Prominent Human Service Professionals to Fill Key Positions

Appointees will help ensure communication and quality services for Illinoisans in need

Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) Secretary Michelle R. B. Saddler today announced the appointments of three important management positions. The appointments include: Nelida Smyser-De Leon of Chicago as Director of the Office of Hispanic and Latino Affairs, Layla P. Suleiman Gonzalez, Ph.D, J.D., of Chicago as Director of Program Evaluation and Research and Jesus Garcia of Chicago as Deputy Director of Community Relations and Cultural Affairs.

"Latinos make up the largest and fastest growing minority population in Chicago and the collar counties," said Secretary Saddler. "Each of these individuals brings a wealth of experience to their respective positions and their considerable talents and energies will immediately help us reach our goals of ensuring that all Illinoisans have access to adequate and appropriate services."

As Director of the Office of Hispanic and Latino Affairs, Nelida Smyser-De Leon will create and continue to develop partnerships with the Hispanic/Latino communities within the State of Illinois and the Illinois Department of Human Services. She will also work to ensure that DHS services are reaching and serving the needs of all of our residents.

Smyser-De Leon graduated from DePaul University with a B.S. in Marketing and a minor in Commercial Spanish. She previously served as the Assistant State Purchasing Officer (ASPO) for DHS. She spent 20 years as a businesswoman in the private sector before coming to work for the State of Illinois.

Smyser-De Leon also has extensive experience in community development and has served on several boards and committees in the Latino communities, including the West Town 5 Organization and the St. Vincent DePaul Society in West Town and Humboldt Park.

As Director of Program Evaluation and Research, Layla P. Suleiman Gonzalez will review DHS programs for efficiency and effectiveness. In these economic times when funding is scarce, Suleiman Gonzalez will help the agency determine the methodologies and metrics in looking at a program's efficacy and also ensure that DHS is promoting best practices.

Suleiman Gonzalez has a law degree from DePaul University and a Doctorate in Psychology from Loyola University Chicago. She teaches in the Human Services Program at Loyola University Chicago. She was also an Assistant Professor at DePaul where she continues teaching research methodology.

Suleiman Gonzalez was the author of recent legislation establishing the Illinois Latino Family Commission and will be the lead staff responsible for its implementation. She also was a U.S. Federal Court Appointed Monitor for the Burgos Consent Decree involving the Department of Children and Family Services and extensive experience in community development and Latino affairs. She has also served on the boards of several non-profit and community organizations.

As Deputy Director of Community Relations and Cultural Affairs, Jesus Garcia will expand and rejuvenate the community outreach efforts of DHS. He will also help reinvigorate DHS' internal relations among the staff to ensure DHS is providing quality and responsive services for its nearly 2 million customers.

Garcia emigrated with his family from Durango, Mexico and lived in the communities of Pilsen and Little Village. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in political science and a Masters of Arts in Urban Planning from the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC).

Garcia, a life-long public servant, was first elected to the Chicago City Council in 1986 as a reformer and went on to serve two-terms as a State Senator. As the first Mexican-American elected to the State Senate, Garcia worked to pass legislation to help families in this district and other working families.

Garcia's roots are in community organizing and he was the founding Executive Director of Enlace Chicago (a leading non-profit community development organization). He has served as a Fellow at DePaul University and as an adjunct professor at the UIC in Political Science and Latino/Latin American Studies. He has served and advised several non-profit organizations and boards.