Highlights from Two Inspiring Events

On May 8, Heartland Alliance was joined by leaders from across the city at the Chicago Cultural Center for Standing Together: A Conversation About Equity.  The event lifted up the findings from our 2019 Poverty Report, The Gender Disadvantage: Why Inequity Persists.

Against the backdrop of great progress, women and gender minorities still experience profound and persistent disparities in poverty and well-being. We gathered leaders for a discussion of the findings, as well as what can be done to bring equity to women, LGBTQ and gender non-conforming individuals.  We believe that by sharing information, working together, and using our collective voices to bring these issues to the forefront, we are tackling root causes to bring about equity and opportunity for all.

Heartland Alliance President, Evelyn Diaz, introduced the panel of women leaders that included Gloria Castillo, President and CEO of Chicago United, Brianna Lawrence, Community Leader and Community Relations Coordinator for The University of Chicago Medicine, Urban Health Initiative, Sharmili Majmudar, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Women Employed, Suzanne Sahloul, Founder and Executive Director of the Syrian Community Network, and Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia, psychologist and Chicago Beyond’s first-ever Leader in Residence.

From the consequences of incarceration on families, to strengthening protections needed for women in the workplace, the panel spoke on issues that impact women nationwide. And while the findings shared were stark, attendees were encouraged to make a difference in their own ways to foster equity throughout communities.

“Each and every one of us has a sphere of influence—and it is critical that we tap into those spheres to make a difference for the women who are virtually invisible to the rest of society,” said Sharmili Majmudar.

Heartland Alliance is grateful for the panelists, guests and participants who joined us, and we look forward to continuing this vital conversation.

To read the full Poverty Report visit, heartlandalliance.org/povertyreport

On May 14, Heartland Alliance International brought together leading advocates of human rights and victims of torture for the Power of Healing benefit to celebrate the transformative and pioneering work of the Marjorie Kovler Center. For more than 30 years, the Marjorie Kovler Center, one of the first torture treatment centers in the U.S., has provided integrated, high-quality mental health, medical, and social services to survivors of torture and their families.

The event honored the ongoing contributions of humanitarian and founder of the Kovler Center, Peter Kovler, and was capped with speeches from Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and a keynote from Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“It is an honor to participate in Heartland Alliance International’s event in celebration of its Marjorie Kovler Center. Through the organization’s focus on healing, it is transforming lives and providing many with the ability to begin anew,” said Hillary Rodham Clinton.


For more than three decades, Hillary Rodham Clinton has fearlessly devoted her life to building a world that protects women and girls, refugees, religious minorities, and LGBT+ individuals, and is free of torture.

Secretary Clinton spoke of the many services the Kovler Center provides to survivors of torture, including its role as a “beacon of hope for the seven million victims of torture worldwide.” Expanding on that idea, she added, “If the goal of torture is to disempower people and communities, the goal of the Kovler Center is the exact opposite: to empower survivors to become agents of change. To help restore hope, rebuild trust, and re-establish a sense of community.” 

The benefit also featured stories that showcased survivors of torture on their own journeys of healing and resilience. From the Middle East and Africa, to Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, the Kovler Center’s services know no borders – but through that diversity, we find the common underpinning of the power of healing, and a common understanding of justice that reflects our commitment to human rights and improving the lives of survivors of torture in Chicago and around the world.

“Heartland Alliance International works to illuminate the power of healing by providing critical mental and physical health services to survivors of conflict or torture,” said Surita Sandosham, Executive Director. “We aim to transform lives and impact futures, and I’m thrilled to host the Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton as we celebrate our acclaimed Marjorie Kovler Center and the resiliency of those we serve.”

Gathering Everyone Around the Table

Thanksgiving is a special time at Heartland Alliance. It provides staff members and participants the opportunity to connect with one another, and to reflect on our progress and successes. From refugees and immigrants celebrating the holiday for the first time, to survivors of trafficking and violence who have found peace in the past year, Heartland Alliance programs of all backgrounds had a chance to celebrate.

Freedom From Trafficking: Day of Thanks Celebration

Gathering participants, staff, interns, and volunteers to celebrate at Catalyst Ranch, our Freedom from Trafficking (FFT) program spent the holiday focusing on community and the things that bind us together. Attendees shared the things they’re grateful for on the “Tree of Thanks”—their lives, their families, the people who make them smile, their health, and “all the incredible people who make every day a step forward.”

Each year, the FFT team recognizes a local partner with the “Bridge to Freedom Award” during the celebration. This year, HHCS Executive Director David Sinski and FFT Associate Director Darci Flynn presented Kourtney and Lauren Seamen of Reach 77—a faith-based network of volunteers throughout Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods—in recognition of their many years of contributions to the FFT and Heartland community. Among other supports, Kourtney and Lauren opened up a food pantry out of their storage room, donated money to help furnish survivors’ homes, adopted several families over the holidays to ensure they had gifts to open with their children, and provided housing for survivors facing homelessness.

Thanks to the Seamens and Reach 77 – we are truly grateful for you!

READI Chicago Celebration

READI Chicago outreach partner, UCAN, hosted a Thanksgiving celebration for the READI Chicago North Lawndale location. READI Chicago staff from UCAN, Lawndale Christian Legal Center, and the North Lawndale Employment Network joined participants for food, music, and thanks. During the celebration, participants received awards for timeliness and participation in cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as recognition for advancing to Stage 2 in their transitional jobs.

Marjorie Kovler Center Cooking Group

This Thanksgiving, staff and participants from many programs gathered to cook, eat, and give thanks for the communities, opportunities, and safety they have found through Heartland Alliance. The Marjorie Kovler Center celebrated Thanksgiving with an international cooking group. Survivors of torture and their families came together to share recipes and memories from back home. The result? A globally inspired Thanksgiving meal like no other!

Refugee and Immigrant Community Services – RICSGIVING

Our refugee resettlement team loves to celebrate their annual tradition, where new Americans from around the city gather to eat, connect, and enjoy the holiday season – with some enjoying Thanksgiving for the very first time! Students created “Gratitude Jars” where they decorated mason jars and filled them with little notes about things in their lives that they’re grateful for, as well as painted pictures to hang near the “Gratitude Turkey.”

Students also selected feathers on our Gratitude Turkey and wrote one thing they’re thankful for.

The Refugee and Immigrant Community Services (RICS) team is particularly thankful for their longtime partner and supporter, East Bank Club. The River North fitness club has been a longtime employer of numerous new Americans, providing them the opportunity necessary to rebuild their lives in Chicago. Every Thanksgiving, the team at EBC give their employees the option to donate their Thanksgiving Day turkeys to our resettlement programs. Thank you!