Our board represents individuals living with mental illness and their families, who are passionately committed to our mission and uniquely positioned to guide and provide leadership to our organization.

Edmund Eisenberg, CPA

Board President

John F. Kennedy

Vice President

Brian Anderson


Jennifer Koehler


Fred Friedman

Board Member

Sabrina Guthrie

Board Member

Laura Hearn

Board Member

Alexa James

Executive Director

Colleen Kula Hopkins

Board Member

Maya Menon

Board Member

Lt. Jeff Murphy

Board Member

Marcia Schumacher

Board Member

Mike Schumacher

Board Member

Dean Stork

Board Member


Our 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-Tomke 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.

Ashley Warren, MHP - Williams Outreach Project Director

Ashley Warren has managed our outreach efforts under the Moving On Project, which is a part of the Williams Consent Decree, since 2014. 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. Before her current role, 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!

Jim Poole, MSW - Director of Community Engagement

Jim Poole directs NAMI Chicago's Informaton & Referral Helpline, resource and referral network. Before NAMI Chicago, Jim was the Chief of Staff for Alderman Ameya Pawar in Chicago’s 47th Ward, where he oversaw city services and local decision-making for 56,000 residents and 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.

Edlyn Alcedo - Operations Manager

Edlyn Alcedo is our administrative manager and bookkeeper. She also 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. Edlyn 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.

Rachel Bhagwat - Coordinator of Growth & Engagement

Rachel Bhagwat 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.

Tony Smith - Policy Manager

Tony Smith assists in the development and management of NAMI Chicago’s policy agenda, focusing primarily on federal legislation and policy that impacts individuals living with mental health conditions. 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 Pontis provides support and referrals to callers on the NAMI Chicago Information & Referral Helpline, and assists in implementing strategies to update resources and engage effectively with partners. 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.


Ben Frank, MSW - Education Coordinator

Ben Frank oversees all educational programs, including Family-to-Family, Ending the Silence, Forging Links and internships. 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.

Kasey Franco, MA - Training Coordinator

Kasey Franco coordinates mental health training with law enforcement, corporations, faith and community based organizations, and other entities. Kasey joined NAMI in February of 2017. She earned a Master of Arts degree specializing in Forensic Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and Psychology from Northern Arizona University. Kasey has experience working with individuals who have experienced trauma and mental illness in the criminal justice system, residential settings, inpatient psychiatric hospitals, outpatient centers, and community mental health.

Kate Bowker, LSW - Education Manager

Kate Bowker manages the Ending the Silence program and coordinates school outreach and relationships. Kate joined NAMI Chicago as an intern in the Fall of 2016 before transitioning to Education Manager. She has 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.

Sierra Petersen, MSW - Training Manager

Sierra Petersen assist in the development and management of NAMI Chicago’s training institute working with staff, community agencies, and first responders. Sierra earned a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration in 2018 and 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.


Outreach Workers for the Moving On Project work in various nursing homes across Illinois, providing information to residents of SMHRFs (Specialized Mental Health Rehabilitation Facilities) about their rights under the Williams Consent Decree.

DaJuan Warren - Outreach Worker

DaJuan Warren has been an Outreach Worker since March of 2014. DaJuan received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2007. Prior to starting at NAMI, he worked for the Upward Bound College Prep Academy at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Working at NAMI has been an excellent experience and has allowed DaJuan to assist others living with mental health challenges. He is so very grateful to be doing this work.

Juan Pablo Rivera, CRSS - Outreach Worker

Juan Pablo Rivera began his employment with NAMI Chicago in October 2011. Juan Pablo began his career at Pilsen Wellness Center Psychosocial Rehabilitation Services facilitating wellness and recovery groups, and was later promoted to roles in the Ready to Work and Project Assistance Transition from Homelessness (PATH) programs. From 2007-2011, Juan Pablo worked at DHS Division of Mental Health, Cook County Central Region as a Wellness Recovery Action Plan facilitator, Mental Health Educator and Certified Recovery Support Specialist. Juan Pablo enjoys spending time with his daughters Savannah and Scarlett. His favorite pastime is listening to his collection of Salsa music and dancing.

Marlena Johnson - Outreach Worker

Marlena Johnson joined NAMI Chicago as an Outreach Worker in August 2011 during the beginning of the implementation of the Williams Consent Decree. Marlena has earned a Bachelors’ in Psychology and Political Science from DePaul University. Prior to working with NAMI Chicago, Marlena worked with Thresholds in the Stroger Emergency Department relocating psychiatric patients in crisis to inpatient mental health services.

Sherrie Martin - Outreach Worker

Sherrie Martin has been at NAMI Chicago since August 2011. She earned her Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from Chicago State University and is currently working on her Masters’ Degree in Clinical Mental Health. Sherrie has always had a passion for helping people. Her career path was in the nursing field until her son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and she shifted her focus from to mental health. Her goal is to counsel children and adults, providing services pro bono or for those who are low income.


The In Home Recovery Support (IHRS) program supports class members transitioning out of SMHRF’s into independent community living under the Williams Consent Decree.  Recovery Support Providers provide one-on-one peer support services that empower class members and instill a strong sense of hope.

Kadijat Alaka, LCPC, LPHA - Recovery Manager

Kadijat Alaka is responsible for all recovery programming, including WRAP, social support groups and the IHRS program. Kadijat is a licensed clinical professional counselor with a Masters Degree in Community Counseling from Argosy University (Illinois School of Psychology) in 2012. Kadijat has treated a wide variety of mental health disorders, with a focus on trauma and personality disorders, and excels at providing case management, therapy, psychoeducational groups and advocacy. Her lifelong goal is to continue to be an advocate for those individuals living with a mental health condition and help them preserve their dignity and respect.

Charles Mack, CRSS - Recovery Support Provider

Charles Mack became a Recovery Support Provider at NAMI Chicago in 2017. Prior to this role, Charles worked at Trilogy Behavioral Healthcare, Lake County Healthcare Department as an ACT Team Counselor, and HRDI as an Intake Specialist assigned to Jackson Park Hospital. He received a Bachelors’ from NIU in 1978 and is pursuing an Masters in Public Health from Southern State University. Charles is committed to providing the type of quality services that one comes to expect from a counselor in a behavioral health setting. Charles was honored to received The Carol Valendorff Peer Leadership Award in 2018 while working as a Peer Support Provider at NAMI Chicago.

Pooja Nagpal, CRSS - Recovery Support Provider

Pooja Nagpal has been at NAMI Chicago since 2017. In her role she mentors, advocates and encourages individuals living in recovery to be empowered. She has her Bachelor's degree in Business and started out working in marketing. She hadn't planned on pursuing a career in mental health, but realized that her interest in psychology and her passion for service might be a better fit somewhere else. She began volunteering with NAMI DuPage in 2011 and hasn't left the NAMI family since.

Mydalia Cotto, CRSS - Recovery Support Provider

Mydalia Cotto joined NAMI Chicago in October of 2017. Mydalia began working in mental health as a peer supporter at Metropolitan Family Services in 2009, and went on to work as a Community Support Specialist and Recovery Support Assistant for Thresholds drop-in centers from 2010 to 2017. She obtained her CRSS credential in May of 2018. Her goal is to continue to support, advocate, educate, empower and work alongside individuals who are living with mental health challenges. Mydalia loves to spend time with her family and friends, dance and watch a great movie. Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilent.

Eric Cowgill, CRSS - Recovery Support Provider

Eric Cowgill joined NAMI Chicago in July 2017. Eric has spent his career working with people who deal with mental health struggles, criminal justice involvement, hospitalizations, housing transition and past traumas. As a Certified Peer Support Specialist by the state of Illinois, Eric uses his personal history of mental health and addiction recovery to inform and support those he works for.

Betty Frazier - Support Specialist

Betty Frazier 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.


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. To apply for an internship, contact Ben Frank, Education Coordinator.



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.