NAMI Chicago is supported by a board representing individuals living with mental illness and their families, who are uniquely positioned to guide our organization and provide leadership to grow. Board members are passionately committed to our mission, bringing their own experiences and expertise to everything we do and are strongly engaged in all aspects of our work, from programming to development.

Edmund Eisenberg, CPA – President John Kennedy – Vice President Brian Anderson – Treasurer Jennifer Koehler – Secretary
Fred Friedman Sabrina Guthrie Laura Hearn Alexa James
Colleen Kula Hopkins Maya Menon Lt. Jeff Murphy Marcia Schumacher
Mike Schumacher Dean Stork


NAMI Chicago's staff have diverse expertise in social work, policy, outreach, and educational programming. The NAMI Chicago team is driven by our mission to support individuals living with mental illness and their families.

Alexa James, MS, LCSW – Executive Director

Alexa James, a licensed clinical social worker, has devoted her professional life to serving people living with mental illnesses. In 2013, Alexa assumed the leadership of NAMI Chicago as Executive Director. In the 10 years preceding her appointment as Executive Director, Alexa worked with children and adults living with mental illness as well as those impacted by poverty and trauma. She earned her Master’s Degrees in Social Work from Loyola University and in Child Development from Erickson Institute. Alexa’s passion is to see that our community is equipped to support those in need of mental health support and to end the crippling stigma that attaches to those living with mental illness.

Jennifer McGowan-Tomke, MPH – Associate Director

Jen McGowan brings experience in health policy and public health to her role as NAMI Chicago’s Associate Director. Before joining NAMI Chicago, Jen worked at the University of Illinois at Chicago, School of Public Health Illinois’ State Health Assessment and Improvement Plan with the state health department. Jen was a policy analyst in the Illinois Governor’s Office, working on health care policy and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act from 2012 to 2015. She has experience in policy analysis and implementation as well as training development. She earned her Master’s Degree in Health Policy Administration from UIC. Jen looks forward to working on addressing the needs and gaps of the current mental health system to improve access and quality of care for those living with mental illness.

Jim Poole - Director of Community Engagement

Jim brings a broad range of experience in community engagement and social services to his role at NAMI Chicago. Before joining the team at NAMI Chicago, Jim was the Chief of Staff for Alderman Ameya Pawar in Chicago’s 47th Ward. In that role, he oversaw the operations of the ward office that coordinated city services and local decision-making for the the ward’s 56,000 residents. He also worked closely with the alderman on local and city-wide legislative initiatives. Before moving to Chicago to attend graduate school in 2009, Jim worked as a resident counselor in both Louisville, KY and Columbia, MD where he supported youth and adults living with mental illness. Jim holds a Master’s Degree in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Kentucky.

Ashley Warren – Williams Outreach Project Director (Moving On Program)

Ashley manages our outreach efforts under the Moving On Project, which is a part of the Williams Consent Decree. Ashley didn’t plan for a career in mental health but when her sister got sick she was led into the field. Her mission is to help families get the services and supports that she and her family did not get. In 2014 Ashley took over responsibilities as the Williams Outreach Project Director under the Williams Consent Decree. Before her current role at NAMI Chicago Ashley worked as an Employment Specialist, helping persons living with mental illness find competitive employment in the community. Ashley has made it her lifelong mission to educate people on the importance of receiving treatment. Treatment works but only if you get it!

Kasey Franco, MA – Training & Outreach Coordinator

Kasey Franco joined NAMI as the Training and Outreach Coordinator in February of 2017. She earned a Master of Arts degree specializing in Forensic Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Prior to that she graduated from Northern Arizona University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice and Psychology. Kasey has experience in the criminal justice system, residential settings, inpatient psychiatric hospitals, outpatient centers, and community mental health. She has extensive experience working with individuals who have experienced trauma and mental illness.

Ben Frank, MSW - Education Coordinator

Ben Frank joined NAMI Chicago as the Education Coordinator in August of 2018. Ben has spent his career working with young people who deal with mental health struggles, criminal justice involvement, and past traumas.  He graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in English and also holds a Master’s Degree in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago.  Ben came to NAMI Chicago after 12 years managing residential and outpatient programming at Riveredge Hospital.

Rachel Bhagwat - Coordinator of Growth & Engagement

Rachel coordinates NAMI Chicago's communications, volunteer program, development and events. Rachel is passionate about improving quality of life for people with mental health barriers, and brings in nine years of experience working in youth development and homelessness. Rachel holds a Bachelor of Science in Human Development & Psychological Services from Northwestern University and is pursuing a Master of Arts in Public Policy at the University of Chicago. 

Kadijat AlakaLCPC, LPHA – Recovery Manager

Kadijat is a licensed clinical professional counselor who brings 5+ years of clinical experience to her role as Recovery Manager for NAMI Chicago.  Kadijat earned a Masters Degree in Community Counseling from Argosy University (Illinois School of Psychology) in 2012. Prior to joining NAMI, she started her career in Community Mental Health as an advocate for individuals living in IMD’s or independently, who identified with having a mental health condition.  Kadijat has treated a wide variety of mental health disorders with a focus on the treatment of trauma and personality disorders. She provided case management support, individual & family therapy, facilitated psychoeducational groups and strongly advocated for class members to be housed or maintain their housing when faced with adversity.  Her lifelong goal is to continue to be an advocate for those individuals living with a mental health condition by doing the work necessary to help them preserve their dignity and respect.

Edlyn Alcedo, BA – Operations Manager

Edlyn Alcedo has been with NAMI Chicago since 2011. She received a Bachelors in Psychology from Northeastern Illinois University and completed some post graduate work at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. Edlyn co-facilitates our Spanish language support group for family members and persons living with mental illness, co-teaches de Familia a Familia, coordinates our Compartiendo Esperanza presentations, and provides presentations & outreach to Latino communities.

Kate Bowker, LSW - Education Manager

Kate joined NAMI Chicago as an intern in the Fall of 2016. As Education Manager, she brings a ​passion and commitment to raising awareness about mental health, and advocating for Chicago's youth. She graduated from UIC's Jane Addams College of Social Work with a Master of Social Work degree.

Tony Smith - Policy Manager

Tony joined NAMI Chicago in 2018. Prior to joining NAMI Chicago, he worked as an AmeriCorps VISTA at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law supporting advocacy work on juvenile justice reform and other issues. Tony earned a Bachelor of Arts in Government and German from Lawrence University.

Jessica Pontis, MSW - Helpline Manager

Jessica joined the NAMI team full-time in July of 2018.  Having recently graduated Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work with a mental health specialization, Jessica is excited to help individuals navigate the mental health system as the Helpline Manager. 

Sierra Petersen, MSW - Training Manager

Sierra joined the NAMI Chicago team as the Training Manager. Sierra earned a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration in 2018. Prior to studying at SSA, she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work from Michigan State University. Sierra is passionate about reducing the stigma around mental illness and looks forward to working toward a system that is better equipped to compassionately assist individuals experiencing mental health conditions.

Betty Frazier, MHP – Support Specialist

Betty has been with NAMI Chicago since 2001. She runs the recovery-focused Social Support Group, coordinates Social Support Club events, and teaches our WRAP class.

Marlena Johnson, Sherrie Martin, Juan Pablo Rivera, and DaJuan Warren are all Outreach Workers for the Moving On Project. They work in various nursing homes across Illinois, providing information to the residents about their rights under the Williams Consent Decree.

Pooja Nagpal, Charles Mack, Eric Cowgill & Mydalia Cotto are all In Home Recovery Support (IHRS) specialists who provide one-on-one peer support services to class members transitioning out of SMHRF’s into independent  community living under the Williams Consent Decree.  Through the peer support services provided by the IHRS team, class members have a sense of universality which is empowering and instills a strong sense of hope.


We host interns from a variety of graduate programs in the Chicago area, including the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Jane Addams College of Social Work, Loyola University’s School of Social Work, the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, St. Augustine College, Elmhurst College, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, The Adler School of Professional Psychology, and others.

NAMI Chicago Fraud Reporting

This fraud reporting form applies to any irregularity, or suspected irregularity, involving employees as well as shareholders, consultants, vendors, contractors, outside agencies doing business with employees of NAMI Chicago and/or any other parties with a business relationship with NAMI Chicago.