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The UCAN Governing Board has elected Christa A. Hamilton as president and CEO of the 152-year-old youth services organization that provides a continuum of services to more than 21,000 children, youth and families around Chicago. Prior to the appointment, since 2014 Hamilton served as CEO for Centers for New Horizons, based on Chicago’s South Side. Hamilton will join UCAN on September 13 as she continues the transition from Centers.

“It was with great enthusiasm that our Governing Board unanimously voted to appoint Christa Hamilton as president and CEO of UCAN. We firmly believe we have chosen the right executive leader for UCAN at the right time given her demonstrated success as a non-profit professional and career as a leader who is adept at addressing community needs and program efficiency,” said UCAN Governing Board Chair Markell Bridges. 



“She has our strong support to develop a comprehensive plan to enhance our competencies, build on our strengths and address our challenges to continue moving UCAN forward with purpose and clarity in our service to community,” he added.

“At the same time, we are proud that Christa is the first African American and first woman to lead UCAN in our esteemed history. We believe that her appointment is a significant milestone that speaks to UCAN’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, which are cornerstone foundations of how we serve, who we serve and who we employ,” added Bridges. “We look forward to a leadership transition that involves UCAN executives, managers and our valued staff who work throughout Chicago and the state of Illinois.”


“I appreciate the board’s confidence in me to lead UCAN through this next chapter of service and continue to fulfill the mission of supporting youth to become future leaders,” said Hamilton. “I am honored to be a part of this moment in UCAN’s history, as they are taking a bold approach in demonstrating what diversity, equity and inclusion looks like in practice. I look forward to partnering with the staff, leadership and stakeholders to create a community-responsive action plan to assist families in a way that they will not only recover from this pandemic but be stronger than ever!”

Hamilton will succeed Thomas Vanden Berk who has served as interim president and CEO since December 2020. Vanden Berk previously served for 28 years in that role at UCAN before returning at the board’s request in an interim capacity.

“We are fortunate and grateful to having Tom reassume the leadership mantle on an interim business given that he led the organization for nearly three decades,” added Bridges. “His institutional knowledge and dedication to UCAN enabled him to return on an interim basis and lead a thorough review of UCAN’s operations that was shared with the Governing Board.”

During her tenure at Centers for New Horizons, Hamilton distinguished herself as a turnaround leader who succeeded Centers’ founder. She nearly doubled the budget to $17 million in support of the organization serving more than 6,000 residents in Chicago from childhood through seniors across six major programs: early care education, youth development, adult and family services, workforce development, violence prevention and senior services. Prior to becoming CEO, she served for three years as the Centers’ director of workforce development. Before joining Centers, Hamilton spent two years at the Department of Labor as a consultant and six years at the Walgreens Company in both corporate and store operations.

Founded in 1971, Centers for New Horizons assists children, youth and families in becoming self-reliant, improving the quality of their lives, and participating in rebuilding their community. With more than 300 full-time and part-time staff, most of whom live in or near its service communities, Centers provides programs in 15 locations throughout Chicago that reach over 1,000 families daily. 

A native Chicagoan born in the Englewood community, Hamilton has devoted her career to improving the lives of others in resilient communities, and centering equity in all aspects.  A community and civic leader, she sits on the boards for Instituto del Progreso Latino and the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition. A Fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago, she is a member of the Social Services Advisory Council with the Illinois Department of Human Services and is a member of the University of Chicago Advisory Council. 

Hamilton is a first-generation college graduate who earned an MBA from National Louis University and a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from Florida A&M University. 

Centers Board Chair Jay Readey said: “I and the entire Centers for New Horizons board of directors would like to express our sincere gratitude to our outgoing CEO and Executive Director, Christa Hamilton. Over the past 10 years Christa has expanded our mission and taken our organization to new heights. While we are sad to see her go, we are excited that her next role will be leading an organization that shares the same values and goals as Centers. We are equally excited to announce that Dr. Joanne Howard will step in as the interim CEO as we execute a search for the next leader to build upon the foundation of excellence that was established 50 years ago and further built upon by Ms. Hamilton. The board of directors is committed to making this transition a successful one. We thank you in advance for your continued support as we move our mission forward.”

Founded 152 years ago as a Civil War orphanage, UCAN now serves more than 21,000 at-risk youth and families. Since March 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, UCAN has been a critical provider of essential services during the pandemic, and now looks forward to Christa’s energetic and visionary leadership as communities rebuild and emerge from the traumas of COVID.

In collaboration with a community partner, UCAN provided 2,400 boxes of food and emergency funding for individuals and families. In addition, during the pandemic, the agency engaged nearly 9,000 people from across Chicago and the world by hosting and co-hosting nearly 50 virtual webinars, conferences and meetings as part of the agency’s pivot to remaining a visible force in service to community.