Our Team

Lauren Ash

Lauren Ash | Volunteer Coordinator

Lauren has two great passions in life: working with youth and dogs. She felt at home right away when she joined the SitStayRead team as a Program Leader and is committed to creating a calm and nurturing environment in the classroom, all while having fun and being a “big kid.” Lauren loves working with SitStayRead’s team of volunteers and is a great problem solver, ensuring that staff and volunteers alike feel supported and prepared for programs.

Master of Social Work, Leadership and Development in Social Services
Loyola University Chicago

Bachelor of Arts in Latino Studies, Spanish; Minor in Gender and Health
University of Michigan

Preferred Prounouns: She/Her/Hers

Jamie Crockett

Jamie Crockett | Program Leader, Associate Board Coordinator

What does an English teacher do on their summer break? Help elementary students catch up on their reading skills, of course! After spending many summers working with disadvantaged youth in Chicago, Jamie Crockett decided to join the nonprofit world full-time. She loves working for SitStayRead because it allows her to share her passion for storytelling, teaching, and dogs.

Bachelor of Arts English Education
Illinois University

Master of Arts Educational Administration
Governors State University

Preferred Prounouns: She/Her/Hers

Sue Hiering

Sue Hiering | Program Coordinator

As a former teacher, Sue has keen insight into the tools and techniques needed to help kids and teachers succeed. Sue was lucky enough to have SitStayRead in her 4th Grade classroom when she taught in Chicago Public Schools.

Sue is responsible for researching current education trends and developing systems to ensure that all SitStayRead programs are delivered properly. With her strong artistic background, she is always eager to fill in as our designer, builder or painter.

Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture
University of Southern California

Masters of Science in Education

Preferred Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Victoria Luisi

Victoria Luisi | Marketing Communications Manager, Dog Team Liaison

With over 12 years of professional dog-handling experience and a natural love of people, Victoria is perfectly suited to lead our communications and marketing efforts, as well as manage our Dog Team program. She started working with the organization as a Marketing and Fundraising Intern in 2013 and has been hooked ever since.

As our social media expert, marketing professional, and in-house designer, Victoria puts her marketing degree to good use in both digital and traditional channels.

Bachelor of Arts in Marketing Communications
Columbia College Chicago

Preferred Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Mara O’Brien

Mara O'Brien | Executive Director

Since volunteering with Bolivian orphanages after college, Mara has been fighting for underserved populations around the world. She’s worked with children in communities ranging from Uganda to Idaho to Kenya.

With experience as a elementary school teacher and also a non-profit executive, Mara is uniquely qualified to lead the organization as it grows. She was the Founding Director of Education and then Executive Director of the non-profit 826CH and later the Development Director of Solidarity Bridge.

Master of Science in Educational Leadership
DePaul University

Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Elementary Education
Notre Dame University

Preferred Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Kate McIlvain

Kate McIlvain | Program Director

Kate has extensive experience guiding programs for children inside and outside of the classroom. She is responsible for synchronizing all aspects of our current literacy programs while also driving development of new curricula.

Whether helping a volunteer, brainstorming with a student or catching up with a donor, it’s easy to see that Kate truly is the heart of our organization. We are thrilled that she is able to put her passion for reading to work at SitStayRead.

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance with minor in English
University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign

Preferred Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Sarah Mylan

Sarah Mylan | Program Manager

With a zoology degree and experience working with animals in many settings, Sarah is able to create an enriching and safe environment for our kids and dogs. She is always committed to meeting kids on their own level and helping them feel accomplished and appreciated.

Even when being challenged by a large classroom or a difficult school, Sarah stays focused on her students and the SitStayRead mission. She has been instrumental in expanding our annual Keep Reading Celebrations.

Bachelor of Science in Zoology
University of Wisconsin - Madison

Preferred Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Joan Figarella, Part-Time Program Leader

Kim Grzymala, Part-Time Program Leader

Christine Huge, Part-Time Development Assistant

Kayla Martinez, Part-Time Program Leader

Jasmin Portaz, Part-Time Program Leader

Tarika Ranson, Part-Time Community Liaison

Allison Shackelford, Part-Time Program Leader

Our Board

Ann Scholhamer

Ann Scholhamer | Board President

Director of Communications, Rogers Park Montessori School

Julie Carlson

Julie Carlson | Board Vice President

Executive Director, Global Technology, JP Morgan Chase

Brett Sanchez, MBA

Brett Sanchez, MBA | Board Secretary

Managing Director – BMO Harris Bank N.A.

Ben Gilbert | Board President

Ben Gilbert | Board Treasurer

Partner, Barrett Trade & Finance Group

Bradley Blankenship, Ph.D

Bradley Blankenship, Ph.D

Education and Curriculum Consultant

Elysha Boyd

Elysha Boyd

Media Solutions Manager, Linkedin

Julie Hagman

Julie Hagman

Owner, Global Talent Recruiting

Chris Latting

Chris Latting

Elementary School Principal, Joliet Public School District

Justin McCarty, JD

Justin McCarty, JD

Partner, Mayer Brown LLP

Kevin Oran, VMD | Board Vice President

Kevin Oran, VMD


Audrey Pang, MBA

Audrey Pang, MBA

Director, Value Creation - Vista Consulting Group

Tony Saracco, CPA, MBA

Tony Saracco, CPA, MBA

Director, Advisory - KPMG LLP


Mike Schaffer

Senior Director of Sales Operations, Upwork

Robert Strozak

Robert Strozak

Senior Director, Strategy - Insureon

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Elizabeth Scharon

Business Management Director, JP Morgan Chase

Jessica Westerman, CPA | Treasurer

Jessica Westerman, CPA

Investigations, Financial Forensics - Accenture

Glenn Shapiero

Glenn Shapiro

President, Allstate Personal Lines, Allstate Insurance Company



Katrina Cairo, Partner at Parapet LLC

Nick Conti, Assistant Vice President for Sponsor Fund Lending at BMO Harris Bank

Haley Crowe, Carrier Development Specialist at U.S. Foods

Beth Czechanski, HR Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers

Pragni Dave, Senior Consultant at West Monroe Partners

Shannon Fitzpatrick, Director of Claims Learning & Development at Allstate Insurance Company

Sasanka Kalari, Tax and Accounting Consultant at Robert Half Finance & Accounting

Priyanca Kotwal, Principal Research Analyst at NORC at the University of Chicago

Jessica Mattern, Pediatric Dentist at UPD

Kathy McInerney, Elementary Teacher at CICS West Belden

Evon Mikhail, Site Supervisor at After School Matters

Megan O'Brien, Communications Specialist at Deloitte

Lindsey Procknow, Finance Analyst at Tempus Labs, Inc.

Andrew Shapiro, Enterprise Account Manager at Lever

Zach Walz, Senior Analytical Lead at Google

Our Founders

SitStayRead Founders

What started out as a way to keep an older dog active turned into an innovative literacy program helping thousands of Chicago Public Schools each year. SitStayRead was born as a community outreach program at Call of the Wild School for Dogs in Chicago.

In early 2003, MaryEllen Schneider was managing Call of the Wild and volunteering at Rainbow Animal-Assisted Therapy with her dog, Shandy. As Shandy was nearing ten, it was beginning to look like she might have to retire from working with children in the very active volunteer program. MaryEllen realized that Shandy could sit and read with kids well into her golden years.

Sarah Murphy and MK Czerwiec were clients training their dogs at Call of the Wild and agreed to participate. Sarah had recently left her marketing job at the Shedd Aquarium and MK had left nursing to pursue life as as Comic Nurse. After a few meetings — and at Sarah’s persuasion — the threesome realized this innovative idea could be more than an outreach program.

With the help of our amazing volunteers, we’ve grown dramatically since those early library visits. 


Special thanks to photographer David Sutton of Sutton Studios for capturing all our staff, board, and founders in these beautiful pictures with their pets!