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Staff Bios

Tasha R. Green Cruzat


Tasha R. Green Cruzat joined Voices for Illinois Children as its president in March 2016 with more than twenty-five years of experience in the public and private sectors of education, business, and government. Immediately prior to joining Voices, Tasha served as the Chief of Staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, where she was responsible for an operating budget of $4.2 billion. Previously, Tasha was with the State of Illinois as the Senior Management Advisor to the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget and before that as the Chief Operating Officer for Central Management Services, one of the largest state agencies, with an operating budget of $4.5 billion.

Prior to joining the State of Illinois, Ms. Cruzat was the Executive Director of High Jump, a non-profit organization devoted to providing enriched academic opportunities for talented, low-income middle-school students in Chicago. Ms. Cruzat dedicated six years of active duty service in the United States Navy, where she received awards including the National Defense Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal. In 2009, Tasha was appointed by Governor Pat Quinn to the Illinois Reform Commission — an independent advisory group of commissioners whose role was to examine Illinois government practices and ethics, and make recommendations for cleaning up state government.

Tasha is a board member for the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Tasha holds a BA in Political Science from Brooklyn College, an MA in Education Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and an MBA from the University of Notre Dame. Ms. Cruzat was born in the city of Chicago and raised in Evanston, Illinois. She is married to Edward Cruzat, and currently lives in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. In her spare time, Tasha enjoys mentoring children, playing golf and tennis, along with spending time with her family.

Tasha’s complete bio can be found here.


John Gordon

John Gordon joined Voices for Illinois Children as a Policy Analyst in April 2017. John has worked for the Illinois House of Representatives as a member of the Speaker’s Issues Development Staff and previously worked for the House as a Committee Clerk. John also interned in Springfield for the lobbying firm of Cook-Witter, Inc. In 2016, he worked on Jack Frank’s successful campaign for McHenry County Board Chairman. John has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Missouri and a master’s degree in political science from the University of Illinois-Springfield.

Madelyn James

Madelyn James, early childhood project manager, is a passionate advocate for ensuring all children from birth to age 8 and their families have the necessary supports to achieve a strong foundation for future success. Ms. James’ responsibility at Voices is to build an approach that advocates for supports that benefit the “whole child.” Her first career was in business, where she honed negotiation, team building, management, budgeting, and strategic planning skills. Prior to joining Voices, Ms. James served in various capacities as a direct service provider, a Head Start and state preschool teacher, an Illinois STARNET trainer and project director, a supervisor of home visiting and center-based programs, director of the National Lekotek affiliates and early childhood training, a National Association for the Education of Young Children fellow, an adjunct faculty member with Chicago City Colleges, and as consultant and member of local, state, and national early childhood collaboratives. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Bradley University and a master’s degree in early childhood education from Dominican University in River Forest, Ill. She has two adult children and recently became a grandmother for the first time to a beautiful baby named Illyana.

Deree Kobets

Deree Kobets is the Chief Financial Officer at Voices.  Deree moved to Chicago in 1994 from North Carolina to begin her career in accounting and finance at Apex Venture Partners, a local venture capital firm.  While spending a large part of her earlier career in for-profit companies, she turned her interest to non-profit organizations in 2014.  She lives in West Town with her husband and two daughters.  Deree received her bachelor’s degree in Economics and Math from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and achieved her MBA from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Mitch Lifson

Mitch Lifson is a Senior Policy Analyst with more than 20 years of experience working in state and local government.  Mr. Lifson’s professional experience includes working as a policy and legislative adviser for the Illinois Department of Revenue and serving as Deputy Director of the Policy and Budget Staff for the Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus.  During his time with the Senate, his responsibilities included staffing the Senate Revenue Committee as well as a task force on property tax reform.  In addition to his government work experience, Mr. Lifson has worked as a radio news reporter for stations throughout the Midwest and Florida.  He has a bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University, a masters’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania.

Jeannette Mihalek 

Jeannette Mihalek joined Voices for Illinois Children as its Director of Development in November 2016. Jeannette has over a decade of experience in fund development for nonprofit organizations in the areas of grants management, corporate sponsorship, and individual giving. Prior to joining Voices, Ms. Mihalek worked at the McGaw YMCA as the Director, Grant Management, specializing in corporate and foundation relations and program evaluation. She has also held Development positions with the public policy-focused Center for Economic Progress and Congress for the New Urbanism in Chicago. Jeannette has a strong track record of success in fundraising, notably securing and managing grants from some of the country’s largest foundations including the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.  Ms. Mihalek currently serves as Treasurer for the Board of Directors of Literacy Works. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston and a Master in Public Policy from the University of Chicago’s Harris School. She and her husband live in Evanston, Illinois.

Anna Rowan

Anna Rowan joined Voices in March 2017 as our Kids Count Project Manager. Anna’s previous experience includes working as a policy analyst at The Education Trust in Washington D.C. While at the Education Trust, she reviewed state and federal education policies as well as school and state-level data from across the country with a focus on educational equity. She also interned with the Tennessee Department of Education where she assisted with an urban education improvement program. Anna has a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University and received her master’s degree in public policy from Vanderbilt with a concentration in education policy.