We look forward to meeting you at the Literacenter!

The Chicago Literacy Alliance’s team members are readers, writers, entrepreneurs, and cheerleaders for the cause.

Stacy Ratner

Co-Founder

Fortysomething years ago, Stacy learned to read. This life-changing experience led to degrees in law and literature, allowed her to help take three startup companies from idea through a combined total of $30 million in committed venture funding, and finally brought her to the cause of literacy in 2006. She began by founding Open Books, a nonprofit social venture that now serves 5,000 students each year through a spectrum of exciting programs funded by the sale of used books in its two Chicago stores. Three years later, she co-founded the Chicago Literacy Alliance…and could not be more excited about what it has become.  Stacy has received a Chicagoan of the Year award from Chicago Magazine, an Emerging Leader Fellowship from the Chicago Community Trust, places on NewCity’s Lit 50 and the national 40 Women To Watch Over 40 list, the Social Enterprise Alliance’s Innovation award, and recognition on the White House’s official blog for “spreading the infinite and awesome power of books.” She writes a novel every year, eats ice cream every day, and is always starting something. And, yes: her hair really is green.

Ken Bigger

Executive Director 

Ken Bigger joined the CLA as Executive Director in January 2018, and is grateful for this opportunity to contribute to a better, more equitable, more inclusive, and more literate Chicago. He has been a Chicagoan for more than 25 years. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Ethics, focusing on religion, political theory, and the ethics of democratic citizenship. He has worked for the University of Chicago, the YMCA of Metro Chicago, and Illinois Institute of Technology, among other organizations. In 2012, he co-founded the music blog/column Murder Ballad Monday, an exploration of music, mortality, and meaning, now hosted by Sing Out! magazine. Ken and his spouse, Sara, live in Hyde Park, and are the parents of two CPS-educated kids (Go Dolphins!). When not looking back wistfully on the days when his favorite thing to do was to take his children to the Blackstone Branch Library, Ken enjoys reading, playing music, camping, running, cycling, kayaking, and open water swimming. He enjoys writing, too, although it’s more complicated than that. Having formed his baseball allegiance elsewhere, he is content to root for Chicago’s home teams in all match-ups save one. Nevertheless, he will join with Carl Sandburg in saying, “Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive…,” and with Nelson Algren in “loving the joint for keeps.”

Jimmy Martin

Operations Director

Jimmy is thrilled to be a part of the Chicago Literacy Alliance, bringing with him a love of technology and logistics and an inherent drive to help others.  He spent the last ten years in the world of corporate audio-visual and event technology management-his favorite experience from his previous work being the production of President-Elect Obama’s first press conferences here in Chicago.  The product of that endeavor was the most memorable handshake he’s received to date.  Jimmy holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts from the University of Central Oklahoma, and a Bachelor of Science in Recording Industry Management from Middle Tennessee State University.  He is a loyal fan of the Chicago Cubs, and hopes to pass on that sense of healthy optimism to his daughter.  He credits his wife, Lauren, for most of the good things in his life.

Jen Daniels-Lake

Network Director

Jen joins the Chicago Literacy Alliance with a diverse background in non-profit management and a focus on community and membership engagement for cultural and arts organizations.  Her prior employment has included working with longstanding institutions like Congregation Solel, Ravinia Festival, and the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.  Literacy and education have played a large role in Jen’s professional pursuits, and she has also worked as a Restorative Justice Mentor with Black Star Project and a volunteer tutor with 826Chi.  She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from Northwestern University and a masters degree in Non-Profit Management from Spertus Institute.  In addition to her dedication to making Chicago the greatest city on the planet, she is a theatre, film, and music lover with an insatiable appetite for local, organic vegetables!

Michelle Aldridge

Program Coordinator

Michelle is a proud Michigander, booklover, and the new Program Coordinator at the Chicago Literacy Alliance. She is beyond excited to be a part of CLA’s mission to bring literacy organizations together to collaborate, communicate, and cooperate with each other towards the shared vision of a 100% literate Chicago. She believes education, empathy, and dialogue are the key to fostering global understanding; a love of the Harry Potter series also helps.  Her previous work has focused on international education in the Midwest, experiential education in Latin America, and citizen diplomacy in Washington, DC.  A love of travel, communication, and language led to dual degrees in Spanish and Integrative Public Relations from Central Michigan University.  Michelle spent a total of four years living in Japan where she got her M.A. in Peace Studies and her fix of daily karaoke at Kokusai Kirisutokyo Daigaku. When she’s not hard at work facilitating CLA’s programs you can find her cooking cheesy potato casserole, making people laugh, and looking at pictures of corgis online. Michelle would love to get know all of CLA’s members so please stop by her office to say hello!  

chelsea dowty

Chelsea Dowty

Development Manager

Chelsea joins the Chicago Literacy Alliance with a background working with non-profits and NGOs. She believes that a holistic approach when working at a non-profit can be incredibly beneficial. She has held roles in development, donor relations, gift processing and project management. Chelsea has a degree in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts and has worked for notable organizations such as Heifer International, Amnesty International and the Peace Corps. She speaks Spanish and holds a professional level SCUBA Diving certification. She and her husband have a (mostly) inherited library of over 800 books that they are (slowly) working their way through and have on display in their studio apartment that they share with their two precocious dogs, Bella and Roux.

Shannon Findley

Finance Manager

Shannon brings experience in both finance and education to the Chicago Literacy Alliance.  With an undergraduate degree in accounting from Valparaiso University, Shannon has spent much of her professional life providing accounting and financial services in a variety of industries, from public accounting to not-for-profit organizations.  Led by her passion for education, Shannon completed an M.Ed. from DePaul University and spent time as a 2nd grade teacher in the CPS.  Today, Shannon channels this passion into her daughter’s personal development and education, as well as furthering the mission of the CLA.  In her free time, Shannon can be found reading, doing yoga, spending time outdoors or hanging out with her family.

Erin McCann

Community Manager

Erin first came to the Literacenter as a volunteer who worked at the welcome desk for the Literacenter’s grand opening. She has experience with customer service and event planning through both the YWCA and the Loyola University Office of Public Affairs. Erin holds a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University where she majored in history and minored in anthropology. She is also very proud to have attended Cottey College in Nevada, MO, an independent liberal arts and sciences college for women that has alumnae who are fiercely loyal. Erin lives in Rogers Park with her husband, Stephen, and a very small wiener dog named Wednesday. With her free time, Erin enjoys visiting museums and historic sites as well as working on anything crafty: sewing, painting, crocheting, etc.  Erin is immeasurably grateful to be a part of the CLA team and have the opportunity to use her sociability to facilitate CLA members as they work toward their impactful missions.

Jamie Roberts

Marketing Manager

Jamie is thrilled to have found a home where she can combine her love of literature with her passion for social change at the Chicago Literacy Alliance. A desire to leave the world a little bit better than she found it has played a large role in Jamie’s professional and personal pursuits, and she brings with her a wide range of non-profit communications and digital marketing experience—although she likes to believe that her journey to the CLA began many moons ago after reading Matilda and discovering the true magic of books. That love of words eventually led to dual degrees in English Literature and Communications from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) followed by a Master of Arts in Writing & Publishing from DePaul University. Outside of the CLA Jamie can be found tooling around Chicago by bike, snapping photos (much to the chagrin of her friends & family), and searching for the world’s best cup of coffee. She lives in Lincoln Square with her husband, Brian, and judgmental but loving cat, Lana.

Cassandra Rose

Community Coordinator

Cassandra comes to the CLA by way of the theatre world. She’s a playwright who has had more than 200 of her plays performed in Chicago over the last 9 years. That’s slightly less impressive when you find out that about 170 of those plays were part of her self-produced Dictionary Project (Volumes I, II, and III), an annual short play marathon/fundraiser she created so that she can attend the Kenyon Playwrights Conference every summer. She is also a published author thanks to her Simone the Private Fly radio plays, as featured in Spider Magazine. Cassandra honed her community coordination skills by doing front-of-house work for such prestigious companies as Blue Man Group, Chicago Children’s Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Strawdog Theatre Company, and the Tennessee Williams Play Festival. She is an eternal optimist who firmly believes that everyone has at least one story the world needs to hear, which is why she is tickled pink to be of service to all of the brilliant organizations that make up the Literacenter community. Cassandra has a BA in playwriting from Columbia College Chicago.

Harrison Downs

Part-time Community Coordinator 

Harrison is a student worker and currently a sophomore at Tribeca Flashpoint College. Although he has no prior experience working directly with non-profits, he brings a can-do attitude.  Working as a PA on multiple film shoots has prepared him to carry out any task no matter the difficulty.  Currently, he is going to school to obtain a BS in Digital media with a Post-Production Major. He is both a freelance editor and videographer alongside his wife, Meagan. Harrison currently resides in Rogers Park with his wife and an orange tabby named Henry. Harrison enjoys breaking down the science of film edits, getting his hands dirty with cars, and spending time outdoors.