Kristen Barker is a social entrepreneur and the President and Co-Founder of the Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative (CUCI). She designs and leads participatory education events with English- and Spanish-speaking co-op workers, and helps worker-owners make their businesses more successful. Kristen also helps our design team determine the feasibility of potential co-op businesses, helps retiring business owners determine whether they can sell their business to their employees, and helps viable co-ops access the capital they need to leverage their ideas.
Kristen has done groundbreaking work in adopting the Mondragon model to the U.S. context, and hosts delegations from around the country, including the participants in our semi-annual Union Co-op Symposium. Kristen is a 2016-2018 Business Alliance for Local and Living Economies (BALLE) Fellow.
Before becoming CUCI’s Executive Director, she worked for 12 years fostering partnerships between people of faith, union members, and community members of diverse backgrounds. Kristen is a graduate of Xavier University and a lifelong Cincinnati resident—except for two years in El Salvador! Kristen is a single mother of a resilient daughter with special needs.
Director of Development and Co-op Organizing
Ellen Vera has organized people from diverse backgrounds to improve their workplaces for more than a decade, and became a Co-Founder of CUCI in 2011 to develop a more sustainable model of organizing, economic democracy and wealth-building with marginalized communities. Ellen oversees new co-op organizing projects, the launch of CUCI’s education arm, Co-op U, and makes sure we have the resources we need to be successful.
Ellen’s experience as part of a family with mixed immigration status deepens her perspective and her passion for organizing with immigrant worker-owners and worker-owners of color. Prior to accepting a position with CUCI, she helped people organize and strengthen their labor unions, as the National Organizing Coordinator for the manufacturing arm of the Communication Workers of America, and for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 75.
Ellen earned a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Northern Kentucky University, which she uses to oversee our design team’s work producing feasibility studies, business plans, capitalization campaigns and the initial management of cooperative enterprises.
Project Manager, Childcare co-op organizing
Christina Brown joined the CUCI team to explore cooperative solutions to Cincinnati’s child care crisis. Christina works with child care providers, teachers, directors of child care centers, and parents to develop viable opportunities for all stakeholders—particularly parents and providers of color, living in “child care desert” neighborhoods.
Christina spent five years with the City of Cincinnati’s Office of Human Relations, where she worked with communities throughout Cincinnati to promote anti-racism, anti-sexism, and other forms of anti-oppression through dialogue, community building and education.
Christina is a proud alumna of the University of Cincinnati, where she earned a degree in Africana Studies and Political Science. Christina followed this degree with a Masters in Transformative Education from Miami University and is plans to enjoy “just” working full-time for a while before pursuing her PhD.
Maria Dienger brings her training and experience in urban planning to CUCI—where she has the opportunity to address Cincinnati’s most pressing needs by supporting the worker-owners who are coming up with creative solutions.
Maria is a true team player, willing and able to take on interim roles in operations management, in between leading our online communications and graphic design work, and developing the strategy for our new housing cooperative, Renting Partnerships.
In her free time, Maria is an accomplished potter, and a passionate gardener, pianist and ultimate frisbee player.
Financial Analyst and Co-op Business Consultant
Andrés Contreras is a Venezuelan social entrepreneur who brings his savvy for financial modeling and business strategy to our team. He also brings the nuts-and-bolts skills of a mechanical engineer and the passion of the former President of student government.
Andrés develops financial models to assess the viability of businesses interested in converting to employee ownership. He also provides creative alternatives and recommendations to reduce costs, improve financial performance, and improve viability of our cooperative businesses.
Andrés was the first MBA student at Cincinnati’s Xavier University to add a concentration in Private Interest and Public Good to his MBA. In his free time, you can find Andrés dancing salsa, merengue, or out for a nice long run.
Board of Directors
Katy Heins, Chair
Senior Field Organizer,
Center for Community Change
Kristen Barker, President
Executive Director, CUCI
Flequer Vera, Vice Chair
CEO, Sustainergy Cooperative
Ellen Vera, Secretary
Director of Development, CUCI
Brian Frank, Treasurer
Cynthia Pinchback Hines, Education Chair
Don Barker, Fundraising Chair
Secretary-Treasurer, Cincinnati AFL-CIO
President, NAACP of Hamilton/Fairfield/West Chester and Liberty Townships
Reginald Tomas Lee
Faculty Member, Xavier University, Management & Entrepreneurship Department
Program Officer, Interact for Health
Subdistrict Director, USW
Executive Secretary Treasurer, Ohio AFL-CIO
Phil Amadon, Founding Member
Labor Council Delegate