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Amy Rynell, Senior Director of Research & Policy
Amy has worked for Heartland Alliance since 1997 and currently oversees Heartland Alliance’s Research & Policy Division which is comprised of the Social IMPACT Research Center, Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Economic Opportunity, and the Heartland Alliance Policy and Advocacy Team. She provides external and internal policy and thought leadership, strategic direction and planning, financial management, and oversight of the projects throughout the division. With the Social IMPACT Research Center, best known for its reports on poverty, Amy guides dynamic research and analysis on today’s most pressing social issues. In her role with Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives, Amy supports policy change, research, and field building to advance and strengthen employment programs and policies that address chronic unemployment. Finally through the Policy and Advocacy Team, Amy supports the creation of state policies designed to end poverty.
With over 20 years’ experience in the nonprofit human services sector, Amy has devoted her career to ending poverty, homelessness and chronic unemployment and as such has developed unique expertise in these areas. Amy has in-depth knowledge of poverty and homelessness through providing direct services within a homeless system in a range of interventions, through leading the creation of plans to end homelessness, through leadership positions within the Chicago Continuum of Care and coordinating the Regional Roundtable on Homelessness, and through documenting and evaluating best practices in addressing poverty and homelessness, including having overseen the most comprehensive study of homelessness in northeastern Illinois. In addition, Amy has been involved in multiple studies of unemployed adults with multiple employment barriers, helped advise on the design and roll-out of large scale employment initiatives, and served on the boards of workforce development organizations.
Amy has the honor of holding external leadership positions including being appointed to the State of Illinois Hunger Commission and Human Services Commission, serving on the national technical working group for USDHHS’s Subsidized and Transitional Jobs Demonstration, being a leader within the National Responsible Fatherhood Roundtable, a member of the Chicago Foundation for Women Academic Advisory Council, and a member of the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness Employment Task Group. She is a frequent presenter at National Alliance to End Homelessness conferences, and the Welfare Research & Evaluation conferences, among others. Amy is also an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago.
Amy received her BA from University of Notre Dame and her AM from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.
Katie Buitrago, Director of Research
Katie Buitrago is the Director of Research at Heartland Alliance’s Social IMPACT Research Center. Katie’s projects include an evaluation of a major initiative to develop and implement an integrated data system for Chicago region workforce providers. She believes that rigorous and actionable research, coupled with effective advocacy, can make public policy more effective at lifting people out of poverty.
Prior to joining IMPACT, Katie conducted communications, legislative and regulatory advocacy, and research at Woodstock Institute to advance economic security for low-wealth people and people of color. She authored a report analyzing whether students at for-profit colleges were more likely to take out student loans than students at public and nonprofit colleges and used the findings to inform advocacy to reform the student debt system. She helped the City of Valparaiso, Indiana implement their latest strategic plan by analyzing the affordable housing needs in their community through a population and housing profile. Katie assisted Prairie State Legal Services, a legal aid provider in Illinois, in assessing the legal needs in their service area through innovative survey methods. And she researched ways that permanent supportive housing providers in Illinois could access Medicaid to fund their services, contributing to an active policy debate about the future of Medicaid in Illinois.
Katie has been invited to speak on public policy issues with dozens of audiences, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Senator Dick Durbin, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, and the Consumer Federation of America.She has appeared in media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Chicago Tribune, WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, ABC-7, and Chicago Public Radio.
Katie received her Master of Public Policy from the Irving B. Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. She enjoys traveling (from New Orleans to New Zealand and beyond), hiking through natural and urban environments, reading voraciously, cooking, and knitting.
Lindy Carrow, Associate Director
Lindy Carrow, Research Associate – Evaluation Specialist
Lindy’s work at IMPACT focuses on equipping leaders in the human services field to prevent and end poverty through research and data-informed decision making. Lindy’s passion for research that informs change stems from her experience working with vulnerable populations in Chicago and seeing the injustices and challenges they face.
Through her work with organizations such as the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the Night Ministry, and Heartland Human Cares Services, Lindy has helped programs to measure their outcomes and, ultimately, to better serve participants and increase their impact. Lindy ‘s work also influences policy; her recommendations for the Robert R. McCormick Foundation on service needs of new veterans in Illinois has helped inform program funding and the state of Illinois’ five year mental health service strategic plan. Her research on economic racial inequality informed the Illinois Asset Building Group’s policy agenda to support credit building initiatives in order to close the racial wealth gap.
When she’s not engrossed in a spreadsheet, Lindy can be found skating with the Chicago Outfit Roller Derby league, where in the 2014 season, she won the team’s ‘Dynamic Duo’ award with teammate and Heartland colleague, Kim Drew, or Kim Mortal. Lindy received her MSW from Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Alexis “Ali” Carella, Ph.D., Senior Research Associate
Ali has served as a teacher, researcher, and advocate for marginalized youth, at both local and international levels, for over a decade.As a Senior Research Associate with the Social IMPACT Research Center, she focuses on big picture inquiry such as: cross-company participant-centered outcomes reporting, developing results frameworks and theories of change, internal technical assistance and more. Ali received her Ph.D. in Education: Literacy, Language and Culture from the University of Illinois at Chicago and her research expertise coalesces around literacy, human rights, urban education and immigration studies. Ali’s research interests stem from her time as a teacher of unaccompanied immigrant youth with Heartland Alliance early on in her career. She is a firm believer in equitable access to education and social services and relies heavily on community engagement and conducting mindful and rigorous research to highlight areas of need and, in turn, work with various stakeholders to advocate for positive, social change.
Prior to joining the Social IMPACT Research Team, Ali was an Evidence-Based Researcher with the International Rescue Committee’s U.S. Programs Department. She also served as an English Language Fellow with the U.S. Department of State in Loja, Ecuador from 2014-2015 and was the Postdoctoral Visiting Literacy Research Specialist with the Center for Literacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago from 2013-2014. Ali enjoys traveling, baking, drawing, reading, family time, wandering the streets of Chicago on her bicycle and all things pop culture.
Mary O’Brien, Senior Research Associate
Mary O’Brien is a Senior Research Associate with the Social IMPACT Research Center. Mary’s projects include a Domestic Violence Needs Assessment and a study on racial equity in the philanthropic support of arts and culture organizations. She is passionate about working with individuals and communities to document their unique stories and interested in research for its ability to help communicate complex stories of social change. As a trained social worker and researcher, Mary has experience working with marginalized populations in both direct practice and policy intervention on issues of homelessness, food insecurity, health care, education, and gender-based violence. Prior to joining IMPACT, Mary conducted research and advocacy on issues of violence against women as a Program Associate with The Advocates for Human Rights. Mary has also provided expertise in research, evaluation, advocacy, and project management as an independent consultant for a number of non-profit and for-profit organizations. She has worked with advocates in Central and Eastern Europe, France, India, Senegal, the United States, and also with representatives at the United Nations and the European Union. Mary received her MSW from the University of Michigan. She enjoys exploring new cities and their culinary offerings, live music, running, and spending time with her four nephews.
Suniya Farooqui, Data Analyst
Suniya is a Data Analyst with IMPACT. She is passionate about program evaluation and human rights; and believes policy wonks can save the world, or at least increase efficiency and improve people’s standard of living.
Prior to joining IMPACT, Suniya assisted Woodstock Institute in analyzing the effect of the housing market, banking regulation trends, and limited access to financial markets on low-income communities and minority groups. Suniya honed her quantitative skills by working in rural Pakistan for the Rural Support Programmes Network’s Monitoring, Evaluation, and Research Team. She worked on a gender-focused Institutional Assessment of the Pakistan Domestic Biogas Program and conducted a cost-benefit analysis of a community-based solid waste management project in Marri, Sargodha. Suniya also spent time at the International Rescue Committee and Neighborhood Legal Services’ Workers’ Rights and Domestic Abuse Self-Help Clinics, where she helped refugees resettle in America, workers collect unpaid wages and file for unemployment insurance, and victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse obtain emergency restraining orders.
Suniya has a MPP from the Irving B. Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. She enjoys baking, traveling with her husband, watching Korean dramas, reading Agatha Christie novels, and laughing with her one-year-old daughter.
David Li, Research Assistant
Jean Lam, Program Coordinator
Jean Lam is the Administrative Coordinator for Heartland Alliance’s Research and Policy Division. Jean provides specialized clerical support and administrative assistance to the three teams that make up Heartland Alliance’s Research and Policy Division. Jean enables the staff to achieve their goals of greater social change and make a difference.
Jean’s educational background is in programming, along with her past experiences in information services support and database management, has given her the technical skills and knowledge to deepen her role on the team.
Jean’s interests include reading biographical literature, cooking, taking online courses, and watching Chicago Bulls games. She supports the nearby school youth group and she volunteers in local community housing assistance services.
Amber (Cason) Crossen, Communications Coordinator
Amber is the Communications Coordinator for Heartland Alliance’s Research & Policy Division. As a social media, content, and communications strategist, Amber works to promote the work, goals and accomplishments of the Social IMPACT Research Center, along with rest of the Research & Policy staff, through various media platforms.
With a background in internal communications and journalism, Amber has just recently moved from the private sector to the non-profit field and hopes to use her expertise to create a conversation around social justice, employment opportunities, criminal justice reform, and more.
Amber received her bachelor’s degree in Multi Media Journalism from Southeast Missouri State University. In her free time, Amber can be found listening to NPR, going for runs, and discovering new coffee spots in Chicago.
David Li, Research Assistant
David Li is a Research Assistant at Heartland Alliance’s Social IMPACT Research Center. David is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Social Administration at the University of Chicago. He completed his undergraduate degree at Wheaton College, where he studied psychology. Prior to IMPACT, David lived at L’Arche, an intentional community of people with and without disabilities. David’s research interests include housing initiatives, mental health reform and public policy. When not in the office, David enjoys spending time with his wife, wrenching on cars, good food and all things outdoors.