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, mentors select startups in line with her passions and experience (including Public Good Software, FetchFind, Book+Main, Infiniteach, and MilSpec Capital Partners), will receive her MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in 2018, and is always starting something.
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.”
Chief Development Officer
Mollie believes that philanthropy makes wonderful things possible and she is humbled and excited to be helping people and organizations build philanthropic relationships with the CLA. She believes that literacy is a foundational tool for unlocking agency and power for individuals throughout their life cycles. She sees literacy as a tool for social change in broad, sweeping ways, so she’s thrilled that her work gets to move that change forward on a daily basis. Originally from Southern California and currently residing in Andersonville, Mollie considers herself a Midwest adoptee. When she’s not in the office, you can find her enthusiastically pursuing joyful experiences. These include, but are not limited to, reading, making pottery, hanging out with her cats, playing board games, watching the Great British Baking Show, and laughing too loudly at anything remotely funny. If you’re in the Literacenter she would love for you to stop by and if you haven’t been yet she would love to show you around!
Director, Evaluation and Impact
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.
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.
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!
Institutional Giving Manager
Anjali joined the CLA in fall 2018. Long before that, the year she spent attending UIC endeared her to Chicago, and when she returned almost a decade later, she had the privilege of working with Free Spirit Media in North Lawndale. Prior to that, she spent nine years in Madison, WI where she earned a BA in English Literature and an MA in Gender & Women’s Studies. She also had the privilege of teaching at her alma mater the University of Wisconsin, and worked with some great organizations like GSAFE, YWCA and MEChA. With a background in radio and print journalism, community theater management, directing and performing, Anjali is passionate about the intersections of storytelling and social change. Originally from Philadelphia, Anjali has called the midwest home since 1997.
Before joining the CLA in February 2019, Usman held marketing roles across a number of industries including arts and culture, advertising, lifestyle products, public health, conservation, and more. With a deep personal interest in literacy, communication, and access, he’s especially excited about continuing his career with the CLA and its incredible community.
Born and raised in St. Louis, Usman has been a resident of Chicago since April 2017. Outside of the office, he’s a photographer, automotive enthusiast, burn-prone cook, very amateur music producer, mediocre illustrator, and semi-former competitive athlete.
Amanda joined the CLA team in January of 2019 and believes that literacy is critical to individual and community empowerment. She brings with her a varied background in education, direct service work, and, most recently, software development. She is interested in exploring the different ways technology can best be used to support the vital work many non-profits are doing in Chicago. Originally from the Chicago suburbs, Amanda graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Outside of the office, she’s an amateur coffee enthusiast, (very) amateur martial artist, proud owner of a ten-gallon fish tank, and she works as a freelance web developer.
Rocio joins the Chicago Literacy Alliance with a dedication to collaboration and strengthening Chicago’s nonprofit sector. Her lived experience as a South Side Chicago native cultivated a burning passion and conviction for civic engagement, youth empowerment, and community development. Her prior experiences include working with Greenheart International to transform cultural exchange programming and joining the GirlForward family to mentor girls who have been displaced by conflict and persecution. Outside of work, Rocio is actively engaged as a Next Generation Engagement Specialist for Justice Journey Alliance and a coordinator for outreach efforts at Chinese Christian Union Church. She believes that every individual – despite economic, social, and cultural standing – has the potential to impact incredible change. Rocio received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from DePaul University. In her free time, you can find her enjoying time in whatever patches of nature she can find, reading some novels, bouldering some walls, and joining in on a spontaneous jam session.
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.