Community Member Spotlight: Meet Andrea Sáenz

Categories: Chicago Public Library Foundation Community

From the public sector to the nonprofit community, Andrea Sáenz has been leading the charge to change.

All roads lead to public service

Andrea’s path has not always been clear to her, nor was it particularly linear. “I took it role by role, each one fitting a sense of what I needed to be doing at that time,” she shares candidly. Andrea did know that she wanted to do work that will make things better for people and communities.

“At the heart of why I have chosen the roles I have is the opportunity to contribute to the well-being of others.” – Andrea Sáenz

Public service is the compass that has guided Andrea throughout her career – from policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education to executive director of the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement to the chief of staff to Chicago Public Schools’ CEO, to the first deputy commissioner and chief strategy officer at  Chicago Public Library. The intense focus on service continues to drive Andrea in her COO role at The Chicago Community Trust as she works with partners and stakeholders to build a thriving, equitable, and connected Chicago.

Bringing her complete identity as a leader

Andrea leads with the same mantra she lives by─focus on the mission and the work. She strives to inspire her colleagues and partners day in and day out with a simple question, “How is our work making things better?”

“What unites the teams and the organizations I work with is finding how to get impactful work done and get it done well.”

As a leader, it is also of utmost importance for Andrea to bring her complete identity to her work. “I acknowledge that it is rare for women to have top leadership roles in most sectors. It is even rarer for a Latina to have these roles,” she explains.

Raised in an immigrant family and working directly with Latinx communities, Andrea has felt the responsibility of being the voice of a perspective that would otherwise be missing. “It is important that I bring my heritage, my upbringing, and my identity as a Latina to every role, every environment, and every decision-making table I got to be a part of,” Andrea shares.

In a lot of ways, Andrea feels inadequate to the weight of responsibility of representation. But it is a weight she feels privileged to carry.

Once a library lover, always a library lover

As the first deputy commissioner and chief strategy officer of CPL, Andrea saw the Library’s impact up close.

“What I found compelling working at the Library is that there is a space of learning in every neighborhood in the city of Chicago.”

Andrea witnessed the transformative learning that happens daily across the 81 branches (and now even at home, thanks to CPL’s robust digital resources and services). “The Library has committed to reaching everyone through high-quality, highly relevant, and enriching learning experiences. It was a real honor to be part of that,” she shares with a sense of pride.

One fond memory that Andrea will forever hold dear is seeing firsthand the way children and families responded to changes in CPL’s approach to children’s library spaces. Transforming the once quiet children’s library to a space of developmentally appropriate learning where kids can sing, dance, play, read, and make noise was extremely special. “The Library has become a welcoming place for children to learn by following their natural curiosity. At the same time, CPL has also become a space that supports community-building among parents and caregivers,” she says.

This affinity towards the Library, one that extends beyond work, led Andrea to continue contributing to CPL. After her term at the Library, she joined the Chicago Public Library Foundation Board of Directors and has since brought her experience and expertise in finding ways to realize the possibility of what the Library could fully be. “During my time at the Library, I worked with the Library Foundation and the Foundation community regularly. I know how critically important these partnerships were in the Library’s ability to provide life-enhancing services and resources to every Chicagoan,” Andrea explains. “I want to contribute what I can to keep innovating and making our Library better so more people can have access to and benefit from this amazing institution,” she adds.

Thank you, Andrea, for everything you do for our Chicago Public Library and the city of Chicago.

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