Our Team

Sean Wilson

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

Joshua James

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

Jacqueline Takahashi

Victoria Luisi | Communications Manager

With years of professional dog-handling experience a natural love of people, Victoria is perfectly suited to lead our communications and marketing efforts. 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

Anne Yang

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

Judith Edwards

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

HarperNewlandStaffPic.jpg

Harper Newland | Volunteer Coordinator

Harper is a Colorado native that radiates positivity. Having grown up on a small-town dairy farm, Harper maintains a longstanding and particular bond with all of animal-kind.

With an infectiously positive attitude and upbeat personality, Harper is the perfect SitStayRead representative for our human, and canine, volunteers!

Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in Philosophy and Women's & Gender Studies
Regis University, Denver CO

Preferred Pronouns: They/Them/Theirs

Mimi Rosales Staff Picture

Mimi Rosales | Program Leader, Development Coordinator

The first friendships Mimi ever formed were with animals in her hometown in Mexico. She believes fully in the therapeutic power animals have to change our lives. Mimi has worked with youth all over Chicago since she first moved to the city in 2012. Providing comprehensive support to youth in Chicago through literature and art is Mimi's biggest passion.

In her free time she enjoys gardening, volunteering in her neighborhood, making art, writing poetry, and watching nature documentaries.

Preferred Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

JamieCrockettSuttonPhoto.jpg

Jamie Crockett | Program Leader, Bark 'n Ball 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

Marlene Silva Staff Pic.jpg

Marlene Silva | Program Leader

Marlene is a compassionate and dedicated member of SitStayRead. She is currently pursuing her B.A. Degree in Studio Art at Loyola University Chicago and is an aspiring teacher. Marlene is devoted to serving the youth of Chicago and loves to find creative outlets to solve problems in a fun and healthy way!

Preferred Prounouns: She/Her/Hers


Our Board

Ben Gilbert | Board President

Ben Gilbert | Board President

Partner, Barrett Trade & Finance Group

Kevin Oran, VMD | Board Vice President

Kevin Oran, VMD | Board Vice President

Veterinarian, Family Pet Animal Hospital

JustinMcCartySuttonpic.jpg

Justin McCarty, JD | Board Secretary

Partner, Mayer Brown LLP

 
Jessica Westerman, CPA | Treasurer

Jessica Westerman, CPA | Board Treasurer

Investigations – Financial Forensics, Accenture

Bradley Blankenship, Ph.D

Bradley Blankenship, Ph.D

Education and Curriculum Consultant

Jennifer Dohm

Jennifer Dohm

Public Relations - Beer Division, Constellation Brands

 
Julie Hagman

Julie Hagman

Owner, Global Talent Recruiting

Jen Mason

Jen Mason

Vice Chancellor for Legislative and Community Affairs, City Colleges of Chicago

Audrey Pang, MBA

Audrey Pang, MBA

Senior Director of Operations, Centro

 
Andy Rachmiel

Andy Rachmiel, CPA

CIO / CFO, Oval Fire Products Corporation

Photo coming soon

Jennifer Rothstein, CPA, MBA

Tax Advisor

Brett Sanchez, MBA

Brett Sanchez, MBA

Director – BMO Harris Bank N.A.

Tony Saracco, CPA, MBA

Tony Saracco, CPA, MBA

Director - Advisory, KPMG LLP


Our Founders

Founder Photo 2015_0916_3250.jpg

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.