TITLE: Program Officer, Community & Civic Engagement
FUNDING AREAS: Civic engagement, low-income families, the Latino population, and parents and women
CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)
IP TAKE: Nieves isn't afraid to voice her opinions regarding immigration and its related issues—loudly. Policymakers would do well to listen.
PROFILE: The W.K. Kellogg Foundation picked up Esther Nieves as a program officer for its Community & Civic Engagement program. She works out of Kellogg's office in Battle Creek, Michigan, but her grants find their way all over the United States.
The groups of focus for Nieves' grantmaking are low-income families, the Latino population, parents, and women. To date, the largest grant given by Kellogg since Nieves came onboard was $3 million to the Women's Funding Network. The network collaborates with groups nationwide, led by women, that address poverty, domestic violence, lack of health care, and other issues that affect single-female-parent households and their children disproportionately.
Much of Nieves's grantmaking also centers around helping working parents. In 2011, she granted $1.2 million to the Connecticut Commission on Children in Hartford to "strengthen civic engagement skills of parents by supporting the national expansion of the Parent Leadership Training Institute." Then, in 2012, Nieves granted $1.5 million to Parents for Public Schools, Inc. to support low-income parents in the state of Mississippi who are interested in fighting to improve the quality of public education.
Kellogg hired Nieves toward the end of 2010. At that time, she was working in Philadelphia as national director of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). AFSC is a Nobel Prize-winning Quaker organization that supports the rights of immigrants and refugees. Nieves ran the AFSC's Project Voice, Human Migration and Mobility initiative, which works at the national level to build a sense of community among immigrants through "human rights documentation, leadership training, public policy advocacy, base building and alliance building," according to a brochure for a talk Nieves gave for the Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance.
Before Philadelphia, it was Chicago. Nieves graduated from Loyola with a bachelor's degree in Latin American literature and education in 1984, then followed with a master's degree in social services administration from the University of Chicago in 1987. Along with her master's, she received University of Chicago's Alumni Medal, the "highest honor the Alumni Association can bestow," according to the University of Chicago Chronicle.
After finishing school, Nieves worked for the Chicago Field Foundation as a program officer and then for Erie Neighborhood House as an executive director between 1997 and 2003. Erie is a non-profit, Chicago-based organization dedicated to improving the experience of low-income Latino families in the area through "skill-building and intellectual development." At around this same time, Nieves got involved with Kellogg. She first received a fellowship through Kellogg, and the foundation later elected her to become part of the Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance.
Also during the early 2000s, Nieves developed a serious antagonism with Chicago's Immigration and Naturalization (INS) office. Citing "lost paperwork filed years ago" and "blatantly abusive verbal encounters with INS staff," she argues in a 1999 Chicago Tribune article that the city's INS "is disconnected from its customers and operates as an independent institution." Nieves labels them the epitome of a badly run government organization and calls for stricter INS oversight, along with the creation of a centralized body for "follow-up[s] on all complaints or protocol violations by INS representatives." By no means do these criticisms of the city come from an outsider's perspective. Nieves also spent some time working for the City of Chicago, whose Human Services Department gave her the Hispanic Award for Distinguished Service. Immigrant rights have subsequently become another large concern of hers, as evidenced in her grantmaking.