ford, 1st District

Fran Bell, 2nd District

Paula Anglin, 3rd District

Christel D. Ward, 4th District

Lorez Davis, 5th District

Maurice Fitts Page, 6th District

Linda Coronado, 7th District

Beti Guevara, 8th District

Maureen Perez, 9th District

Jackie Taylor, 10th District

Rita Ryan, 11th District

Alexis Mansfield, 12th District

Gloria Iverson, 13th District

Henrietta Saunders, 14th District

Victoria Poklop, 15th District

Elizabeth Cabral-Arreola, 16th District

Maureen Reilly, 17th District


2015 Peggy A. Montes Unsung Heroines of Cook County

Aisha Chaudry, At-large

Cherita Logan, 1st District

Apostle Carolyn Vessel, 2nd District

Cassandra Melton, 3rd District

Rev. Lillie M. Cullar, 4th District

Angelia Smith, 5th District

Jean Bernstein, 6th District

Gina Gamboa Pacheco, 7th District

Laurie Jo Reynolds, 8th District

Kristy Capoccia-Caeti, 9th District

Mary Zeien, 10th District

Kerry Lynch, 11th District

Beth Valukas, 12th District

Lydia Vivas, 13th District

Pat Peterson, 14th District

VersAnnette Blackman, 15th District

Carrie Zalewski, 16th District

Cynthia Frymark, 17th District


2014 Peggy A. Montes Unsung Heroines of Cook County

Annamaria Joyce V. Leon, At-large

Dawn Ferencak, 1st District

Elizabeth Okey, 2nd District

Felicia Stanton, 3rd District

Katherine Wallace, 4th District

Jamell Meeks, 5th District

Beverly Beaty, 6th District

Dolores Castañeda, 7th District

Maria Teresa Roman, 8th District

Teresa Giannini, 9th District

Amanda Malsch, 10th District

Maureen Shields, 11th District

Elizabeth Mills, 12th District

Tricia Edwards, 13th District

Courtney Renwick, 14th District

Michelle Pilafas, 15th District

Tracey Rouso, 16th District

Terri O'Neill Borders, 17th District