About Us

Our mission
is simple:

Provide skills training that leads to safe, meaningful employment while helping companies and communities to thrive.

Our Vision is for everyone to reach their career potential, work safely and build a good life.

Our commitment to diversity, racial equity, and inclusion

OAI strongly believes anti-racism, diversity, racial equity, and inclusion are essential to our pursuit of providing individuals with meaningful employment and a safe place to succeed. We are proud to employ people from diverse backgrounds, representing a variety of talents and skills that reflect the communities we serve.

OAI will create a culture where everyone is valued, supported, and inspired to achieve individual and common goals with excellence. This includes, but is not limited to, providing opportunity and access for all people regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender expression, abilities, political affiliations, or socio-economic background.

Our shared commitment drives us forward in creating an inclusive culture that strengthens our connections with each other and the communities we serve. We are stronger when we prioritize equity at the center of everything we do.

Who we serve

When you increase access to quality workforce education, training, and career opportunities, everyone wins.

We focus our efforts where the benefits to people, business, and society are greatest: individuals and communities affected by poverty or lacking necessary resources, companies facing a vanishing labor pool, and people for whom language or culture is a barrier to participation.

Under- or unemployed individuals, including those who have been incarcerated or homeless

Workers who lack the skills to do the job safely, many of whom are immigrants

Emergency responders with limited access to equipment and training

Employers who need skilled workers

Communities hard hit by economic decline

Where we work

We’re national leaders in workforce development and health and safety training. We collaborate with community organizations, worker groups, and employers in more than 20 states in a range of sectors. Our regional development initiative in Chicago’s south suburbs includes High Bridge as well as a community maker lab.

Click on each state for more information on OAI’s partnerships

Why safety and health

People overcoming barriers to employment often find work in the most dangerous sectors of the economy.

Safety- and health-based job training provides a practical framework for developing necessary job skills. It encourages attention to detail and procedure. It offers credentials that give job seekers a hiring advantage. And it keeps people safe and productive and on the job, able to avoid injuries and accidents that cost workers and businesses alike.

“I learned about workers’ rights, employee responsibilities, and how to maintain a sense of integrity while handling difficult situations in the workplace. I can recognize safety and health hazards and I know how to address them. This has helped me in my new work place and also at home.”

Jeanette, Cara Program graduate,
Chicago Transit Authority employee

History and values

For more than 40 years, OAI has been partnering with community-based organizations to meet the needs of men and women struggling to join the American workforce.

Our history

OAI began as a small project launched in 1976 to integrate Indochinese refugees into the social and economic mainstream. Soon, we were applying the comprehensive service delivery model we had piloted with refugees to the workforce development problems of disadvantaged communities throughout greater Chicago.

Early affiliations with Northern Illinois and DePaul Universities strengthened our research-based approach and helped refine our operational model. By the mid 1990s, we were successfully working with community-based partners in Baltimore, Kansas City, and beyond.

In 1995, a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health, enabled us to develop and implement our first training programs leading to credentials in environmental remediation and hazardous materials safety. The award led to further productive partnerships from California to Maine and confirmed our training focus.

By 2001, our success at making technical training accessible to a wide variety of learners opened the door to a new opportunity. OAI was named one of just a handful of workforce development agencies in the U.S. to pilot brownfield cleanup training for the EPA.

In 2006, a group of mayors invited OAI to extend its efforts into the south Cook County region, and the next year the OAI Chicago Southland department was launched to serve job seekers and employers through comprehensive workforce, education, training, and placement services.

High Bridge, established in 2015 as OAI’s first social enterprise venture, links our green jobs training programs with our commitment to environmental stewardship and our commitment to economic development in Chicago Southland. The company installs and maintains high-quality green infrastructure and low-impact landscaping while providing graduates and local residents with employment.

Today, OAI is an independent 501c(3) with headquarters in downtown Chicago and a regional office in the city’s south suburbs.

Our values

We strive to honor the diverse individuals and communities we serve.

We are committed to pursuing and implementing new ideas that will benefit everyone.

We dedicate our resources to achieve positive, measurable outcomes for each individual, community and partner we work with.

We continually evaluate and improve our performance through accountability and transparency.

We believe in the power of collaborations to strengthen and expand the effectiveness of our work.

We strongly believes anti-racism, diversity, racial equity, and inclusion are essential to everything we do.

Our people

To make an outsize impact, we rely on the talent, vision, commitment, and energy of an outstanding team of collaborators.


Effective and committed partners helps us identify needs, reach isolated communities, tailor our trainings, support learners outside the classroom, and work toward integrated solutions to problems that no single individual or organization can solve. Below are just a few of those collaborators and partners.

Environmental Careers Training Program Consortium
CitySquare – Dallas, TX
NuStart Career Builders – Kansas City, KS
Era Environmental – Kansas City, MO

Hazardous Waste Workers Training Consortium
State of Kentucky Fire and Police
State of Minnesota Fire
Cold Zone Conference – MN
Mendez Environmental – New Orleans, LA
Boat People SOS – Gulf South and VA
YouthBuild USA – nationwide
Black United Fund of Illinois
Building Materials Reuse Association – Chicago, IL
Raise the Floor Worker Centers – Chicago, IL
Cara Program’s Cleanslate – Chicago, IL
ReBuilding Exchange – Chicago, IL
Midwest Hazmat Conference – Northbrook, IL

Community organizations
Austin Coming Together – Chicago, IL
Breakthrough Ministries – Chicago, IL
Business and Career Services, Inc. – Arlington Heights, IL
Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council – Chicago, IL
Literacy Chicago – Chicago, IL
Little Village Environmental Justice Organization – Chicago, IL
National Able Network – Chicago, IL
Southland Healthcare Forum – Chicago Heights, IL
Southland Human Services Leadership Council – Matteson, IL
Greencorps Chicago – Chicago, IL
St. Sabina Employment Resource Center – Chicago, IL
Chicago Women in Trades – Chicago, IL

The following represents a sample of employer partners in the Chicagoland region and is not comprehensive.
Republic Services, Chicago, IL
Applied Ecological Services, Chicago, IL
WRD Environmental, Chicago, IL
Signature Staffing Resources, Lemoyne, PA
Ardagh Group, Dolton, IL
Silverline Windows, Lansing, IL
AEP Industries, Alsip, IL
Enterprises, Chicago Heights, IL
Federal Signal, University Park, IL
Esmark Steel, Chicago Heights, IL
Arbon Steel, University Park, IL
LB Steel, Harvey, IL
Trialco, Inc., Chicago Heights, IL
ARI Packaging, Chicago, IL
Food and Paper Supply, Alsip, IL
Anderson Fittings, Frankfort, IL
Mifab, Inc., Chicago, IL
Best Diamond Plastics, Chicago, IL
Arkema, Inc., Alsip, IL
INX International, Homewood, IL
Luster Products, Inc., Chicago. IL

Business or trade associations
Chicago Jobs Council, Chicago, IL
Chicago Southland Economic Development Corporation – East Hazel Crest, IL
Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce, Orland Park, IL

Government entities
Village of Park Forest, IL
Village of Dolton, IL
City of Chicago, Department of Transportation
City of Chicago, Fleet and Facilities Management
Cook County Department of Environmental Control
Cook County Bureau of Economic Development
Chicago Metro Metals Consortium
Forest Preserves of Cook County
Chicago Park District
South suburban Land Bank and Development Authority

Educational institutions
Moraine Valley Community College – Palos Hills, IL
Prairie State College – Chicago Heights, IL
South Suburban College – South Holland, IL
University of Illinois at Chicago – Chicago, IL
Olive-Harvey College, Chicago City Colleges – Chicago, IL
Richard J. Daley, Chicago City Colleges – Chicago, IL
Governors State University, University Park, IL


Our funders’ support—in many cases spanning decades—extends beyond financial resources to include ongoing thought leadership, knowledge, and good counsel.

  • National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
  • US Environmental Protection Agency
  • US Department of Labor
  • Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
  • Illinois Manufacturing Association
  • Illinois Department of Natural Resources
  • Cook County Community Development Block Grants
  • Cook County Justice Advisory Council
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Lloyd A. Fry Foundation
  • Polk Bros Foundation
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • Chicago Community Trust
  • Boeing
  • ComEd
  • Turner Construction
  • Bank of America
  • Old National Bank
  • Telligen Community Initiative
  • Business and Career Services, Inc.


Adudire, Olufunke
Salesforce Administrator

Allen, Amanda
Executive Director

Anderson, Mark
Program Assistant
OAI Chicago Southland

Bhaidani, Nooruddin
Director of Finance

Bell, Yvette
Systems Navigator
OAI Chicago Southland

Carmona, Miguel
Career Coach
OAI Chicago Southland

Dafiaghor, PhD, Sandra
Senior Director
OAI Chicago Southland

Dyseng, Johansen
IT Manager

Esco, Mellody
Program Manager
OAI Chicago Southland

Sierra-Flores, Catalina
Program Coordinator
OAI Chicago Southland

Gatzke, Vicki
Program Manager
Business and Worker Training

Gonzalez, Michael
CMISP Manager

Gundlach, Virginia
Operations Manager

Hamilton, Nikola
Data Coordinator,
OAI Chicago Southland

Hepburn, Phd, Krystal
Senior Director, Enviromental Programs / PI, NIEHS Programs

Hill, Alexandra
Business Account Executive
OAI Chicago Southland

Ingram, Kreshina
Director of Operations

Kennedy, Taunya
Program Manager
OAI Southland

Licea, Maribel
Career Coach
OAI Chicago Southland

Lopez, Alexandra
EHS Senior Training Manager

Lucas, Clementine
OAI Chicago Southland

Lynch, Kimberly
Budget Manager

McAley, James
Senior Program Manager
High Bridge

Merrell, Harold
Financial Coach
Pre-Employment Education and Training

Nwokolo, Uchenna
Business Account Executive
OAI Chicago Southland

Patillo, Lazarius
Program Assistant
Pre-Employment Education and Training

Pearson, William
Program Assistant
Business and Worker Training

Pfeifer, Shane
Program Coordinator
OAI Chicago Southland

Proffit, Montgomery
Pre-Employment Education and Training

Slater, Shaquita
Program Manager
Pre-Employment Education and Training

Smith, Cleveland
Program Manager
Pre-Employment Education and Training

Smith, Kennedy
Financial Coach
OAI Chicago Southland

Smith, Nina
Human Resource Generalist

Strange, Chanel
Director of Development and Communications

Sturdivant, Iesha
Employment Workforce Coach
Pre-Employment Education and Training

Thompson, Stephanie
Program Manager
OAI Chicago Southland

Thorne, Ashley
Program Coordinator
Pre-Employment Education and Training

Thorpe, Kimmya
Budget Manager

Williams, Cherise
Park Forest/Richton Park Neighborhood Network Organizer

Woods, Jasmyne
Program Assistant,
OAI Chicago Southland

Woodhams, Daniel
Grants & Operations Manager

Xiao Fan Liu
OAI Chicago Southland

Board of Directors

Danielle Gallet
Founding Principal & Water Strategist, Waterwell LLC

As an expert in the water and climate resiliency sectors, workforce developmentparticularly as it relates to nature-based infrastructure and environmental remediationis essential to ensuring livable, thriving communities for all.

Cheryl M. Francis
Principal, Francis and Associates

Employment services are pivotal in moving people from poverty to opportunity and prosperity.

John M. Watson, Jr.
Director of Economic Development (retired), Village of South Holland, IL

I strongly and passionately believe that everyone should work to ensure access for all to education, training and employment.

Kindy Kruller, AICP, LEED AP
Senior Program Manager at Illinois Green Alliance
Board Chair

My experience in for-profit, non-profit and government organizations has helped me deeply understand workforce and community economic development.

Kelly Farley, SHRM-CP, CNAP
Vice President for Finance & Operation, Alliance for the Great Lakes

OAI’s efforts in workforce development and social enterprise endeavors align with my work at Rebuilding Exchange and my background in nonprofit finance and operations

Jun Zhao, Phd
Dean, College of Business (Retired), Governors State University

As a lifelong educator, I believe strongly the value of quality education and its impact on people’s lives.

Carlos Galindo, CSP, SMS
Director, Health and Safety at U.S. Compliance

I entered the safety field by chance, and I discovered that the most powerful tools we can have in being safe are education and communication. The impact of these two components in a workplace can be dramatically beneficial for all, keeping workers safe while contributing to a healthy economic bottom line.

Annual reports

Download PDFs of OAI’s annual reports

Strategic priorities

Download PDFs of OAI’s strategic priorities fact sheets