Christine Bell, Executive Director of UNI Christine Bell, LMSW is a community and youth development practitioner, teacher and mentor with 18 years of experience, 16 of those years have been in Detroit neighborhoods. She currently serves as the Executive Director of Urban Neighborhood Initiatives. She was the architect of 9 high quality youth development programs including the Southwest Detroit Mural Arts Project as well as has been a leader in efforts focused on education and youth driven community development. Ms. Bell led UNI in collective impact efforts including co-founding Every School Day Counts Detroit, a multi sector effort to decrease chronic absence. She brings to this project important leadership and strong connections to youth and families in Springwells based on a decade of relationship building and leadership in the neighborhood. She is an adjunct professor at Madonna University in the social work department. Ms. Bell holds a Bachelors in Social Work from Michigan State University (2001) and a Masters in Social Work from Wayne State University (2006). Most importantly, Ms. Bell is a wife and mother to three beautiful children, Louis (6), Quintin (4) and Emersyn (2).
Raúl Echevarria, Director of Land Use and Economic Development Raúl Echevarria is a community development practitioner with more than 20 years of experience, primarily in Humboldt Park, a historical Puerto Rican community in Chicago, IL. Raúl is a student at Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit pursuing a Master of Divinity degree. He approaches his work by uniting theories centered on community building development with theologies based on the liberation of the oppressed, social justice and decolonization. Raúl reflects and expounds on this experience in community building as an Adjunct Faculty at the University of Detroit-Mercy, where he teaches in the Master of Community Development program in the School of Architecture. Echevarria has been married to Ana for 16 years, and they have two adult children, Jazzmin and Nicholas. The family resides in Wyandotte, MI.
Alicia McCormick, Youth Development Director Alicia McCormick is a licensed social worker with more than 12 years’ experience in child and youth development. She began at UNI in 2013 as a Master of Social Work intern from the University of Michigan where she focused on community organization and social systems. After graduating, she spent two years coordinating youth development programming before she took on the Youth Development Director role in 2015. Alicia is currently a Field Instructor and provides social work supervision for Master of Social Work interns from the University of Michigan and Madonna University. She is also a certified Youth Work Management trainer through the David P. Weikart Center for Program Quality. Alicia is passionate about program quality and ensuring authentic youth voice is infused in every aspect of our work. Alicia dedicates the majority of her time outside of UNI with her husband, Cyrus, and her two young daughters, Zoya and Mina.
Alejandra Gomez,Education Initiatives Coordinator Alejandra Gomez has been a part of UNI for the past 13 years; starting when she was in 7th grade and was a part of our after-school program. Alejandra graduated from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, with a degree in International Studies and a minor in Health Policy Studies. Alejandra loves being a part of UNI because she has experienced first-hand the amazing work UNI does, but also because she believes in their mission and it has been a place for personal growth. The staff at UNI, has allowed her to be curious and trust her instincts as well as providing opportunities to expand her knowledge and leadership skills. Her catholic faith plays a huge role in her life, she is a part of the Basilica of Ste. Anne de Detroit. She evangelizes in many ways including organizing and facilitating retreats with Jornadas and being an active member of her church by reading on Sundays and being the Eucharist minister. Alejandra is also the Co-Coordinator for Our Lady of Guadalupe Youth Group, where they provide a safe space for youth to share their faith. Alejandra enjoys spending time with her husband, Marcos, whether it be going on a walk or watching a new show on Netflix.
Lisa Rodriguez, Fund Development Coordinator Lisa Rodriguez is a first generation High School and College graduate. Lisa graduated from Wayne State University, where she faced a life changing trajectory filled with mentors and opportunities. During Lisa's junior year, she was granted an artist residency at the Heidelberg Project and in her senior year, she was chosen as the first curator of the Heidelberg Project. Lisa graduated with honors and holds three degrees in Fine Arts. Lisa started at UNI as a volunteer and worked in their blight elimination program. Through a sponsored two year Americorps program, she was able to expand UNI's blight elimination program and create the Land Stewardship Program. This program enlisted residents to nominate, liberate and steward vacant lots, green spaces and parks while collaborating with volunteers. Today my community engagement work continues as UNI's Donor Engagement Officer. Lisa enjoys long walks in the forest and the shore line with her beautiful german shepherd, Koolie. She also enjoys the mental challenge of scrabble and tennis has been her lifelong sport.
Edgar Gomez,Youth Leadership Coordinator Edgar Gomez is the Youth Leadership Coordinator at Urban Neighborhood Initiatives. He has been involved in the organization for the past 10 years as a participant in the programs and now a staff member. Edgar is a graduate from the University of Michigan- Dearborn with a bachelor's degree in Sociology. He was born and raised in Southwest Detroit and now a resident in Lincoln Park. Edgar's passion stems from his ideology that all youth regardless of background deserve equal opportunities in their education and in life. His work in the organization focuses on assisting youth to be leaders in their community and tackle problems that affect them and their peers. During his free time, Edgar enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter. He also plays the ukulele and enjoys to paint as a hobby.
Vania Ruiz, Youth Workforce Development Coordinator Vania Ruiz first worked at UNI from 2012-2014 as the Community Schools Coordinator at Phoenix Multicultural Academy. She rejoined UNI in September 2019 as the Youth Workforce Development Coordinator. She leads and oversees all youth employment programs, servicing youth through year-round employment, and summer employment through Grow Detroit’s Young Talent. Vania is also leading the implementation of a Collective Impact Network that will develop a neighborhood collective impact strategy with organizations that provide wraparound support, referrals, and career pathways to support opportunity youth in the neighborhood better. She has a strong history of bringing together partners to provide high-quality opportunities and resources that will connect and encourage youth to achieve long-term, economic success. Vania's other passion is Futbol, she is a founding member of a youth soccer league in Pontiac, MI - Wild Dogs Futbol Club. Her and her husband live in Southgate and are parents to two children, Valentino and Camila.
URBAN NEIGHBORHOOD INITIATIVES 8300 LONGWORTH ST. DETROIT 48209 (313) 841-4447