A Greater Chatham Initiative program


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 directs our FoodLab Chicago project.

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.

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.

Matthew Williams - Greater Chatham Initiative

Matthew Williams works with Greater Chatham Initiative as an Operations Consultant. He is responsible for building operating systems for new initiatives. He also works in the Food Lab program providing technical assistance to the cohort members. Matthew was born and raised in Chicago. After graduating from Cornell University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Sociology, he worked in the operations department of a large Outdoor Media Company for four years. He worked as the Director of Operations at a tech Start up for the next two years. His experience has helped him develop a skillset to build systems, work collaboratively, and communicate effectively.

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.