LOGAN SQUARE — Logan Square Neighborhood Association has hired its first new executive director in more than 30 years.
Juliet De Jesus Alejandre will take the helm of the influential neighborhood organization starting May 1, leaders announced this week. De Jesus Alejandre is taking over for Nancy Aardema, who has held the position for the last 32 years.
“As a woman who grew up on the Northwest Side, basically up and down Grand Avenue, from West Humboldt Park to Belmont-Cragin to in between — to be a part of creating change and solutions [in these neighborhoods] is poetic. It’s a gift to be able to use my life in this way, to honor my family,” De Jesus Alejandre said.
De Jesus Alejandre has been working for the organization since 2006, mostly as a youth organizer. She’s “done deep work around healing justice and racial and gender equity with youth and parent leaders and has formally studied those issues that most deeply impact our communities,” according to Aardema.
Aardema is retiring at the end of the fiscal year. She said De Jesus Alejandre is a natural replacement.
“We know and respect each other and we’re not the same person, but we hold the same values,” Aardema said of De Jesus Alejandre.
“We thought about how we want to carry on the work in the best way. .. It seemed like the right time to grow the work, open new doors, but not lose everything we’ve done. That’s what Juliet brings, as well as incredible talent and a sense of personhood that is truly beautiful.”
Founded in 1962, Logan Square Neighborhood Association bills itself as a “community-based organization advancing diversity, leader development, and models for engagement as the catalyst for social justice.”
The organization work with a large network of local schools, churches and social service agencies on programming and outreach. It also plays a large role in neighborhood politics and has a say in what developments get approved.
As the leader of the organization for the last 30 years, Aardema said she’s watched Logan Square and the surrounding neighborhoods change drastically.
She said when she first landed at the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, gentrification was only in the “really early beginnings,” but now it’s a central concern.
“Our schools have suffered, people suffer when new owners come in with no sense of who [existing residents] are. There’s such a huge breakdown of humanness,” Aardema said. “It’s a very difficult situation to be organizing in.”
Aardema said she’s confident De Jesus Alejandre will continue the organization’s work of fighting for social justice for neighborhood residents.
De Jesus Alejandre said she hopes to build upon the organization’s already solid foundation.
“I’m a proud and grateful member of this organization that really does see leaders in everybody. It’s the moms in our schools. It’s the young people on our streets,” she said.
“Carrying on that work, for me, I want to be really clear about our racial justice analysis and gender equity analysis, to be clear about who we are, how we function.”
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