The Chicago Literacy Alliance’s team members are readers, writers, entrepreneurs, and cheerleaders for the cause.
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 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.”
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!
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.
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!
Damika comes to the Chicago Literacy Alliance with a diverse background in finance, insurance, and banking. Over the last 14 years she has worked in the nonprofit sector in accounting operations and endowment investments. She holds a Bachelors in Finance from Illinois State University and a Masters in Public Administration, with an emphasis in Nonprofit Management, from the Keller Graduate School of Management of DeVry University. She has a love for books and frequents her local library with her family for her favorite reads. Damika is also an author and motivational speaker encouraging her audiences to endure for the sake of our children. She is an advocate for community-based help in raising healthy productive children so that they can succeed in their educational endeavors. Her interests outside of work include mentoring 6-8th graders, blogging, painting, and, of course, reading a good book. Damika has always viewed her career as a way of providing service to communities, and she is excited to be able to bring that service and desire to make an impact to the CLA team!
In addition to his position at the CLA, Harrison is also a student at Tribeca Flashpoint College. Although he has no prior experience working directly with non-
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 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 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.