Youth Leadership Academy
Creating Leaders and Inspiring Scholars!
Our Cadets and Parents
Our cadets are students ranging from 7th to 12th grade who live in Elgin Community College District 509, which includes Illinois school districts U-46, D300, D301 and D303. They train together to be future leaders in college, the post-college workplace, and the community at large.
Parent participation is one of our greatest factors as an organization. For the past 3 years, 100% of our parents participated in at least 4 workshops per year with an average of 51 parents per workshop.
YLA Board 2023
O'Neal’s career is in education and community. She has worked in the Elgin Area School District U-46 as a high school math teacher, a high school dean of students, and an elementary school principal. She retired after 38 years to commit to service, for which she has volunteered and supported various community organizations. In addition to supporting local causes, she has shared her skills and knowledge with others, volunteering at schools, working on committees, and serving on boards of nonprofit organizations.
O'Neal prepared for her career by earning Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and her doctorate from Loyola University Chicago. She plans to spend the rest of her life giving and serving.
O'Neal annually provides multiple scholarships in memory of her late husband, Ronald O'Neal, Sr., who shared her passion for education and service. Among their shared passions was family. The O'Neal's three children, now grown, have blessed them with eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Corey Dixon is an Elgin City Councilman who works as a Kane County Sheriff’s Department Administrator, overseeing programs that help jail detainees prepare for a productive life. He has a degree in Business Management from Grambling State University in Louisiana and a master’s in Public Administration. He completed Elgin’s area leadership programs, including the African American Parent Leadership Institute with U-46 and another program with the local Chamber of Commerce. In addition, Mr. Dixon has accumulated a wealth of experience as a volunteer and organizer. Dixon began volunteering with a local Boys & Girls Club and found gratification in helping others and sharing his story.
Dixon worked in banking initially, but later gravitated toward work that involved helping people. He spent five years as an Illinois Department of Human Services caseworker before taking the position with the sheriff’s office as senior Assistant Director of Administration.
Dixon became Elgin’s youngest city council member with his 2017 election. He had served on two other city commissions before running for office.
Demitrius Smith has spent a lot of time volunteering for community events, reading history, and being involved in various political campaigns. He is especially proud of his volunteer time from 2018 to the current year with the Bears Youth Football, a local youth football group based in Elgin. He was a Human Relations Commissioner and member coach and is now volunteering for the program.
Mr. Smith graduated from Elgin Community College in 2014, where he created TeamEntrepreneurs INC in 2012 to promote entrepreneurship in the surrounding area. He is currently the owner of 3 D.B.As under TeamEntrepreneurs Corp., an organization whose goal is to promote entrepreneurship in youth.
Jim Cook received his degree in Behavior Science from National St. Louis University and then his master’s in Sports Management from Nova Southern University. He is the founder of Midwest Sports Academy, a community-driven, non-profit organization dedicated to making a difference in people’s lives. Midwest Sports’ goal is to benefit area residents. The Academy was established in 2008.
Mr. Cook is also co-chair of the Martin Luther King Celebration for the Elgin community. For the last 12 years, he has dedicated his time to providing resources for underprivileged families, mentoring youths, and most recently, expanding the Midwest Sports Academy programs in the surrounding communities.
Victoria Aidaro was born and raised in Mexico. After high school, she attended the Technology University of Leon in Guanajuato, Mexico and received her degree in Marketing. After learning English, Victoria came to the US in 2008 where she met her husband a few years later. Victoria eventually attended ECC to receive her Paraprofessional certification, and she now works for U-46 as a paraprofessional.
Victoria has two sons who are 9 and 7. In her spare time, she likes to play basketball, cook, and travel.
Fredy is a YLA '17 alum, born and raised in Elgin, Illinois. He attended Marmion Academy and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign majoring in Recreation, Sport and Tourism with a concentration in Sport Management. He landed his first post-graduate job as a Spanish Content Coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. With the 49ers granted international marketing rights in Mexico, Fredy now works to help expand their brand in Mexico, by running the Spanish 49ers’ website, managing the publication and distribution of Spanish content on the site, as well as collaborating with contributors in Mexico.
Rory Jeanniton is a lifelong Elginite who left as a young adult - building skills and leveling up as he served the USA as an aircraft maintainer in the United States Air Force. After his enlistment ended, Rory returned to Illinois and turned his attention toward mental health. Enrolling in Northwestern University, he graduated with his Masters at the peak of Covid in 2020.
Now he resides in Elgin working as a Licensed Professional Therapist at Rally Point Counseling, working with young adults and adults as they navigate life stressors. Rory prides himself at being authentic and compassionate while providing his skills to the community. He was also a YLA cadet and is proud to give his time back to the organization.
Jennifer has been an Elgin resident for most of her life. After graduating from Larkin High School in 2005 with her CNA license, she then went to Olympia College in North Aurora and graduated as a CMA in 2006. Jennifer has been working in the medical field since and she loves it! She has goals to go back to school and further her career.
Ms. Hatzog is a mother of two beautiful children, Julian and Julissa, who are her whole world. When she’s not working, you can find her at one of her children’s sporting events or activities cheering them on. You can also find her helping to build her future (hopefully forever) home with the help of Habitat for Humanity. Jennifer recently had some health scares with her vision and has had a few surgeries, but that hasn’t slowed her down. She still loves to read a good book, watch a good movie or show, sing, dance, and try new things and adventures. She has hopes to travel more with her children.
Working with YLA allows Jennifer to be more involved in what her children are into and to get knowledge and information on experiences they need for their future. She believes knowledge is power and that so much can be done with that.
Zulema Ruiz resides in Carpentersville IL. She has two wonderful children and currently works for a health management company as a call center manager. Although life gets busy, being a parent and supporting her children and children in the community have always been a top priority. As an immigrant and coming from a low-income background, she understands the importance of having access to good quality education.
Zulema has supported the Youth Leadership Academy in the past as a family member for a former cadet and as a mentor. She is now thrilled to support the academy as a parent of a new cadet, and she looks forward to continuing to work with the YLA and represent the parents of the cadets in the community.
Officer Edwin Alva is the Resident Officer Program of Elgin (ROPE) officer for 310 N. Spring Street. ROPE was created with the vision that by working and living in a distressed neighborhood, the department will provide police service and outreach initiatives. It is hoped that their presence empowers residents to work together to solve problems, improve their quality of life, and independently take ownership of the neighborhood.
Officer Alva was born and raised in Elgin and lived on the east side for the entirety of his childhood. He is an alumnus of McKinley Elementary School, Ellis and Larsen Middle Schools, and Elgin High School. He then attended Elgin Community College and Western Illinois University. Growing up, he had the opportunity to participate in Elgin police programs such as Shop with a Cop and D.A.R.E. These, along with other programs, have allowed him to experience firsthand the positive results that community policing can have.
Dr. Gillian Stewart-Wells
Dr. Stewart-Wells earned a B.A. from Loyola University of Chicago, an M.Ed. in Education Administration/Multicultural Approaches from the University of Hawaii, and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration/Social Justice from Claremont Graduate University/San Diego State University. She completed post-doctoral work at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, and engaged in research design as a researcher/analyst with the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research. From private CCCU institutions such as Gordon College (Wenham, MA) to larger public institutions like the University of Hawaii, Dr. Stewart-Wells has gained university experience in five states: Illinois, Hawaii, California, New York, and Massachusetts. Her scholarship agenda has focused largely on social justice education.
Dr. Gillian Stewart-Wells, Ph.D. joined the University Cabinet as Provost and Chief Academic Officer at Judson University in 2018. In her 30 years in higher education, Dr. Stewart-Wells has been a professor in undergraduate, masters, and doctoral programs. In addition to teaching, she has held administrative positions in secondary and post-secondary education: Dean of Students, Department Chair, Program Director, Chair of Graduate Programs, Vice President of Curriculum and Instruction, and Provost/Chief Academic Officer.