• About Us

    About Us

"Now I know that the more you read, the better you understand things."
— teen parent, book group participant

Our Mission

Literature for All of Us uses books and writing to facilitate circles of connection, healing and growth in the face of social inequity. By inviting participants to explore the transformative power of their own voices, we help build resilience.

Our Values

    We value
    • Literature as a means to make connections and discover strength and meaning in our lives
    • Writing as a way to access our voices, share our stories, and free our imaginations
    • Shared learning and dialogue in safe environments of mutual respect
    • The inherent strengths of individuals, families and communities
    • Equity and social justice

Our Vision

We envision a world where everyone regardless of race, class, culture, or gender identity, has opportunities to access their voices, embrace meaning in their lives and imagine possibilities for their futures.

Media

OUR PEOPLE

  • Grace Chan McKibbenExecutive Director
    Grace is a longtime leader in government and the non-profit sector who has worked tirelessly to build coalitions across lines of race and class. A long-term resident of Chicago, she has the knowledge, grit and experience to represent the variety of voices represented throughout Literature for All of Us. For the past 15 years, Grace has worked in various senior level positions including Chief of Staff at Illinois Department of Employment Security, Executive Director at Chinese American Service League, and Development Director at Indo-American Center. Early in her career, she was Associate Dean of Students at the University of Chicago, where she managed student health programs, implemented a new adjudication process for sexual assault, and aided students in crisis. Born in Hong Kong, Grace first came to the U.S. as a teenager on an academic scholarship. She holds a B.A and M.A from the University of Chicago. To enhance her business effectiveness, Grace obtained an M.B.A from Keller Graduate School of Management. Grace is dedicated to setting a clear and bold vision for Literature for All of Us by involving you in co-creating our future together.


    Grace Chan McKibben

    Executive Director

    Lauren BerndtDirector of Stewardship & Operations
    A native of Illinois, Lauren fell in love with nonprofits when she was only a teenager. Inspired by her volunteer work in high school, Lauren developed a passion for organizations who make a difference in the community they serve. This resolve stuck with her through college, leading her to get her BS in Therapeutic Recreation from Ithaca College. After working on the program staff writing curriculum and leading groups, Lauren transitioned into development. Lauren now provides support to the Literature for All of Us administrative team and donors.

    Lauren Berndt

    Director of Stewardship & Operations

    Vanessa BorjonTeaching Artist
    Vanessa is a writer and organizer who grew up in West Chicago. In addition to her work here, Vanessa is a Logan Square-based community organizer and a full spectrum doula-in-training for immigrant and Latinx communities in Chicago.

    Vanessa Borjon

    Teaching Artist

    Erin BrownProgram Director
    Erin Brown is a writer and trained therapist. She served as a Book Group Leader at Literature for All of Us for three years, starting in 2005. She earned a Masters in Counseling Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in 2011. She develops and facilitates trainings for educators and youth workers—including LFAOU Book Group Leaders—in recognizing and responding to trauma in classroom settings.

    Erin Brown

    Program Director

    Abigail Harris RidkerTeaching Artist
    A Skokie native, Abby graduated from the College of Wooster in Ohio with degrees in early childhood development and religious studies. Her thesis examined Poetry Pals, a Chicago organization that uses poetry to work with kids from diverse faith and cultural backgrounds.

    Abigail Harris Ridker

    Teaching Artist

    Kelly CaterBusiness Manager
    Kelly brings over 30 years of finance and administrative experience in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors to her role as Business Manager.  She was drawn to LFAOU because of the transformative work they do with young people in underserved communities.

    Kelly Cater

    Business Manager

    Marty KezonTeaching Artist
    Marty is a writer and educator from Chicago. After studying English at Kenyon College, he worked in college access and then moved to Turkey, where he taught English and attempted to learn Turkish folk dances.

    Marty Kezon

    Teaching Artist

    Stella MensahTeaching Artist
    Stella recently graduated from Brown University with Honors in Literary Arts. Her thesis, a full book of lyrical short stories, examines inherited trauma, magic, and resilience among communities of womxn, particularly Black womxn from throughout the Diaspora. It also traces centuries of womxn deemed “mad,” interrogating histories of fetishization and violence against womxn with mental illnesses. In 2017, it won The Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop Prize for Innovative Fiction, and The Frances Mason Harris ’26 Prize.  Her poetry and short stories have been published in Rookie Magazine, UGH Magazine, ThinNoon Journal, and The College Hill Independent. She is also an actor, singer/composer, and transformative justice organizer. She is thrilled to be joining the LFAOU staff.

    Stella Mensah

    Teaching Artist

    Ruth Orme-JohnsonDirector of External Relations
    Ruth comes to Literature for All of Us with a background in social work and development. She was a school social worker for James Giles Elementary School in Norridge, Illinois for three years, and before that was in non-profit fundraising at various social justice organizations. She is thrilled be able to blend her passion for working with youth and non-profit administration.

    Ruth Orme-Johnson

    Director of External Relations

  • Emily Argentine

    Emily Argentine is a native of Ohio who joined the Board in 2018. She will be assisting the Finance Committee and Corporate Giving. She works with financial institutions to mitigate money laundering opportunities and enhance risk compliance methods. She is also a certified SCUBA diver and enjoys going to the theater as often as possible. She is a lifelong bookworm and chatterbox who loves to share the joy of reading and is excited to be working with LFAOU to share this passion for reading with Chicago and the surrounding communities.

    Libby Bankoff

    Libby Bankoff, now retired from the Clinical Psychology faculty of Northwestern University, joined the LFAOU Board in 2016. She has served on numerous civic boards and school based committees, including twice serving as President of the League of Women Voters of Wilmette. Libby was a Children’s Great Books Leader where she delighted in the growth of each child as they explored and discussed the written word. An avid reader and member of three book clubs, Libby and her husband live in Wilmette. They are taking advantage of their retirement by traveling extensively in order to experience other cultures.

    Jessica Chethik

    Co-founder of Chethik & Dellaria Consulting (CD Consulting), Jessica Chethik, joined the LFAOU Board in 2018. At CD Consulting, she helps connect community organizations and businesses to schools in order to open dialogue, create understanding, and break down barriers to social progress. Previously, Jessica ran educational programs for Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago (CRFC), a civic education non-profit that works with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and taught middle school language arts and social studies at a CPS school. A lover of books who feels strongly that people of every age need to feel that they are part of a community, Jessica is passionate about LFAOU’s mission and believes that coming together over literature is a wonderful way to listen, learn, share and grow.

    Claire Goulding

    With a diverse background in psychology and business, Claire Goulding has owned a small business, managed practice development for a large public accounting firm, consulted with federal, state and local governments, and counseled clients in job transition. Outside of her own family, Claire’s most rewarding work has been leading an educational foundation to ignite a passion for learning with students grades K-12. Writing, photography, book clubs and empowering young women have also added rich layers to Claire’s life. She joined the LFAOU board in 2017.

    Jennifer Grau

    Jennifer Grau joined the LFAOU Board in 2012, feeling a strong tie to the organization's mission of personal transformation, equity and social justice. A career educator, Jennifer spent a decade working as a special education teacher for the Chicago Public Schools and took a hiatus while she received her MBA from Tulane University. She has an affinity for event planning and helping others. Jennifer lives in Chicago and spends her time volunteering, traveling, ballroom dancing and loving her puppy, Clementine.

    Loretta Kaplan

    After taking a one year hiatus, Loretta Kaplan rejoins the Board of LFAOU. She and her husband raised their four children in Northfield where Loretta continues her community involvement. In addition, she serves on the Northshore Giving Circle of the Chicago Foundation for Women, the Alumni Advisory Board of Lake Forest Academy, and the National Machinery Foundation.

    Paul N. Keller

    Paul Keller joined the LFAOU board in 2017. He is a retired partner from Ancel Glink Diamond Bush DiCianni & Krafthefer where he advised and represented a wide range of governmental entities. Currently, Paul serves as Assistant Chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, is director and general counsel of the Kuling American School Association, and is on the board of The Lady Elgin Foundation. Paul values helping people connect to their inner life and to their community through reading and writing. A certified scuba instructor who enjoys playing multiple musical instruments and reading his favorite poetry. Paul lives in Lincoln Park.

    Donna Landsman

    Donna Landsman found LFAOU through participation in a book group run by its founder and joined the board in 2016. A semi-retired physician, Donna discovered new passion and meaning in the wake of a life changing personal event. She has lived in Lincoln Park for more than 20 years, where she raised her children. She is pleased to utilize her assessment and problem solving skills to empower young adults.

    Karona Mason

    A podiatric physician working in academic medicine, Karona Mason joined the LFAOU board in 2017. Karona has worked in private practice, and at Provident Hospital on the Southside of Chicago. Through her own personal experiences and interactions, she understands the need for children and young adults to have a voice. She lives in Oak Lawn with her husband and her tuba-playing teenage daughter and can be found at Chicagoland festivals that celebrate diverse cultures.

    Tamara McKnight

    Tamara McKnight joined the LFAOU board in 2017 and is serving as Treasurer. A lifelong community volunteer, Tamara was taken with the mission of LFAOU after learning about the organization at a fundraising event. With degrees and certificates in Computer and Information Science and accounting, Tamara is SVP of a Life Sciences consulting firm, The Evanston Group. Tamara is an avid reader who loves to travel. Empty nesters, she and her husband live in Lakeview in Chicago.

    Beth Uyenco

    Beth Uyenco joined the board of Literature for All of Us in 2015 and currently serves as board president. Prior to running her own marketing research consultancy, Beth worked in the field of media research serving in a variety of leadership capacities for comScore, Microsoft Advertising and Omnicom. A staunch Chicagoan, she and her family love to explore the city's rich culture. With that abiding love for her city is a deep concern for the daily struggles faced by its youth.

    Sonia Velazquez

    For more than 30 years, Sonia Velazquez has been a leader and advocate working to advance social issues around the globe. She has led partnerships with public and private organizations, and in communities and worked with numerous boards and volunteers. Most recently, she served as Executive Director of the ECLT Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland. In addition to Literature for All of Us, Sonia serves on the boards of the National Association on Counsel for Children, the Changing Children’s World Foundation, and on the advisory committee of a project funded by the US Department of Labor aiming to eliminate child labor. She is a published author on issues of immigration and child welfare and father engagement, and blogs on issues of child labor.

    Julie Victor

    A career social worker, now in private practice, Julie Victor joined the LFAOU board in 2013 and currently serves as co-chair on the Board Development Committee. Passionate about personal growth and community development, Julie worked in Chicago Public Schools where she experienced the profound impact that school based opportunities can offer children and teens. Julie and her family live in Chicago where they love taking advantage of the many unique and diverse experiences living in the city of Chicago has to offer.

    Lindsey Wade

    Lindsey Wade is an Adult Education Instructor and Employment Case Manager at Howard Area Community Center, where she works to reduce recidivism among the prison reentry population and deliver economic empowerment to other underprivileged populations. She is also a graduate student in the Master of Public Administration program at University of Illinois at Chicago, where she studies Public Policy. Lindsey is a former participant of LFAOU’s teen mom book group. She found those three years of participation so impactful on her life that she was inspired to give back to the organization through service work and leadership. Lindsey currently lives in Evanston with her three children, two cats, and bearded dragon and enjoys assisting with animal welfare causes in her free time.

    Newlin O. Wollaston

    Newlin O. Wollaston has been in the financial services industry for over 20 years and is currently a Private Client Advisor for JP Morgan Chase. He also serves as the Assistant Pastor of his local church located in Chicago's southside inner city.

    Najolie Wright

    Najolie Wright joined the board of directors in 2018. She came to Literature for All of Us as a book group participant in 2004. Her book group experience fueled her passion for reading and writing leading her to become a teacher. Najolie enjoys offering her skills and passion while learning alongside her students and their families. Najolie lives in Evanston, IL with her two children. She plans on returning to college. In her spare time, Najolie loves to read and write and being a stage performer.
  • Kathy Bresler Sue Brodarick
    Marilynn J. Cason Patty Coghlan
    Carol Lynn Connell Barbara Disko
    Susan Doctors Howard S. Dubin
    Noreen Edwards Mary Erickson
    Tom Figel Rozellyn Gibson
    Carol Gifford Jennifer Grau
    Mildred Harris Keri Holleb Hotaling
    Susan K. Kaden Lissa Karron
    Judy Keller Ann Lagory
    Lisa E. Lewis Nancy Liebman
    Chic Marasa Iris Marreck
    Casandra Melton Leslie J. Millenson
    Helen Moshak Bonnie Oberman
    Ann Ohlrogge Johnson Michele Pockross
    Elizabeth Posner Roberta Rubin
    Sandra Shane-DuBow Eileen L. Share
    Rob Simmons Debbie Smith
    Susan Sneider Linda Stevenson
    Eliseo Thorrens Rekha Tobaccowala
    Angela Valavanis Jan Valukas
    Bernice Weissbourd Denise Philip Winter

  • Sandra Cisneros
    Jane Hamilton
    Joy Harjo
    Cristina Henriquez
    Nami Mun
    Sara Paretsky
    Diane Seuss
    Barbara A. Shapiro
    Anna Solomon
    Gail Tsukiyama
    Dawn Turner
  • The purpose of the Junior Board is to further Literature for All of Us' mission by building awareness of the organization with young people, supporting outreach initiatives and organizing small fundraisers. Members are people who value literature, philanthropy and social justice and are typically between the ages of 20 - 40.



    Anthony Betori
    Caitlin Botsios
    Joseph Brooks IV
    Avera Dorsey
    Christina Hadley
    Marissa Henderson
    Rwaida Izar
    Ashley Jackson
    Reed Klaeser
    Khadijah Kysia
    Lauren Lapinski
    Megan Marrinan
    Liz McCabe
    Syncere Mitchell
    Sonjachardé Mixon
    Rown Parola
    Laura Rogalsky
    Katie Shatto
    Sandy Toback