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.”

Callie Kaplan of the Social IMPACT Research Center

Callie Kaplan’s passion for data and serving communities has brought her from Haiti to Heartland Alliance as a Senior Research Associate and seeing data in action is what grows her love for learning, every day.

1. What got you into research? What got you into research for non-profits?

I really got interested in research during my first job working for a public health organization in a small city in Haiti. I was 22, and had thought I might want to become a clinician, but working with this community organization, I saw how impactful research can be in terms of program improvement, program design, funding and policy/advocacy change. I was fortunate enough to work with an organization that had an extensive public health database and very strong community ties. We were able to actually analyze data, visualize it and give it right back to the same community health workers so they could share it with the communities we were working with. I definitely believe knowledge is power, and this gave me a glimpse of how people can use information, when they have access to it, to better their own community’s health.

2. Why is this work important to the community? To the people Heartland Alliance serves?

Applied research, which has direct and often immediate impact on programming and policy, is critical work when it is driven by community voice and priorities. Applied research can ensure that programs and services are relevant, effective and appropriately tailored for folks who access them. Also, applied research can inform policies which may either promote or hinder inequalities and inequities which create the conditions that necessitate program services. For example, IMPACT’s annual poverty report, can be used to promote and/or advocate to uphold policies which support folks experiencing poverty. Our research also digs deeper to use a gender and/or racial equity lens to expose how poverty, for example, impacts communities of color, and especially women of color differentially due to historical racism and oppression. Using data to change the narrative around poverty, race, and gender is a critical part of our work for Chicago and specifically the people that Heartland Alliance serves.

4. What is your favorite part of your job?

I believe that applied research we do at IMPACT makes an actual difference in our city and our state and local communities and going to work and feeling like I’m contributing to some good in the world is my favorite part of my job. I also feel like I’m constantly learning and I love that too. Whether it is about an area of social justice, or a social service that I wasn’t familiar with, or a new software tool, I learn from my co-workers and folks who are part of Heartland Alliance as well- as long as I’m growing and learning, I’m happy.

5. This year, you co-led Heartland Alliance’s Research and Policy Division’s Adopt a Family gift giving—what made you say “yes” to doing this your first year at HA and what is your favorite thing about the Adopt a Family program?

Well, for one, Suniya Farooqui who is a Heartland Alliance Data Analyst based in Michigan, volunteered first, but since she is remote, she needed an on-the-ground person, so I was happy to play that role, mainly because I like working with Suniya, and respected that she said yes so quickly. And also, because I liked that this was something that my office committed to each year. My favorite thing about the Adopt a Family program, is that it centers you and reminds you what is important not just doing the holidays all the time- connecting to and supporting others. Also I loved one of the gift which was a family vacation to a waterpark because I always think the best gifts are experiences with people you love.

6. What is your favorite part of the holiday season? OR How are you planning to celebrate the holidays?

My favorite part of the holiday season is spending time with my Mom’s side of the family who all live in Pittsburgh. All twenty or so of us sleep at my grandparent’s house on couches, and sleeping bags so we can all wake up and cook together and then play board games, and do a white elephant present exchange. This year will be hard, because my grandmother, who really pulled us all in, passed away a few months ago, so I think it will be a mix of sadness and celebration of her life and being together, which is what she would have wanted. But I also will get to spend the holiday with my 3 nephews who are all under 4 and they always brighten everyone’s day because they are hilarious and crazy. They live in California and I don’t see them often, so getting to be with them, and spending time with family, both given and chosen, will be the best part of my holiday.