Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month is an annual celebration of the generations of individuals who have positively shaped the fabric of America through their many contributions. At Heartland Alliance, we celebrated by asking staff and volunteers what Hispanic Heritage Month means to them and how this understanding influences their work to support our participants. Hear from a few our team members what themes most resonate with them. 

Barbara Martinez

Manager, Asset Building, Heartland Human Care Services
Opening Doors, Creating Opportunity, Economic Justice

Noemi Salgado

Volunteer, Vital Bridges West Side Pantry, Heartland Alliance Health
Serving the Community, Culture & Language, Values & Traditions

JuanCamilo Parrado

Senior Attorney, Immigrant Legal Defense Project, National Immigrant Justice Center, Heartland Alliance
Honoring the Journey, Valuing Diversity, Immigrant Rights

Daniella Silva

Communications Officer, Heartland Alliance International
Immigrant Communities, Singing & Celebrating, Empathy & Investment

Guadalupe Barrios

Clinical Case Manager, Violence Recovery Services, Heartland Human Care Services
Connections & Partnerships, Pride & Resilience, Community & Hope

Honoring our Humanitarians

From people with disabilities to the elderly; from migrants to journalists; all people caught in conflict, facing hunger, or being discriminated against deserve access to equity and opportunity. This World Humanitarian Day, we recognize our friends who stand with the most vulnerable around the globe by sharing their thoughts and concerns about the daily fight against injustice.

Dr. Zaher Sahloul


Poverty Awareness Month

January is Poverty Awareness Month, a month-long initiative to raise awareness and call attention to the growth of poverty in America. For 130 years we’ve been fighting to end poverty by creating equity and opportunity. This entire month, we’ve been talking about how and why poverty continues to impact so many of us around the globe.

From housing and healthcare, to education and opportunity – Heartland Alliance’s pillars of focus are how we help individuals achieve success – they’re also constantly under attack by inequity.


Housing is fundamental to exiting poverty. Without the safety, stability, and comfort of a home, achieving other markers of success – through education, employment, and wealth building – is much more difficult. In 2015, 38 percent of all “renter households” were rent burdened – and 17 percent of renter households that are severely rent burdened—spending 50 percent or more of monthly income on rent.

There are housing components in each of our five companies, providing either emergency, transitional, or permanent supportive housing to individuals as a foundational part of their success. For Heartland Housing residents Geraldine and her daughter Pryesha, the safety and stability of their Milwaukee apartment have led to very real successes – hear their story.


Poverty is increasingly linked to disparities in life expectancy. Low-income Americans have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other chronic conditions, compared to higher-income Americans. Further, poor health also contributes to reduced income, creating a cycle often referred to as the health-poverty trap.

Heartland Alliance Health has been providing healthcare access to some of Chicago’s hardest to reach populations for over three decades. Most recently, our new south side health center has helped us serve hundreds more in the Englewood neighborhood. See how this has impacted families.


Nearly 70 percent of adults having less than $1,000 in their savings accounts, and almost a third of all Americans without any savings at all. Ending poverty will require that individuals have the capacity to build real wealth, and not just live paycheck to paycheck.

Our Asset Building program connects individuals to resources and education that many today never receive – learning how to build and maintain savings and wealth. See how some of our most recent Asset Building graduates feel about their financial futures in this piece.


Poverty can impact the ability to obtain employment – but it can also force people to stay in jobs where they are unsafe, mistreated or take advantage of.

When individuals don’t have access to employment that is fair and based in human rights, they can fall further into poverty. Income from work improves access to the necessities of life – and we must work to create a society where no one has to choose between their dignity or their paycheck. See Isabel’s story to learn more about how fair treatment in the workplace is a crucial part of ending and keeping people out poverty.


Violence and poverty often flourish under the same circumstances, including lack of access to jobs, inadequate investment in public services, poor health conditions, lack of educational opportunities, and more.

Poor households nationwide experience violence at the highest rates, regardless of whether they’re in urban, suburban, or rural areas. Addressing poverty is a key part of ending violence. By bettering underlying quality of life conditions— we can ensure that every person has an adequate standard of living, free from poverty and violence.

Read Tevin’s story to see the impact of second chances. His experience shows that when we give people real opportunity when they return from incarceration, they can not only rebuild their own lives but bring hope to communities.


There are 4.1 million adults in Illinois alone who have a criminal record. In the US there are an estimated 50,000 collateral consequences for those who have been justice involved – meaning they have been restricted from housing, employment, education and other opportunities that help lift individuals out of poverty.

About 30,000 people leave Illinois prisons every year, and nearly half of them return within three years. Making it easier for ex-offenders to work by removing these collateral consequences, would reduce recidivism and increase equity and opportunity. We ALL deserve the opportunity to provide for ourselves and obtain opportunity. For years, as a member of the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI), Heartland Alliance’s Policy team has been working closely with anti poverty agencies across the state to increase opportunity for ex-offenders by allowing them better access to education and jobs.

Our policy team’s Quentin Williams has been leading the charge to help those living post-incarceration find real justice – through hope and opportunity. See his ideas in this Spotlight on Poverty piece.

Supporting Hunger Action Month

Heartland Alliance’s vision is to achieve equity and opportunity for all. We believe that by ensuring everyone in society has access to safety, health, housing, education, economic opportunity and justice, individuals are better equipped to exit poverty and achieve stability. As part of health and well-being, there is a critical need for proper food and nutrition.  

According to Feeding America, over 40 million people are struggling with hunger. This number includes 12 million children. Often these families have to make a choice between keeping the lights on or feeding their family, or paying a medical bill or buying food.

Throughout the year and especially during September – Hunger Action Month – Heartland Alliance provides supports for those who are hungry.  Laura Ritland Samnadda, Heartland Alliance Health’s Food and Nutrition Manager, has dedicated her career to helping others escape the daily crisis of food insecurity.

“People with food insecurity tend to struggle with housing, transportation, medical bills, employment, and overall poverty. But they might also be your neighbor who just lost a job and is just trying to get by paying the rent and utilities – it could literally be anyone at this point.”

Over the past three decades, one of Heartland Alliance’s primary goals has been to end hunger for as many individuals as possible – helping people achieve not only their health and nutrition goals, but achieving overall life goals as well.

To increase healthy food and nutrition options for participants, we employ a team of traveling dietitians that provide community-wide cooking classes, as well as partner with agencies like the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Heartland Human Care Service’s FarmWorks urban farm.  Additionally, we have an advocacy team who promotes stronger food assistance programs, and a city-wide system of food pantries, known as Vital Bridges, dedicated to serving some of the most at-risk populations.

Vital Bridges is a participant choice site – meaning that the pantries don’t want to have people walk away with food they aren’t going to use. We are especially focused on creating a welcoming atmosphere for those who need our services, so that visitors are encouraged by the options provided.

Heartland Alliance Health Community Dietician Elizabeth Murphy believes strongly in that approach.

“Everybody deserves access to food – not just any food, but good, healthy food that nourishes you. A lack of access to food is connected with environment and social factors that can keep people unhealthy or unsafe.”

According to the National Education Association, hungry children have lower math scores, and are more likely to repeat a grade, come to school late, or miss it entirely. These adverse experiences can compound and if hunger continues to ensue,  the likelihood of escaping poverty decreases. According Bertha Segura De Gonzalez, coordinator for the Vital Bridges food pantries, the question of who eats in a household is a question asked far too often.

“Often times, we are the only source of food for the people we serve. A participant will feed their children before eating, sometimes there are no leftovers for the participant to eat.”

Shopping in our pantries is only the first step to healthier outcomes.  Our staff are quick to work together to provide more access to supports for the participant. Oftentimes, we are able to connect them with other Heartland Alliance programming – using our housing, healthcare, or employment services to help them find safety and stability.

At Heartland Alliance, we prefer to focus on the “action” part of Hunger Action Month and according to Samnadda, there are many ways for all of us to take a stand for those who are food insecure.

“Advocate, donate, and volunteer.  The final version of the Farm Bill that houses SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and other feeding programs is being voted on soon.  Please call or write your representatives and ask them to protect SNAP. “

Supporters also can join us as we near our annual Harvest for Hope food drive. This year, our food and nutrition team is especially in need of financial support.  As we strive to continue providing choice and flexibility for our participants, funds raised allow the staff to buy food and personal care items for specific individuals and families as needed.  Please click here or contact Celeste Johnson for more information – (312) 660-1390, cejohnson@heartlandalliance.org.

Meet Heartland Alliance’s Food and Nutrition Manager Laura Ritland Samnadda

Laura Ritland Samnadda is Heartland Alliance’s Food and Nutrition Manager.  She has seen firsthand just how powerfully the fear of hunger can affect a person’s well-being.  Her efforts to provide access to healthy food and nutritional counseling have benefited countless participants. A dietitian and humanitarian at heart, she finds hope in the very people she serves.

What got you into this work?

As a dietitian, I worry about the food people have access to and the choices they have to make living in a food desert.  Getting a chance to serve individuals who need services like the ones I provide has always been the goal.

Why is this work important to the community? To the people we serve?

According to 2016 Map the Meal Gap data, there are over 1.4 million Illinoisans experiencing hunger every day.  That’s 1 in 9 people.  But when you look at Cook County specifically, those numbers turn into 1 in 7 people.  What we know is that food insecurity and poverty go hand-in -hand and affects people in every neighborhood.

Was there a moment where you KNEW you were in a job that was right for you? Could you talk about that?

I remember one participant who came to Vital Bridges and told me that he didn’t know when he was going to eat again.  He was older and frail, and he showed me how his belt was tightened to the last notch of his belt to hold up his pants.  He didn’t qualify for SNAP.  Seeing him struggle with hunger was incredibly difficult, yet I felt proud that we were there for him when he needed food.  This same participant still comes to our food pantry and he’s happy, vibrant, and at a healthy weight.  He sees the dietitians monthly for a check-in and vitamins.


What is your favorite part of your job?

I’m so grateful to be a part of the food and nutrition team at Heartland Alliance Health – who provides food and nutrition services to people experiencing homelessness, mental illness and other chronic diseases.  We have three food pantries a part of the Vital Bridges food program that serves people who are living with HIV and AIDS. These pantries are located in Englewood, West Garfield Park, and Edgewater. These three communities have food insecurity rates of 20-57.8% of residents. Knowing that we are making a difference for those who need it most is all I need!

How can others help your work?

Advocate, donate, and volunteer.  The final version of the Farm Bill that  houses SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and other feeding programs is being voted on soon.  Please call or write your representatives and ask them to protect SNAP.

Donating items to our food programs is always helpful, and you also can volunteer at our food pantries.

Englewood Neighborhood Welcomes New Health Center

On July 20th, Heartland Alliance Health celebrated the grand opening of its Englewood Health Center located at 5501 S. Halsted St. The fully-operational health center opened to the public in the spring, and is Heartland Alliance Health’s third center in Chicago. The 7,900 square foot facility offers a full spectrum of services including: primary care, behavioral health/psychiatry, substance use treatment, insurance assistance, a pharmacy, lab, specialized staff to assistance participants with applying for housing through Chicago’s coordinated entry system as well as other supportive services. Showers and laundry machines are onsite and available for participant use.

Located in a part of Chicago that has experienced the closing of other healthcare agencies – and in the heart of a pharmacy desert – Heartland Alliance Health’s new facility increases access to care and provides quality and affordable services to everyone including individuals, families, those who are unstably housed, veterans, and those living with chronic medical conditions such as HIV & AIDS.

“We believe healthcare is a human right and that everyone deserves access to comprehensive services, including primary care and behavioral health – it is critical to helping people thrive and prosper,” said Ed Stellon, Heartland Alliance Health, executive director. “We are thrilled to share that we’ve cared for nearly 500 participants since the health center opened, and we look forward to becoming an even stronger resource as we work together to create a healthy community.”

The realization of the HAH Englewood community health center was made possible through the support of many strong corporate, philanthropic and community partners. Access to funding made available by Northern Trust and IFF was integral to the project’s success.

For over 30 years, Heartland Alliance Health has been providing strengths-based, trauma-informed healthcare for all, regardless of citizenship or health insurance status. Last year, the organization served more than 9,000 participants and community members at existing locations in Uptown and West Loop. The new community health center expands the grocery and nutrition services that HAH’s Vital Bridges Food Pantry has been providing for decades in the Englewood community at 151 W. 75th St.

For Healthy Communities, Outreach is Key

Heartland Alliance Health (HAH) is dedicated to serving those most often overlooked in the healthcare system. Not only do we care for these people – low-income individuals and families, individuals experiencing homelessness, or facing substance use disorders – we seek them out to offer our support. This approach is woven throughout our philosophy of care.

We began providing health, dental, and nutritional services at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Since then, we have provided thousands of connections to healthcare partners and providers. Sarah Dickson (pictured at right), who is the organization’s traveling nurse practitioner, understands the impact of the connections made.

“Outreach is probably the most important part of our job. It’s where participant engagement begins, in the space that is comfortable to the person we are trying to serve. It’s where people begin to trust, and where they begin to heal.”

With two long-running facilities on Chicago’s North and West sides, HAH has been able to provide a safe and welcoming space for individuals seeking a healthcare professional who practices without judgment or bias. The organization is expanding access for participants by opening a new healthcare center on the South Side on March 20. And throughout the center’s development, Sarah has been dedicated to providing services for individuals in communities like Englewood, Garfield Park, and Bronzeville. Stopping by shelters like Matthew House and Teen Living Programs, Sarah is able to bring healthcare to the people – giving those without a stable home or healthcare practitioner some relief and a chance to heal.

“There is a fair number of cold and allergy complaints however, there are some very diverse and complex medical problems. Many individuals are managing an insulin regimen for their diabetes. I see a lot of arthritis and pain complaints, especially with people who have to travel from site to site every day.”

The outreach Sarah provides can be a life-changing experience. The initial connection oftentimes develops into a long-running relationship between the participant and HAH that enables the organization to also provide housing, employment, and supportive services. However, it easier to maintain consistent care when there’s a permanent location for services.

“It can be tough to coordinate with the outreach facility and the participant. It’s hard to schedule things properly when someone doesn’t have the stability of a home – or the stability of a brick and mortar healthcare center. It’s a challenge to create a consistent presence so that participants can plan on being seen for follow up.”

But that is all about to change. This month, Heartland Alliance Health is proud to be opening its Englewood Healthcare Center, where we will house a full staff of medical practitioners – from doctors and nurses, to clinical counselors and pharmacists. Finally, Sarah will have a nearby location to send individuals after their initial connections.

“This center is a needed resource in the community. With several facilities and pharmacies shutting down in the neighborhood, we’ll be able to provide a huge benefit to the south side.”

Learn more about Heartland Alliance Health.