About - PODER English Works


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

Marc Smierciak, Program Manager
Jose Acebedo, Office Manager
Griselda Piedra, Community Relations Manager


Carol Salazar, Enrollment Specialist
Iveth Sambonino, Enrollment Specialist
Nancy Perez, Admin Assistant
Doris Medina, Career Coach
Patricia Garcia-Ruano, Integrated English Instructor
Sarah Prado, Integrated English Instructor
Michael Bandith, Integrated English Instructor
Brian Kopinski, Integrated English Instructor
Jeremy Razo, Latinos in Finance Trainer
Kecha Kambe, Integrated English Instructor
Linda Napikoski, Integrated English Instructor

Board of Directors

Josh Ellis

Josh has been with Metropolitan Planning Council since 2006. He directs many of MPC’s urban and regional planning initiatives, most notably through Great Rivers ChicagoTransform Illinois, and our work in Stormwater Management and Water Supply Management. Through on-the-ground initiatives like robust community planning for investments throughout Chicago’s 150+ mile of riverfront, technical assistance to municipalities throughout northeastern Illinois, and facilitation of diverse stakeholder groups—such as the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative—he leads MPC’s multiple strategies to balance community aspirations, ecosystem needs, economic growth, and sound public policy. 

He is a frequent public speaker, and has also led many of MPC’s research projects on a range of urban and regional challenges, including Immeasurable Loss: Modernizing Lake Michigan Water UseBus Rapid Transit: Chicago’s New Route to Opportunityand Before the Wells Run DryHe is an alumnus of MPC’s research assistant program, and continues to manage fellowship opportunities at MPC.

Josh is a member of the Midwest Leadership Council of the National Parks Conservation Association, and a Board member at PODER, which serves adult Latino immigrants with a mission to provide the necessary academic tools to promote human dignity, increase employment potential, and facilitate participation in the larger community. A New Hampshire native, Josh resides in Chicago’s South Loop where he is a Board member of the Greater South Loop Association. He managed a small school in Japan before his graduate studies in public policy and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago.  His honors thesis, published in Water, Environmental Security and Sustainable Rural Development: Conflict and Cooperation in Central Eurasia, compared the political discourse of marsh restoration in southeastern Iraq with the environmental history of the region.

Victoria Gaspar

Victoria Gaspar joined PODER’s Board in 2018. Prior to joining the Board, she volunteered to assist instructors in the evening classes at the St. Gall location. A Chicago native, she was born and raised on the southwest side. She currently serves as the Executive Director of Southwest Home Equity Assurance Program. Prior to her role with the Southwest Home Equity Assurance Program, she worked for the City of Chicago for 7 years. She is an alumna of University of Chicago-Illinois and St. Ignatius College Prep.

Jennifer Guzmán

Jennifer Guzmán is a leader and natural philanthropist. With over twenty years of Human Resources experience from family-owned business to tech start-up, Jennifer currently leads Client Experience & Excellence for EmPower HR – a leading Midwest HR Outsourcing Firm and PEO in Chicago. Her main focus is forming authentic connections and spending time better understanding personal wins and desired business outcomes with the business owners and clients she serves. Jennifer also proudly serves as PODER’s Board Chair since inception of the Board. Serving and paving the way for others is part of her DNA and her connection to serving PODER and the people they serve is personal. She is native of Chicago and fully enjoys the local food, sports and art scene.

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.

Dave Leeney

Dave Leeney is currently vice president and Director of Community Lending and CRA Officer for First American Bank where he is responsible for the development and implementation of the Bank’s community development strategy and activities. This includes designing and conducting community development initiatives to promote effective lending, financial education, and financial literacy programs throughout the Bank’s assessment areas in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Florida. He also manages the Bank’s Charitable Giving program and it’s Matching Funds program.

Dave serves of the Board of Directors for PODER Learning Center and Pass With Flying Colors and is on the advisory board for the Midway Center of Metropolitan Family Services and Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago. He graduated from the University of Iowa with a bachelor of business administration.

Luis Montgomery

Luis Montgomery was born in La Plata, Huila, Colombia. He was raised on the North Side of Chicago and attended St. Ignatius College Prep on the Near West Side of Chicago. He graduated in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Luis is the President of 2IM Group, LLC. He is a licensed Professional Engineer in the State of Illinois.

As President of 2IM Group, Luis quickly established his firm as a leader in stormwater design management, providing innovative practices on projects ranging from traditional stormwater designs to Sustainable Drainage Systems. His ability to manage complex designs coupled with his desire to apply forward-thinking principles with measurable environmental benefits has propelled 2IM Group.

Luis currently lives in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago with his wife and five daughters. He

hopes to work in his native Colombia in the future.

Alejandro Talancon

I have been with Allstate for 30 years. As an employee for 29 years. in that time I worked in the following departments – U/W, Human Resources, Expense Management, Employee Agent, Sales Manager (16 Years – ranking in the top 15% in the country 7 times and top 10% in the country 2 times). Final position with Allstate as a Commercial Sales Leader overseeing WI, MI, MN, OH, IN and IL. I started as a Allstate Exclusive Agency owner in Elgin May 2018.

I was an active member of the National Hispanic Sales Network for 6 years. I was the local Chicago Chapter President for 1 year and the National President for 3 years.

I graduated from Loyola University with a BBA in Finance and Lake Forest Graduate School of Management with an MBA.

Lyndon Valicenti

Lyndon Valicenti brings 15 years of cross-sector experience leading data-driven planning, policy, and research initiatives on social and environmental issues, from climate resilience to equitable community development. Today she serves as a strategy consultant at Foresight Design Initiative to build the capacity of partners in the philanthropic and non-profit sectors to navigate complexity and forge coalitions to realize and sustain positive impact. Lyndon holds a Masters in Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University and a Bachelors of Science in Aquatic Ecology from University of California, Santa Barbara. She also holds a certificate in Sustainable Urban and Environmental Design from Archeworks.

Lyndon has been proud to serve on PODER’s Board since 2016. For PODER, she led an inclusive strategic planning process to help guide the organization’s development from 2016-2019 and currently holds the role of Vice President of the Board.

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