From El Salvador to Chicago

Until the lion writes his own story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

– African Proverb

We believe:

Chicago, like any place with epidemics of violence, geographic areas do not determine violent behaviors, nor does race, gender or class. Rather, like a virus, victimization begets victimization.

Most violence is not arbitrary, but a reflection of trauma: hurt begets hurt—those who are hurt will hurt others. Our theory of change is based on healing, not punishment.

We believe in consequences, but also compassion. Jobs are essential to stem violence, but victims must develop social emotional skills to confront their past and the constant traumas around them in order to participate in healthy communities and enter the workforce.

About Us

Both considered “homicide capitals,” El Salvador and Chicago each struggle
with gang-related violence that overwhelmingly affects young people. As a

result, entire communities live in trauma that normalizes on-going and
generational violence.


In 2017, ConTextos launched in Cook County Jail as the first program
working with detainees awaiting trial for violent offenses;
at the same time, in
the Roseland community working with the Chicago CRED program with
opportunity youth.

Where to go from here?

So is ConTextos a literacy organization or a violence reduction organization? Are we dedicated to education or criminal justice reform? Do we work domestically or internationally?

The answer is… Yes!

Research tells us that perpetrators begin as victims, and victims as witnesses. We work in environments where violence is ubiquitous and young people are underestimated and underserved. Text-based dialogue and the Authors’ Circle are powerful methods for transformational change: for individuals, institutions and society at large.

Our work looks at the long haul. Yes, there are immediate results… but the most important results are generational, not transactional. We will continue to grow our work in El Salvador and into other areas of Central America as we expand in Chicago. We prioritize working with the underestimated and the underserved, young people who are considered “at-risk” but whose stories can transform.

Board members

Picture

Anthony Barash

Chairman of the board

Recently a Fellow at the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative, Cambridge, MA, is an attorney with extensive experience in private and corporate practice. After retirement from practice, Tony lived for 15 months in Uzbekistan, working on an international legal reform Project. He then served as Fellow-in-Residence and Scholar-in-Residence at the Richard W. Riley Institute at Furman University.

In 2005, Tony was appointed Director of the American Bar Association Center for Pro Bono, where he served until 2010. He is passionate about national and international initiatives to provide Access to justice for the poor.

Picture

A.C Cunningham

Board Member

Picture

Anne Hand

Board Member

Anne comes to the ConTextos board with multidisciplinary experience and expertise in philanthropy, nonprofits, and education. She has worked on a variety of multi-stakeholder initiatives with public and private partners specifically related to education, violence prevention, public health, and transnational leadership in the Americas.

She passionately believes that the circumstances of one’s birth should not limit what people are able to accomplish in their lives, and that literacy and storytelling are essential tools to allow all people to dream. Anne is currently Senior Program Manager for Leadership and Equity Initiatives at Hispanics in Philanthropy. She holds a B.Sc. in Psychology from McGill University, and an Ed.M. in International Education Policy from Harvard University. A New York native, she is based in Mexico City.

Picture

Darlene Mc. Campbell

Board Member

Picture

Graciela Fontg

Board Member

Picture

Gabriela Poma

Board Member

Gabriela Poma is a doctoral student in the Spanish section of Harvard University's Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. Her research focuses on the literatures and visual arts of Central America, the Caribbean and their US-based diasporas and explores contemporary creative responses to migration, transnationalism and the feminine. As an activist, she has collaborated in developing self-susataining initiatives to support the arts, education and women’s issues in her home countries of El Salvador and Nicaragua. Currently, she is an advisory board memember of Centroamérica cuenta/Managua; Y.ES Contemporary/El Salvador; the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University; Andover Breadloaf; and the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers/Phillips Academy. Gabriela divides her time between the US and El Salvador.

Picture

Javier Alfaro

Board Member

General Manager for Cinemark Central America and the Caribbean since 1999. Responsible for Cinemarks' operations in 7 countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Curacao. The company currently operates 17 theaters with 122 screens throughout the region. He holds a B.S. degree in International Trade and Finance from LSU and a Master’s degree from Tulane’s A.B. Freeman School of Business. For the last 4 years he has served in the Board of Directors of AFP CRECER.

Picture

Jill Gross

Board Member

Picture

Omar Egan

Board Member

Omar is the CEO of Industrias Caricia, the second largest shoe company in Central America, also he is the Founder and Director of a Startup in sensorial marketing technologies for retailers. He holds a B.A. in Economics from ESEN, the top business school in the country. He produced the first podcast in El Salvador in 2005 and currently produces 3 weekly podcasts from his home studio.

Picture

Oscar M. Orozco Sr.

Board Member

He was born in San Salvador, El Salvador and at age 11 he moved to the United States of America, where he completed all his studies. He is a graduate of the University of Washington with a Master's degree in Banking Administration.

Oscar, started working in banking in 1971 and during those years he has held many jobs within the Bank. Start as a driver, cashier, collections, credits, Branch Manager, Area Manager, Executive Vice-President in US Banks and 45 years later he serves as the Secretary Secretary of the Board of Directors of Banco Promerica, as well as being the Regional Advisor of the Organizational Culture and also develops special projects for the Promerica Group.

He was a member of the ARMY of the United States for 3 years and during 1 year he fought in the Vietnam War.

I worked for 17 years in one of the most recognized banks in the United States, Wells Fargo Bank, where he managed the largest branch of the company and managed to be Vice-President of the same. His banking experience has been in Retail Banking in branches, where his main focus and passion has been Customer Service.

Picture

Ricardo Cevallos

Board Member

Senior Litigation and Arbitration Partner in El Salvador, his practice focuses mainly in banking, financial, contract and comercial law as well as arbitration and litigation. He is a member of the Texas and El Salvador Bars. Named by Latin Lawyer magazine as one of the 40 best attorneys under the age of 40 in Central America (2005), he also received the american Jurisprudence Award after receiving the highest grade in ADR in law school (1993). His international experience developed during his work at various firms in the United States and at the UN participating in UNCITRAL arbitrations.

Discover our big family

Staff members

Picture

Debra Gittler

Founder and Executive Director

Picture

Lisa Kenner

Chief Educational Officer