Who We Are

Executive Leadership

Headshot of April Janney

CEO

April Janney is the CEO of Illinois Action for Children. Janney was named to this position in January 2021 after serving as Acting President and CEO since June 2020.

Working with children in Chicago and throughout Illinois to foster positive outcomes has been April Janney's passion for more than 30 years. Prior to becoming CEO, Janney served as IAFCs Senior VP of Operations and Senior VP of Programs.

Before joining the Illinois Action for Children leadership team as Director of Provider Programs in 2010, Janney provided school-age programming through a career that spanned 21 years with Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Boys & Girls Clubs Chicago. Janney earned her master’s degree in Public Administration with a focus on Nonprofit Management from Roosevelt University as a Woodruff Fellow and holds a bachelor’s Science degree in Education: Early Childhood and Special Education from Chicago State University.

Headshot of Shauna Ejeh

Senior Vice President, Programs

Shauna Ejeh is the Senior Vice President, Programs, at Illinois Action for Children. Ms. Ejeh provides strategic direction on all services, supports, and resources the agency makes available to parents, families and communities.

Ms. Ejeh comes to Illinois Action for Children having most recently served as the Executive Director of Baby TALK, Inc., an early childhood organization located in Decatur, Illinois, with the mission to support the parent-child relationship during the early critical years. 

Previously, Ejeh served as Associate Director of the Illinois Head Start State Collaboration office working with Head Start programs and other state-level advocates to effect systems-level change for children and families. She received her M.A. and B.A in Public Communication with a minor in Psychology from American University in Washington, DC. 

Headshot of Sandy Matthews

Senior Vice President,
Organizational Advancement

Sandy Matthews has returned to Illinois Action for Children in a new role as Vice President of Organization Advancement after serving as Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education. In this new role she is responsible for organizational relationship development, building strategic partnerships, and generating revenue through foundations and corporate donors. Prior to her position in the Obama administration, she was vice President of External Relations at Illinois Action for Children from 2007 - 2010. 

Sandy possesses more than 20 years of public affairs and communications experience with a variety of organizations including the Chicago Sun-Times, the Michael & Juanita Jordan Foundation, and the City Colleges of Chicago. A graduate of North Central College with a B.A. in English and French, Sandy earned a Masters of Jurisprudence in Child and Family Law from Loyola Law School in Chicago.

Tito

Senior Vice President,
Operations

Tito Guerrero serves as Illinois Action for Children’s Senior Vice President of Operations, bringing more than a decade of experience in non-profit operations. Having spent most of his career with Goodwill Industries, Tito is keenly aware of the importance of sustainable operations. He also understands the need for every child and family to have equal access to services and programs that build their success.

At the age of eight, he began working at his father’s automotive machine shop and learned how to build and maintain a team as well as how to grow and scale a business. He cites his grandmother, who was a teacher and a principal, as his source of inspiration and his belief in the importance of early childhood development. Tito still carries her passion for equality and a commitment to ensuring all children have the opportunity to succeed. 

Tito earned his M.B.A. in Project Management from the University of Phoenix, where he also graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.  

Mark

Vice President,
Early Learning Programs

Mark Barrett serves as the Vice President, Early Learning Programs, for Illinois Action for Children. He is responsible for the oversight of the department’s early learning programs providing leadership and operational direction. In his previous role as the Director, Early Learning Quality Improvement, Mark successfully led IAFC through its first monitoring review by the Office of Head Start and was instrumental in helping the program earn NAEYC Accreditation and a Gold designation in the Illinois ExceleRate Circles of Quality.

Before joining the Early Learning program, he served as the Director of Compliance and Outreach for IAFC’s Family Resources Department. In this role, he provided oversight of compliance, ensured completion of contract deliverables, provided outreach, and customer service support. Before his work with IAFC, Barrett was the Director of Child Development programs at Ada. S. McKinley Community Service, where he managed a $5.5 million budget, managed a team of nine staff and ensured services complied with licensing and accrediting requirement

Mark has over 20 years of experience working with children and families in early childhood education and holds a master’s degree in social work.

Headshot of Arlene Mitchell Pace

Vice President, Human Resources

Arlene Mitchell-Pace serves as Illinois Action For Children's Vice President of Human Resources and brings over 15 years of experience. Arlene previously worked as the Chief Human Resources Officer for Edgewater Health. 

Her work experience includes working for not-for-profits, private sectors, post-secondary and secondary schools in different functions. Arlene earned a doctoral degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix, a master's in business administration from Purdue University Calumet, and a bachelor's of science degree from Indiana University Northwest. She is a board member of the Kankakee County Branch NAACP, Northwest Indiana United Negro College Fund, 21st Century Charter Schools, Workforce Investment Board, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and many more. Arlene is married and has three children, three "bonus" children, and four grandchildren.  

Chris Tokarski

Vice President of Family and Provider Services

Chris Tokarski has been with Illinois Action for Children for nearly 21 years. He started his career as a Family Resources Specialist and has held a variety of roles within the Family Resources and Quality Assurance teams. His goal is to make IAFCs state-contracted programs simple, streamlined, and accessible to the families, child care providers, and communities we serve.  

Chris sits on multiple state-wide committees working to improve Child Care Assistance Program policy. He is a proud graduate of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has completed graduate work at North Park University, and is an alumni of the Barbara Bowman Leadership Fellowship 

Headshot of Jacqueline M. Zanders

Chief Financial Officer

Jacqueline (Jackie) Zanders serves as Illinois Action for Children's Chief Financial Officer, bringing more than 25 years of experience in both corporate and non-profit financial management to the organization. Jackie joined Illinois Action for Children in 2002 as the Director of Finance and continues to lead the finance function and ensure alignment with the organization's strategic goals. She joined IAFC after spending 10 years as Division Controller for the Food Products Division of Dean Foods and worked as a Financial Analyst for Ford Motor Company. 

Jackie earned her Master of Science in Public Policy and Management with a concentration in financial management from Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz School of Public Policy. She also holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Mississippi State University with a concentration in Business Information Systems and Quantitative Analysis. 

Headshot of Grace Araya

Vice President of Community Impact

Grace Araya is the Vice President of Community Impact. In this role, she will continue to provide strategic oversight of the Community Systems Statewide Supports program and take a leadership role over the Community Parenting Support Saturation program, the Referrals and Outreach teams as well as supporting our Chicago and Cook County programs.

Prior to this role, Grace was instrumental in launching the Community Systems Statewide Supports training and technical assistance (T/TA) program for local collaborations. Most recently, she has provided leadership in building out T/TA supports for the Birth to Five Illinois regional community systems effort. Before joining Illinois Action for Children, Grace worked as the Director for Eyes on the Future in Chicago.

Grace brings nearly 20 years of experience in early childhood education to her work advancing systems change and engaging community stakeholders through racial equity and human-centered approaches.

Grace has a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Master of Art of Early Childhood Education from Roosevelt University, and a Master of Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago.

Headshot of Maria Whelan

President & CEO, In Loving Memory
(December 4, 1950 - June 10, 2020)

Maria Whelan had served as Illinois Action for Children's President and CEO since 2001. She led the organization's mission to support strong families and powerful communities where children matter most, through the advancement of innovative human services programs and responsive public policies that improve conditions for children and families in Illinois. 

Read about Maria Whelan’s Life and Legacy »

An authority in the early care and education field, Maria possessed over 30 years of experience in human services. Prior to joining Illinois Action for Children, she served as the founding Executive Director of the Carole Robertson Center for Learning, a multicultural non-profit partnership among parents, youth and communities on Chicago's West Side. Her leadership has been recognized through special awards and fellowships, including the Community Service Fellowship from the Chicago Community Trust, and Leadership Greater Chicago. She served on several boards, including the Illinois Early Learning Council, Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, Early Childhood Advisory Committee - Chicago Public Schools and Illinois Child Care Adviosry Council - Illinois Department of Human Services. 

Maria held a master's degree in Social Services from the University of Chicago, and a Bachelor's degree in History from Clarke College. She lived in Chicago with her husband and three daughters.