Board of Directors

President, Rev. John Thomas

is an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ. From 1999 to 2009 he served as General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.  He has also been a pastor of congregations in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, served as the denomination’s national ecumenical officer, and was a member of the faculty of Chicago Theological Seminary. Rev. Thomas is retired and lives with his wife, Lydia Veliko, in Hyde Park.  He is a member of Epiphany United Church of Christ in Chicago.

Secretary, Arnoldo Fabela

is the Director of Field Organizing at the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), a state-wide union with 103,000 members. He was instrumental in Arise incubating the union at Old Town School of Folk Music, consisting of 250 teaching artists who are now members of IFT Local 909 members.  He has been an organizer in labor, racial, and social justice movements for two decades, working previously with SEIU’s Justice for Janitors and UFCW’s WalMart campaigns.  Arnoldo is a proud family member with his wife Maria, and children Sofia, Xavier, and Sebastian.

Guillermo “Gil” Barragan 

has been a member of the Carpenters Union for 25 years.  He worked in the field for 10 years as a welder-framer and commercial & residential carpenter.  During his first ten years of membership whenever work slowed down and he was laid-off from regular employment, he volunteered organizing workers who were victims of workplace violations. His passion for organizing comes from witnessing his parents' experiencing workplace violations. His mother spent most of her career as a union seamstress. His father worked in the steel mills where he was a union steward for 15 years. His parents immigrated from Mexico when they were teenagers, settling in Pilsen where he was born and then settling in Little Village. After graduating from John F. Kennedy High School on the southwest side of Chicago, Gil attended National Louis University before he began working as a carpenter. Since beginning the trade he has taken certification classes at the Carpenters Union Training Center, Triton College, and Carpenters Department of Education and Training International. Currently, he serves as a Business Representative for the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council in his 15th year of service where he specializes in investigating fraud that occurs on construction job sites resulting in organizing campaigns for improved worker conditions.   

Rev. Jason W. Coulter 

is the Senior Minister of First Congregational Church of Evanston (UCC). Prior to serving FCCE, Rev. Coulter was the pastor Ravenswood United Church of Christ in Chicago for sixteen years.  Rev. Coulter is a native of West Bend, Wisconsin and a life-long member of the United Church of Christ. He is a graduate of Macalester College, received a Master’s Degree from Cornell University, and completed his Master of Divinity at Chicago Theological Seminary. Before entering the ministry, Rev. Coulter worked for thirteen years as a union organizer where he helped thousands of workers organize unions, including textile workers in North Carolina, warehouse workers in Indianapolis, and industrial laundry workers in Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland. Rev. Coulter is the chair of the Chicago Metropolitan Association (UCC) Congregational Life Ministry Team. He was selected as one of twelve fellows in the Lilly Foundation program Chicago Commons directed by the University of Chicago Divinity School.  He is an accomplished activist, compelling writer and powerful speaker.

Imam Tariq I. El-Amin

is the Senior Imam of the Board of Masjid Al-Taqwa, a member of Iron Workers Local 1, and is completing a Masters Of Divinity, with a focus on Islamic Chaplaincy from Bayan Islamic Graduate School/Chicago Theological Seminary in May of 2022. El-Amin cofounded Bridging The Gap Inc. and serves as a board member of The Abolotion Institute, an international anti-slavery nonprofit. He has served as on-air host/producer of Radio Islam, Director of Civic Engagement & Interfaith Services at the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago and a past appointee to the Illinois Muslim Advisory Council.

Isabel Escobar

was born in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, and arrived to the U.S. in 1989. She came to Arise in 2011 for wage theft while working as a domestic worker. She was part of the Arise fight for the Bill of Rights for Domestic Workers in Illinois, for that, she was recognized in 2016 by the President Barack Obama’s administration and was invited to the White House. Isabel is a returning Arise board member.

Rev. Dominic Grassi 

was born in Chicago and ordained a Catholic Priest in 1973. Before retiring he served as pastor at St. Josaphat Parish in Lincoln Park and St. Gertrude Parish in Edgewater.  He is a past chair of the Association of Chicago Priests, administrator of Quigley Seminary South, served as co-chair of O.N.E, was named the National Catholic Education Association "Pastor of the Year" and as one of "Fifty People Who Make Chicago a Better Place." by the Chicago Sun- Times. He is an author of seven books including a cookbook and a murder mystery set in Chicago.

Angelina Landaverde

was born in Cuscatlán, El Salvador and arrived to the U.S. 24 years ago. When her company suddenly shut down in violation of the WARN Act in 2014, Angelina joined Arise. Angelina has been part of Arise leadership development courses and participated in events and actions, as she encourages other members to speak up and take action. Her 3 children are 7, 9, and 17 years old.

Hector Lopez 

was born in Mexico City and immigrated to the United States 26 years ago. He took English classes here and was able to get his GED. He has worked for several companies, including meat packing, on production lines and as a welder. Currently, he works loading and unloading trucks, although he been at his current job for 19 years and also perform several other tasks. He was the lead worker on a campaign with Arise to organize his workplace. Seven weeks after bringing co-workers to an Arise workshop, they had an election for the production workers and won union representation. A week later the drivers at the same company won their union. The process prompted his interest to get more involved with Arise and his union to help workers to have more dignified treatment, better wages, and improved lives.

María Medina

was born in Guanajuato, México, arriving in the U.S. 10 years ago. Maria sought Arise due to workplace sexual harassment. As a domestic worker, Maria completed her Arise training as a Domestic Worker Contract Specialist and has participated in several leadership courses at Arise. Maria has two daughters, ages 6 and 9. 

Alfredo Sanchez

first came to Arise Chicago in 2014 facing a workplace problem. After learning his rights and resolving his own workplace campaign, Alfredo was eager to teach and support other workers. He regularly refers new workers to Arise to become members and make changes at their workplaces. Alfredo is also a community leader, having served on his children's CPS Local School Council.

Rabbi Rena Singer 

joined Temple Sholom in Chicago as an Assistant Rabbi in July 2020, shortly after being ordained by Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). Prior to HUC-JIR, Rabbi Singer earned a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Cum Laude, from Brandeis University.  She also spent two years at New York City’s  Hadar Institute, an experientially immersive and innovative yeshiva. Rabbi Singer is the co-creator of Modern Ritual, a Jewish Instagram account with relevant, timely posts about Shabbat, holidays and Jewish  concepts. Through her work on Modern Ritual, Rabbi Singer has learned how to use social media as an educational tool and today the account boosts over 14,000 followers, with the goalto "empower and inspire people to live Jewishly at home."

Don Villar

was born into the labor movement and spirit of social justice after his parents and three siblings immigrated to the U.S.  In 1991, Don became a member of NABET-CWA Local 41 – a union representing broadcast news and TV production workers in Chicago. During his nearly 25-year broadcast journalism career at WLS-TV (ABC) Chicago, Don won an Emmy Award for breaking news coverage. He later earned his Juris Doctorate at Loyola Law School. In 2010, Don was elected Vice President of NABET-CWA Local 41 and then President in 2015. In this role, he focused on organizing, movement building and collective bargaining. Don is now the Secretary-Treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor and is also on the Campaign Cabinet of United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. 

Christel Williams-Hayes

has been a Chicago Teachers Union member for 28 years, a School Clerk for 17 years, and CTU organizer. She now holds the elected officer position of Chicago Teachers Union as Secretary and is on the Executive Board of IL Federation of Teachers as a Vice President. She represents Paraprofessionals on the American Federation of Teachers PSRP Program and Policy Council.  She is a Licensed Minister and a member of Bright Star COGIC on the south side, where she sings in the choir. Christel is the mother of three beautiful girls and a grandmother.

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