Our Team.

Our Starting Lineup for Chicago Veterans

Karen Hernandez, Executive Director

Karen Hernandez enlisted into the U.S. Army in 2008 and is currently a Medical Operations Officer for the 108th MMB. Karen graduated from Lewis University with a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science/Criminal Social Justice. Karen is the mother of an intelligent, highly energetic five-year-old who challenges her to continue excelling in her career fields every day. Karen currently serves as the Executive Director for Chicago Veterans.

Kevin Barszcz, Founder & President

Kevin grew up on the Northwest side of Chicago. After High School, he joined the U.S. Navy and was attached to CVN-77, Engineering Department, with the ''Mighty E-Division.'' In 2011 he deployed to the Middle East with Carrier Strike Group Two in direct support of Operation Enduring Freedom with the Navy’s 5th and 6th Fleets. Kevin returned home in 2012 and graduated from DePaul University. While a student, he connected with other student veterans and helped launch Chicago Veterans.

Pedro Lopez, Employment Manager

Pedro served in the U.S. Army from 2004 - 2010 (Active) as an Infantry Motarman for 3-8 Cav. (Warhorse) 1st Cavalry Division. During his tenure, Pedro was based at Ft. Hood and deployed twice to Iraq. Since leaving the Military, Pedro began recruiting for Fortune 500 companies in multiple industries. Pedro has been involved with initiating military recruiting programs for multiple corporate entities. Pedro's passion is to see Veterans hired and become successful in their civilian life.

Gabrielle Castaldo, Marketing Manager

Gabrielle was born and raised in southwest Ohio, where she was surrounded by service members in her extended family and her community. Now calling Chicago home, she wanted to give back to the local veteran community that taught her lessons of selflessness and friendship growing up. She is excited to be taking her skills and experience gained in her work to support marketing and event initiatives for Chicago Veterans.

Angel Melendez, Media Production

Born and raised on the Northwest side of Chicago, Angel enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2007 and served as a Paratrooper with the1-501st PIR, 25th Infantry Division, deploying as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2009. He separated from active duty service in 2011 and joined the Illinois National Guard where he continued his service with the 178th Infantry Regiment until 2014. Angel graduated from Columbia College and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Audio Design & Production. He is currently the Production Coordinator at the Pritzker Military Museum where he produces the television show "Pritzker Military Presents."

Nestor Zavala, Program Manager

Nestor was born in Chicago, IL and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps from August 2007 through August 2011. Upon leaving the service, Nestor attended Harold Washington College and Elmhurst College, earning a Bachelors's in Communication. Nestor hosts and volunteers at various Veteran events throughout the city including and helped produce Chicago Veterans Art Initiative, which provides a platform for Veteran artist and family members to exhibit art in a unique one-day pop-up art exhibition.

Jose Campos, Family Events Coordinator

Jose served in the U.S. Marine Corps and is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. He is a huge supporter of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and is currently an officer at the American Legion Dorman Dunn post on Chicago’s south side. Jose Campos is our Family Events Coordinator for Chicago Veterans focusing on producing more family-focused events in the Chicagoland area and is currently a board member.

Dr. Domonicque Tatum, Peer Support

Dr. Domonicque Tatum is an Army OIF/OEF combat veteran who enlisted in the U.S. Army on Sept 11, 2001. As a veteran who experienced a difficult transition upon separation from service, Domonicque has dedicated his life to continuing to serve those who have served. He has worked in the area of military veterans and family reintegration for the past 13 years. Domonicque holds a Doctorate from Governor State University, Master’s in Clinical Social Work and Business from the University of Chicago, Public Administration/Affairs from Indiana University, as well as a Bachelor’s in Psychology from George Mason University.

Rolando Zavala, Recreational & Social Therapy

Rolando grew up on the Southeast side of Chicago. After High School, he enlisted in the U.S. Army deploying to the Diyala province and Mosul in support of OIF (07-09). After his redeployment, he was then assigned to the “Fighting 101” and was part of Alpha Battery 1/320th Field Artillery Regiment, 2 BCT, 101st ABN DIV (AASLT). He deployed with the 101st in support of OEF (10-11) to the Arghandab River Valley in Kandahar where he earned a Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for valor, and a Purple Heart for wounds sustained in theater. He was medically retired in 2013. Rolando went on to earn his Bachelors of Social work in 2017 at Northeastern Illinois University with an emphasis on Veteran Recreational and Exposure Therapy.

Donna Manella, Community Liaison

Donna Manella, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard / Coast Guard Reserves from 1989-1997, is a board member of Chicago Veterans and an active member of the American Legion Post 134, Morton Grove. Donna is a managing broker for a real estate firm in Chicago IL and holds a Military Relocation Professional (r) designation, which focuses on the needs of active, retired, and veteran military personnel.

Carlos Vega, Veteran Community Liaison

Jose Carlos Vega joined the U.S. Army in 2003 after experiencing the events of 9/11 first hand while working for a corporate investment firm located in the World Trade Center. He went on to serve three tours in Iraq. He recently graduated from DePaul with a degree in IT. He currently works as an associate at a Chicago based corporate investment firm. Jose Carlos is a former Board Member and continues to serve our veteran community as a Trustee.

Johnny Gonzalez, Volunteer Coordinator

John joined the U.S. Army while in High School. He was trained as a Communication Specialist and assigned to 37th Engineer Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division. After serving four years on Active Duty, which included a deployment to Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti, he served as a Combat Medic for the 113th Reserve Infantry Unit in his hometown of Newark, NJ. Once John moved to Chicago and entered the workforce, he attended college ultimately earning a B.S. in Aviation from Lewis University and M.B.A. from Benedictine University. John works as a Business Development Representative for a Chicago-based eCommerce company and assists Chicago Veterans in Process Development and Strategy.

Carolina Contreras, Outreach Sponsor Coordinator

Carolina grew up in the Southside of Chicago in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. She enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 2004 and served as a Hospital Corpsman until 2010. While serving she deployed on the USS Boxer LHD-4 in 2005 as well as on the USNS Mercy in 2008. Carolina graduated from National University in 2015 with a Bachelors of Science in Public Health. She gained knowledge of Veteran benefits as a Veterans Service Representative while working at the Department of Veterans Affairs. She is currently the Director of Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation for The American Legion Department of Illinois.