Valena (they/them) has been a resident of Champaign County since 2012. They earned their Master's Degree in Social Work from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They have been involved in non-profit work since moving to Champaign and are currently employed as a therapist. In their work and personal advocacy, they strive to exemplify feminist, anti-racist, and gender and sexuality affirming values. After years of attending Uniting Pride events, Valena became involved with the Pride Committee and co-facilitating UParent in 2021 and found a welcoming, inclusive, affirming community that they wanted to continue to be a part of, and from there joined the board in 2022. When they are not involved in community projects, they can be found playing board games with their partner and friends and cuddling with their three cats.
Alli (she/her) has been a resident of Champaign County since 2008. Her professional life has spanned across industries and positions in retail, service, and food and beverage, and now Alli works for the City of Champaign. Walking through so many different parts of this community over the course of so many years gives Alli a unique perspective she can bring to her work with Uniting Pride. She's also been an active volunteer with UP since nearly the beginning of UP's history. This means she's gotten to watch the organization grow and change, and is honored to step into this new leadership role as Uniting Pride embarks on the most ambitious period to date. In particular, you may recognize Alli from her deep involvement with Pride Fest, serving as the operations and logistics manager for the program (and being given the honorary title of "Head Lesbian In Charge").
Samitha (They/She) grew up in Bengaluru, India. She is a junior studying at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign majoring in Finance and Management. She started a queer affinity group in the Gies College of Business and is active in queer RSOs on campus. She is passionate about making an impact in the community using her business acumen. She has worked as a consultant for several non-profit organizations and is excited to serve on the board of Uniting Pride. In her free time, she enjoys painting, sewing and embroidery.
Jacqueline (she/her) is the Chief Executive Officer of The Kalipeni Foundation, a 501c(3) organization dedicated to serving the communities of Luncheza, Malawi by providing water, education, and safe spaces for girls. Jacqueline was born in Malawi, Africa, but raised in America with her five siblings. The value of helping your fellow man came from the old African teachings that were instilled by her parents. Jacqueline attended the University of Illinois at Urbana, where she learned the power of using her voice. She is passionate about teaching people the power of only one human, importance of community, and that even as one, you can stand for one thousand. Jacqueline is one of the warmest examples that ordinary people can do extraordinary things if only given the opportunity to dream further than what they can see. Jacqueline has vast experience in education, international relations, social services, and volunteering. She is also a dynamic speaker offering workshops, trainings, guest lectures, and keynote addresses at churches, organizations, and academic institutions.
Martha A. Mills (they...etc.[gender is hard, y'all]) has lived in Champaign since 2007. They work as an Office Support Specialist at University Laboratory High School. When not working, they can be found hanging out with their amazing kid, partners, and fur-babies. They've been in the activist community for a number of years, and are passionate about dismantling the systems of oppression that hold back members of the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities. They are a founding member of CUTENet, and have always been an admirer of the work Uniting Pride does in the community. They are currently taking classes in Labor & Employment Relations and Social Work in the hopes of furthering their ability to advocate for this and other communities.
Members at Large
Dr. Shaciarra Hamilton (she/her) is a psychologist at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana Counseling Center. Dr. Hamilton received her Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Xavier University of New Orleans in 2022. She completed her Predoctoral Internship at the UIUC Counseling Center in 2022 and has been working as a Clinical Counselor at the Counseling Center since. As a psychologist, Dr. Hamilton serves in a clinical role through therapeutic services, engages in outreach planning and executions, and serves on several administrative and outreach committees. Dr. Hamilton is a generalist and enjoys working with a variety of clinical presentations, and her professional emphases include multiculturalism concerns, queer issues, relational and cultural issues, identity development, trauma, disordered eating, and body image. Dr. Hamilton believes in the power of connection, community, and collaboration. Dr. Hamilton is originally from Mississippi, loves sweet tea and Laffy taffy jokes, and can be found riding horses, doing archery, or spending time with family and friends when not working or volunteering.
Jess (they/them) was born and raised in Central Illinois. For the past twenty-five years they have been involved in community music, theater, and other various performaning arts. You may have seen them performing in plays and musicals at Parkland and the Station Theater. For the past five years, they have been performing as a drag king under the monicker Spank Knightly (alt: Mr. Knightly) in various cities across the country. When not performing, they work at the Virginia Theater as a box office receptionist. Jess is very excited to be more involved in the community at large, and is looking forward to the opportunity to help the UP Center do just that.
Jess enjoys drawing, cartoon and animation history, video games, building a dollhouse, their spouse, and their dog, Nugget.
Avery (they/them) has been a central Illinois resident their whole life. Coming from a small rural town they were first pushed to fight for queer spaces in high school when a counter petition struck down an attempt to establish the schools first Gay-Straight Alliance. Knowing the importance of community they relocated to Champaign-Urbana in 2010 to be closer to the established Goth/Industrial scene, which they are still an active member of. When not at home with their partner and three cats they can be found with local performance troupes showing off their skills with fire and physical comedy, using their platform to make others laugh or to promote social issues such as the struggles trans youth are facing today.
Director of Operations
Nicole (she/they) started on her journey of volunteerism, advocacy, and action at a very young age. Her first experience was going along with Mom to the picket lines when Mom’s teachers union was close to striking, and as she knocked doors for political candidates - something Mom did a lot. This helped Nicole get an incredible lesson in direct action at a very early age that left an indelible impact. And then, after their middle school class did a day of service at a local homeless shelter, she and some school friends started their own action group called Kids Who Care in order to continue contributing to solutions to a vast array of problems. That would be the first time Nicole took a leadership role in what would become a long list.
Since then, Nicole’s work has spanned performing arts, political and social advocacy, education, administration and operations, fundraising, and programming and events. While studying classical acting at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, they explored history, sociology, psychology, literature, political science, and art across a variety of mediums, to deliberately and purposefully become the kind of producing, teaching, and performing artist who affects the world around her. She still practices their craft today. But alongside her work as an artist, they discovered a love for the mechanics of how things work, and how a better functioning system can make a bigger impact on the world. This appreciation for organization and structure, while deploying the creative process at its best, is what brought her to nonprofit management and operations.
Now with 20+ years of adult work in this world, and 40+ years of participation when including work as a young person, they join Uniting Pride at a pivotal moment. UP is on a massive growth trajectory and Nicole is honored to be tasked with harnessing its potential to the greatest effect. An organization like this one always hopes our work results in us being out of a job, because there is no longer a need. Sadly, we’re seeing renewed energy in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, bigotry, and violence that makes our work even more relevant than ever. Nicole welcomes the partnership of anyone interested in tackling the challenges we face today, with a commitment to integrity, transparency, kindness, and respect.
To better understand Nicole and how she approaches their work, think of this quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
Finance and Administration Manager
Andi (she/her) was born and raised in small-town East Texas and has been a resident of Champaign County since 2020. One of the first websites she visited when planning her move to Champaign was UnitingPride.org and she is thrilled to join the team and bring her Champaign dream full circle. Andi has spent her career in administration and finance support roles and is thrilled to bring her knowledge and experience to Uniting Pride of Champaign County. When not working, Andi can be found pet-sitting, reading, playing video games, or spending time with her fiance (also named Andy) and her cat, Meatball.
Joshua Gavel (he/him) grew up in Champaign County before graduating from Southern Illinois University with a Bachelors in Fashion Design & Merchandising in 2018. After some time in Chicago, he returned to the 217 eager to get involved. Josh has long been passionate about volunteering, advocacy, and program development, being actively involved in leadership in multiple student and community organizations and volunteering with Planned Parenthood in high school to leading Styling for a Cause, the Fashion Design and Merchandising Association, and Alpha Rho Chi as President during his time at SIU. After college Josh worked with Macy’s midwest flagship as a member of their leadership team, managing their children’s division, SantaLand, their seasonal onboarding, and serving as the Manager in Charge of Community Outreach and Giving. In this role Josh was fortunate enough to expand his passion for community outreach and development while raising funds for local and national philanthropies such as Bernie’s Books, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Center on Halsted, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Trevor Project. He continued his path into nonprofit work by serving as a Regional Director with Alpha Rho Chi’s national leadership team, helping to develop young leaders in the art, architecture, and design fields. When not working or volunteering Josh loves to spend his time watching movies with his partner and their dog, Ralph, as well as continue exploring his passions for fashion and graphic design, music, and literature. He is excited to continue serving and advocating for the LGBTQIA+ community in his role as Operations Manager.
Aiden (he/him) graduated from Illinois State University in 2022 with a B.S. in Mass Media and moved to the CU area shortly after. His work experience spans marketing, events, and food and beverage, and he's excited to begin the rewarding journey of non-profit work. Aiden served as a Marketing Assistant in the ISU Dean of Students office while in school, spent time volunteering with the Humane Society of Central Illinois, and holds a certificate from the American Red Cross in Adult and Pediatric First Aid and CPR. He is eager and honored to give back to a community that has given so much to him. Outside of work, you’ll find him traveling, making art, and playing with his dog.
Youth and Family Coordinator
Anika (She/Her) is a native Canadian, but calls the Washington DC metropolitan area home. Her family is new to Champaign County and excited to be joining the community. Anika began her LGBTQ work as a high schooler helping to found her school’s GSA and volunteering with the Rainbow Family Network. She then went on to University and worked at the University of North Florida’s LGBT Center and later the University of Maryland’s LGBT Resource Center. From there she joined HIPS, a DC harm-reduction organization supporting intravenous drug users and sex workers, as an intern. She then joined SMYAL as the GSA Network specialist. At SMYAL her work included creating teenage specific programing for education and activism around LGBTQ equity. She facilitated support groups and trainings, developed curricula, and organized youth symposiums and educational summer camps. Since then Anika has focused on growth as an artist while working in various fields from bartending to starting her own face printing business. She has spent the last 4 years being a full time parent to her 4-year-old. Joining Uniting Pride as the Youth and Family Coordinator marks her reintroduction to non-profit work and she cannot wait to grow with the UP family!
Uniting Pride committees address many important issues of interest to the Champaign County LGBTQ+ community. Our committees have helped to implement and organize pride festivals, develop and create fundraisers, and foster a warm and welcoming environment for all. We’re in the process of expanding our committees in a large way. If you are interested in learning more about what it means to serve on a committee, click HERE and expand the Committees Section.
Existing Uniting Pride Committees:
Fundraising and Outreach Committee
Youth and Family Committee
Fundraising and Outreach Committee
Youth and Family Committee