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KEES Executive Search Client Partner, Concordia Place, names Grace Araya as President and CEO

KEES Executive Search Client Partner, Concordia Place, names Grace Araya as President and CEO

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Concordia Place, a vibrant mission-driven non-profit organization providing multigenerational programs including early learning, after-school, and teen leadership for Chicago communities, is proud to announce the appointment of its new President and CEO, Grace Araya. Concordia Place was founded by Concordia Lutheran Church in Chicago and is part of the multi-pronged social ministry of Concordia Ministries. This significant milestone results from a successful national executive search partnership with executive search firm KEES. Assuming her new role effective October 20, 2023, Araya will help the organization define its future and move forward into the next decade. Araya will succeed Concordia Place’s current leader and first President and CEO, Brenda Swartz, who agreed to remain in place until the Board successfully completed the search process. Swartz departs after more than two decades with an amazing record of growth and success and will turn over an organization with established systems and proven leadership in place.

Bringing 20 years of experience in early childhood education and over 5 years of nonprofit executive leadership experience, Araya is a strategic leader and mission amplifier. Her past work has brought missional work of an organization to a larger audience and broadened connections in the community. Focused on strengthening local communities’ ability to develop and implement community-wide, collaborative strategies that improve outcomes for children and families, Araya has a growth mindset and expertise in relationship-building, visionary leadership, and organizational growth.

In her role as Vice President of Community Impact for Illinois Action for Children, Araya led the strategic vision and implementation of the agency’s family engagement, partnerships, and community systems programs to support families with young children in Illinois. Directly overseeing ten programs, 40 staff, and an annual budget of $9M, Araya actively built relationships with national, state, and city partners, philanthropic partners, and community organizations to advance the work of the organization. During her tenure, Araya was instrumental in launching the Community Systems Statewide Supports training and technical assistance (T/TA) program for local collaborators and provided leadership in building out T/TA supports for the Birth to Five Illinois regional community systems effort.

Prior to Illinois Action for Children, Grace served in the role of Program Director for Eyes on the Future, an early education program serving Chicago’s north side. During her tenure, Grace secured more than $3M in funding through competitive grant writing to deliver Head Start, Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership, Preschool for All, and Prevention Initiative programs and led the program in achieving NAEYC accreditation, Excelerate Gold Circle of Quality, and an Award of Excellence in Infant/Toddler Services.

Araya, a former refugee from Eritrea, grew up in a vibrant community in Chicago rooted in faith and service that inspires her drive to work and to lead with excellence. “My first job out of high school was a teacher’s assistant role in a preschool program and my first job out of college was to provide counseling to Chicago public high school students. I believe if we want to see a better tomorrow, we must invest in young children, youth, and their families,” said Araya. “I applaud the remarkable work and history of Concordia Place. Together, with the board and the entire Concordia Place team, I look forward to charting the course for the next era following the successful leadership of Brenda Swartz.”

Araya holds a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a Master of Art in Early Childhood Education from Roosevelt University, and a Master of Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago.

“We were seeking a relational and visionary leader to continue our organization’s growth and its increased impact in the communities we serve,” said Board Chair Kimberly Boike. “Grace’s extensive experience, coupled with her historical and personal passions for our mission, will further evolve Concordia Place in creating a stronger and more dynamic future. On behalf of the Board, we would like to officially welcome Grace to the Concordia Place community and thank Brenda for her 20+ years of outstanding leadership. We extend our sincere gratitude to KEES for their exceptional partnership through the executive search process. Their dedication to finding the right leadership match has been instrumental. Thank you KEES!”

Concordia Place competitively selected and retained KEES, a premier executive search firm specializing in executive searches for top nonprofit executive positions such as Chief Executive Officer, Executive Director, and President roles, as its executive search partner in 2023 following Swartz’s announcement of her departure. A comprehensive search was launched, and Araya was ultimately selected from a passionate, motivated, diverse, and talented pool of national finalists. Concordia Place’s search efforts were led by a Search Committee including Board Chair Kimberly Boike (Chuhak & Tecson, P.C.), Rev. Stephen Bouman (St. Luke’s Lutheran Church), Daniel R. Formeller (Tressler, LLP), Andy Waters (Mission Investment Fund of the ELCA), and Rev. Nicholas J. Zook (Concordia Lutheran Church). 

“Working with the entire Search Committee has been remarkable,” said Heather Eddy, KEES President and CEO. “Grace brings the necessary experience to amplify and enhance the significant mission of Concordia Place. KEES is honored to have been selected as Concordia Place’s partner for this important search. Congratulations to all on this exciting announcement!”


KEES (formerly Alford Executive Search) is a nonprofit executive search firm that builds diverse teams with dynamic leaders in the nonprofit and public sectors. A woman owned and operated firm, KEES offers a full array of nonprofit consulting services including executive search, leadership development, interim staffing, and HR support. For more information, please visit


Inspired by faith, Concordia Place envisions bigger and better tomorrows where rich diversity strengthens learning and growth for all. Putting faith into action through service to all neighbors, Concordia Place works to instill in them a sense of community, purpose, and possibility. Rooted in the Gospel message of God’s grace for all people, faith in Christ is a lens through which to view and evaluate all actions.

With 4 locations across Chicago, Concordia Place disrupts social inequities through access to top-quality education, enrichment, and hands-on experiences that include all children, teens, and families—together. By proactively addressing key social and economic needs, Concordia Place provides services that support well-being and maximize potential, which in turn helps communities thrive and remain vibrant. To learn more about Concordia Place please visit


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