A Greater Chatham Initiative program


Tamieka Hardy - Greater Chatham Initiative

Tamieka Hardyis the Program Coordinator for the FoodLab Chicago program.  She has always possessed a zeal for food dating back to childhood. She is known for stating how much she admired the ways mealtimes unite family and friends, especially during the holidays. The drive to perpetually recreate this bond drove her to pursue a career in the food industry.

Tamieka gained an understanding of the correlation between diet and health while pursuing an Associate’s Degree in the Culinary Arts at Kendall College in Chicago.  This knowledge along with the desire to coordinate healthier eating habits for people in her community, a community where diet derived illnesses are prevalent, drove her to focus on dietary habits and the biological and chemical attributes associated with dietary trends.  Tamieka continued her education, attending Dominican University, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in the dual majors of Food Science and Nutrition, and Culinology®, and then a Master of Food Safety and Technology from the Illinois Institute of Technology.  Her academic experiences instilled an understanding of the functionality of foods in the diet.

Tamieka lauds a diverse career in the food industry.  She has functioned in roles of chef, quality assurance, regulatory management, food safety oversight, research and development, ingredient applications, product commercialization and foodservice, and food writing.  She advocates implementing a well-rounded diet and healthy lifestyle choices to improve quality of life.  Tamieka achieves this by unifying experiences through her career in culinary science, food safety, and regulatory affairs to innovate and implement food innovation solutions.

In her spare time, Tamieka consults in food safety and food R & D solutions. She also enjoys gardening, outdoor activities, and creating new works as a mosaic and mixed media artist.

Nedra Sims Fears - Greater Chatham Initiative

Nedra Sims Fears is Executive Director of the Greater Chatham Initiative (GCI). Fears is an economic development expert who specializes in strategic planning, financial modeling, community development financing, and program management.  At GCI, she

  • Created a new Chatham Center Chicago—a branded commercial retail area that has an accompanying online directory of 300 merchants and service providers
  • Collaborated with partners to undertake multi-prong activities that contributed to the recent uptick in Greater Chatham housing sales and prices—making Chatham a bright spot in Chicago’s housing market.
  • In 2020 she and others established
    • FoodLab Chicago—which will improve 25 food businesses located on the Restaurant Row corridor located on 75th Street
    • An Arts District by starting a makers’ space in collaboration with The Silver Room.
  • Led the completion of an economic development plan for the four neighborhoods
  • Secured MacArthur Foundation, Chicago Community Trust, Federal Express, Exelon Corporation, etc., funding

Earlier in her career Fears financed $1 billion in low- and moderate-income single-family and multi-family housing for Fannie Mae, City of Chicago Department of Housing and Community Investment Corporation.

Fears is a National Committee member for Middle Neighborhoods—an entity that promotes middle neighborhoods.  She is a Harvard Loeb Fellow. Fears holds a BS from Cornell University in Interior Architecture and a MBA in finance from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She had an ideal childhood in the Chatham community and recently purchased and rehabbed Ernie Banks former house a few blocks from her family home for her big multi-generational family. She’s married with two young adult daughters who came home due to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) Pandemic.

John Handler - Greater Chatham Initiative

John works with the 2,500 businesses in the Greater Chatham area in particular promoting and growing the leading industrial clusters of Fabricated Metals, Transportation, Distribution & Logistics (TDL) and Food Processing & Packaging. John is leading our charge into Urban Manufacturing and entrepreneurial development & incubation. His 24 years in the food and beverage sector provides him deep insight to lead our small business and restaurant corridor development initiatives. John directed FoodLab Chicago 1.0 & 2.0.


John grew up in manufacturing, first building cars at Chrysler in downtown Detroit. Then Ingrid and EKCO Housewares. Was CEO of GB Engineering pioneering 3D technologies in product development and tool building. Founded Truck Dispatching Innovations consulting to 100+ companies pioneering last mile route optimization, GPS and mobile technologies. Deep small business insight having owned and operated restaurants and coffee shops for the past 24 years. Mr Handler has extensive international experience – 3yrs Southern Africa, twice set up factories in Mexico, sourced and supported products in China. Engineering degree in advanced Manufacturing and an MBA from Harvard Business School with an organizational behavior and Industrial Strategy focus.

Laverne Thomas - Greater Chatham Initiative

Laverne Thomas is a millennial faith based entrepreneur who uses her education, experience and expertise to help rebuild, restructure and rejuvenate the urban community. Her passion for urban revitalization began in childhood being the fifth of nine children who were raised in the Englewood community located on Chicago’s south side. Watching her father work hard as a police officer to provide for his family, barely breaking even while her mother sacrificed her own career to manage the household, she always knew there had to be a better way. Laverne dreamed of an abundant life for her siblings and the other children who grew up in the neighborhood with them. She just knew she had to do something more and she worked hard to make it happen. Always loving school, she earned a double bachelor’s degree from Aurora University in Psychology and Criminal Justice, following up with two master degrees from Saint Xavier University in Educational Administration and Business Administration.


Her education gave her the perfect launch into serving minorities in communities just like the one she grew up in. She successfully engaged in a 17 year career within education, government, business, social service and non profit sectors across Chicago. These arenas positioned her to influence youth, men, women and entire families of underserved atmospheres to live the life of their dreams. Some of her recent notable roles were the Assistant Principal of Chicago Talent Development High School on Chicago’s west side and Director of Youth Ministries for mega church New Life Covenant Church South East. Desiring to make a greater imprint on economic elevation, organizational structure, procedural implementation and leadership development she launched BDL Coaching in 2020. BDL is her very own community and corporate coaching firm operated entirely by minorities. Leading 20 plus certified life coaches, her vision is to position her business to transform the lives of women and minorities within urban communities globally

Tonya Trice - Executive Director

Tonya Trice serves as Executive Director of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce. Since taking on that role she has transformed the organization by developing more robust programming, strengthening relations with governmental agencies, elected officials and collaborating with other community organizations. Her collaborative efforts have resulted in unique opportunities for South Shore that increases stabilization efforts. She works closely with the community stakeholders, particularly the business owners to ensure that the Chamber is supporting their needs, providing training and technical assistance that will enhance opportunities for them to scale their businesses.


Although born and raised in Auburn Gresham, Tonya is a long time resident of the South Shore Community. She and her husband James Trice are small business owners and have 3 adult children. She has an extensive background in real estate development and asset management. Tonya brings a wealth of experience and established community relations to the position of Executive Director.