President and CEO


Karina Ayala-Bermejo has nearly 30 years of combined professional experience in multiple areas of leadership, non-profit management, HR and law. She began her career as a hearing officer for the Chicago Board of Education, becoming an Assistant General Counsel for the Board of Education, and advanced to the highest HR executive position for the City of Chicago where she worked for three years. Karina spent seven years as the Director of Community Services for the Chicago Bar Association where she encouraged attorneys to take on pro bono work and collaborated with the bar and various divisions of the Circuit Court of Cook County on initiatives to improve the justice system. She was also the inaugural ED for Lawyers Lend a Hand to Youth, a foundation mobilizing the legal community around youth mentoring, which funds tutor/mentor programs.
Karina has served as General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Metropolitan Family Services (MFS) one of the oldest non-profit organizations in Illinois. As General Counsel she was responsible for all legal matters for MFS. She also served as the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of MFS and previously served as Vice President of Human Resources for MFS. She is also a former president of the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois, and Regional President, General Council, and VP for the Hispanic National Bar Association. She created the HLAI JD mentoring program now in its 21th year paring Latinx college students, with Latinx law students and Latinx lawyers in a trio mentoring program.
Karina is the current President & CEO of Instituto del Progreso Latino. Instituto has evolved into a leading community-based educational organization, providing high-quality innovative programs in Workforce Development, Adult and Secondary Education, English as a Second Language (ESL), Immigration and Citizenship Preparation, and Legal Aid. Instituto also encompasses two charter high schools: Instituto Justice Leadership Academy (IJLA) and Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy (IHSCA). Under Karina’s leadership, the Instituto College of Nursing was launched and recently graduated its first five cohorts of nurses. 100% have passed the NCLEX and are now RNs. Also occurring under Karina’s leadership, Instituto is providing legal services and for the first time in Instituto’s history has several attorneys on staff in addition to its robust pro bono program.
Karina holds the Instituto mission close to her heart. As an immigrant who has struggled at every level, she is honored to be the mirror and the voice of an institution that helps other immigrants and their families reach their fullest potential. Instituto leads with education because education is power.
Karina is the appointed Chair of the City of Chicago’s New Americans Advisory Council and sits on the Commission on Human Relations. Karina advocated for immigrant communities by standing up for the welcoming city ordinance amendments, hosting naturalization workshops, welcoming Afghan refugees, and asylum seekers from the southern border, organizing vaccine outreach, facilitating food and PPE distributions, and providing legal services.
Under Karina’s leadership, Instituto immediately pivoted at the onset of the pandemic to address food insecurity by partnering with The Greater Chicago Food Depository and was recognized as a Pandemic Hero. With the help of our partners and volunteers, we continue to hold monthly food distributions and to date have fed 20,365 households and 76,460 individuals. Instituto also distributed 300,000 NK95 masks to over 89 community organizations in partnership with the Illinois Partners for Human Services and distributed over 15,000 masks during our monthly food distributions.
Instituto in partnership with Illinois Unidos have been instrumental in vaccine efforts to Latinx communities hardest hit by Covid. Instituto held one of the City’s most successful vaccination efforts targeted at teens with over 600 vaccinations. We have also helped vaccinate 1,200 individuals and provided crucial vaccine outreach to just under 10,000 individuals.
Instituto helped address the housing insecurity by directing $566,000 of rental assistance into the Latinx immigrant community. Karina’s leadership lead to the Amazon wish list that provides essential items and clothes to recent arrivals housed in City shelters, which has brought over $500,000 of supplies where they were most needed. Because Karina believes strongly that every child should open a gift on Christmas, Instituto distributed over 3,000 toys during the holiday and brings a touch of love and passion to all she does.
She holds a Bachelor in Science from Loyola University Chicago, and a Juris Doctorate from DePaul College of Law. She has received numerous awards including the Mayor’s Medal of Honor and Latina Leader of the Year Award. She and her husband are raising three young adults in the Hegewisch neighborhood.