Moraine Valley graduate Juan Salgado, president and chief executive officer of Instituto del Progresso Latino, didn’t know what to think when he picked up his phone on Sept. 8, and heard someone ask, “Are you alone?” Since his meeting was ending anyway, he indulged the mysterious caller, who agreed to wait until he had left the meeting.

The call came from the MacArthur Foundation to alert Salgado he had been selected as one of the newest 24 MacArthur Fellows, a prestigious award that comes with a $625,000 no-strings-attached grant. The Foundation is one of the nation’s largest independent foundations that supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a better world. Salgado was allowed to share the news about his fellowship with only one other person, who also had to keep the secret until the foundation announced the winners in late September.

Salgado told his wife, Leticia, who responded exactly the way he thought she would. She told him this was going to make him even crazier than he already was. He agreed that he was already spinning and waking up in the early morning hours to think about it.


In 2013, Salgado won the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Moraine Valley and the Illinois Community College Trustees Association.

“I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say. I was just listening, and they kept asking me, ‘Are you there?’ Yeah, I’m here. Is this real?” Salgado said. “It’s been quite an adventure. I’ve had to do all kinds of things without anyone knowing what’s going on. In some ways, it’s kind of fun.”

In 2013, Salgado won the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Moraine Valley and the Illinois Community College Trustees Association. He also was the featured speaker at that year’s commencement ceremony. He earned an Associate of Science degree from Moraine Valley in 1989 and dedicated his career to the nonprofit and social service sector. He became the leader of Instituto in 2001, growing the organization into a flourishing educational center that provides high-quality programs in workforce development, adult education, youth development and education, and citizenship to thousands of Chicagoans annually.

He has established nationally recognized best-practice educational and workforce models and was a White House Champion of Change for Social Innovation in 2011. Salgado believes education provides the power and freedom people need for a better quality of life for their families, thus Instituto’s motto is “Education is power.”

“Winning this award is certainly a validation of our work and our impact. It speaks to not just the service we provide but the change we’ve been creating. It demonstrates that our strategy is working. We’re about doing things locally but having an impact on systems. So, it’s just not good enough to serve people knowing the system at large doesn’t do it very well. As you prove things can get done in better ways, we have to push the larger systems to adopt and become more of what we do. And so that is happening. We are a local organization that can honestly say has a national impact,” Salgado said.

When asked what he planned to do with the $625,000 (it’s doled out to him every quarter over five years), he said it was something he hasn’t quite figured out yet. He can use the resources however he wants. He is completely uninhibited so he can take something and make it even bigger.

“It’s not even the money. It’s never the money. It’s the ideas. It’s always the spirit. Always the drive and commitment and belief. It requires money, but without all of those things in front of it, money doesn’t get you anywhere,” he said. “I’ve run this organization multiple times without any money, but we had a lot of ideas. Lots of good ideas with good people. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that is going to work.”

However Salgado decides to spend the grant, he knows the community will be better off for it. “This resource is going to help, and that’s the reality. This is a motivation for me, a turning point for me. I’m going to use this as a catalyst to come up with the right things and places to invest. As a result of this recognition, my city is going to be a better city,” he said.