About - An Innovative PODER


PODER's Mission

PODER empowers individuals with the necessary academic tools to promote human dignity, increase employment potential, and facilitate participation in the larger community.  

Since 1997, PODER’s objective has been to empower Spanish-speaking adult immigrants to create successful and fulfilling new lives in the United States. Through a deep commitment to the needs of the immigrant communities on Chicago’s southwest side, PODER provides critical societal and workforce integration services with both immediate and long-term impact for families, communities, and employers throughout the City of Chicago.


Daniel Loftus, President & CEO

Daniel Loftus is the founder and full-time Executive Director of PODER. He is responsible for all operational decisions. Prior to PODER, Loftus worked in Latin America between 1986 and 1993. After returning to the United States, he taught bilingual education and chaired a curriculum development committee in a growing Latino community.

Management Team

Jose Acebedo, Financial and Data Manager
Griselda Piedra, Community Relations Manager
Doris Medina, Member Integration Manager
Brian Kopinski, Integrated English and WFD Manager


Linda Napikoski, Development Coordinator
Kecha Kambe, Partner Relations Coordinator
Carol Salazar, Enrollment Specialist
Iveth Sambonino, Enrollment Specialist
Jeremy Razo, Talent Development and Placement Specialist
Marc Smierciak, Project Support
Patricia Garcia-Ruano, Integrated English Instructor
Sarah Prado, Integrated English Instructor
Michael Bandith, Integrated English Instructor

Board of Directors

Ana Casanueva

Ana is the Senior Vice President, Director of Legal at Byline Bank.

Ana joined the Bank in December 2013 and has held different positions since then, including Associate General Counsel. Ana is also the Corporate Secretary for Byline Bank and its holding company, Byline Bancorp, Inc. Prior to moving to Chicago to work for Byline Bank, Ana worked in Mexico City as the Head of Legal for Controladora GEK, S.A.P.I. de C.V. since 2010, and as in-house counsel for Grupo Financiero Ve por Mas since 2009, affiliate companies of the Mexican and transnational business group, Grupo Kaluz. Before working for Grupo Kaluz, Ana worked at Gardere Arena y Asociados, S.C. at its Mexico City, Dallas and Houston offices.

Ana is a member of the Board of PODER & Oprima-1 LLC, and member of the Leadership Council of Rise Up. She holds a J.D. from the Universidad Iberoamericana, a J.D. from DePaul School of Law, and an LL.M. from Columbia Law School. Ana is certified to practice law in Mexico, a member of the District of Colombia Bar, and has a limited license to practice law as in-house counsel in Illinois.

Josh Ellis

Josh is the co-founder and Executive Director of SUM, which creates restorative experiences outside for groups throughout Chicagoland. Through these safe, welcoming and inclusive experiences SUM helps people connect, focus and take a breath, and for partners like PODER and its community members , helps people often marginalized in nature to find solace, welcome and fun in the region’s parks, preserves and other amazing places.

Prior to founding SUM, Josh spent 15 impactful years at the Metropolitan Planning Council, with a distinguished track record of developing urban and regional development strategies grounded in community aspirations, ecosystem needs and sound public policy. In addition to his current leadership of SUM, he is an independent collaborator with Daylight, and has provided consulting services to the Forest Preserves of Cook County and National Parks Conservation Association. He is an alum of the Council on Global Affairs Emerging Leaders Program, and has been a Board member at PODER for many years, after starting with the organization as an evening ESL teacher during his graduate school years at the University of Chicago.

A New Hampshire native, Josh now lives in Chicago’s South Loop. He loves exploring the world – both near and far – with his wife and two kids.

Victoria Gaspar

Victoria Gaspar was born in Chicago Lawn and grew up on the southwest side of Chicago, in the Clearing neighborhood. She is an alumna of St. Ignatius College Prep and University of Chicago-Illinois, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Criminal Justice with an emphasis in Urban Politics. Victoria has been in public service for almost 14 years, half of which were with the City of Chicago as a Legislative Aid and Policy Analyst. Since 2017, Victoria has served as the Executive Director of the Southwest Home Equity Assurance Program (SWHEAP)–a unique neighborhood stabilization program from the State of Illinois, developed to insure property values in the southwest side of Chicago. Victoria is the first Latina to oversee and manage the Southwest Home Equity Assurance Program since its inception in 1989. When not immersed in work or community outreach, Victoria is a health, fitness, wellness, and spiritual enthusiast. A self-proclaimed foodie and traveler with passions in the arts and dance.

Jennifer Guzmán

As a key figure in Chicago’s business scene, Jen is dedicated to mentoring small and middle-market businesses, with a focus on women and communities of color. Her upbringing by a Mexican immigrant father and Jewish grandparents instilled in her the values of hard work, community support, and giving back, shaping her approach as a business leader. 

Jen is a firm believer in the power of relationships and trust. Her ability to listen and form genuine connections has significantly impacted her work with various companies, clients, and boards. With over two decades in the HR and Client/Employee Experience, she’s helped businesses from large corporations to family-owned firms. She emphasizes a holistic approach to employee well-being, believing it naturally enhances client experiences.

At EmPower HR, as Vice President, Jen led Client and Employee Experience, growing their client base from 150 to 500. This experience deepened her passion for the SMB community, leading her to establish Bestola Consulting. Jen’s firm aids small businesses in aligning their purpose with their output, streamlining processes, and enhancing people experiences for better delivered and satisfaction.

She is also actively involved in Chicago’s community, serving as HR Committee Chair for the Board of Chicago Community Loan Fund and Vice President of the Board for SUM, all organizations dedicated to empowering local communities and immigrants.

Manuel (Manny) Jimenez

Manuel (Manny) Jimenez is the First Vice President, Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) Officer for Marquette Bank, a community bank located in the Chicagoland area with 21 branch locations and $1.5 billion in assets. Manny has over 15 years of experience in the banking and mortgage industry. Manny is responsible for ensuring that Marquette Bank continues to meet regulatory requirements under the (CRA). He works to build relationships with community institutions, neighborhood organizations, business development associations, and other non-profit partners. He also manages the Bank’s education programs for financial education, homebuyer classes, and outreach efforts serving unbanked and under-banked individuals. Furthermore, he is actively involved with several affordable housing and counseling organizations, as well as advocacy groups, serving as a member of several boards, task forces and committees.

Prior to becoming the CRA Officer, Manny was a Residential Loan Officer in the Community Lending Group helping clients work towards home ownership and understanding the home buying process. He then served as a Regional Manager managing multiple branches and a team of neighborhood bankers helping families, businesses, and individuals manage their finances.

Marquette Bank ranks in the Top 1% of U.S. banks for CRA performance with nine consecutive “Outstanding” CRA-ratings, the highest performance rating possible, awarded by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Under Manny’s guidance, Marquette Bank was also recognized for their First-Time Home Buyer Assistance Program with an Excellence & Innovation Award from the Community Bankers Association of Illinois.

Manny is a true relationship banker committed to making the community banking experience enjoyable, reliable, and rewarding to those it serves. He is an active participant and board member for many community groups and boards. He received his Bachelor of Business Administration Degree from Robert Morris University (Chicago, Illinois), and is married with two children. In addition, he is fluent in both English and Spanish.

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