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

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

Judith Edwards

Sue Hiering | Curriculum Specialist

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

Anne Yang

Sarah Mylan | Program Coordinator

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

Jacqueline Takahashi

Victoria Luisi | Volunteer Coordinator

With years of professional dog-handling experience a natural love of people, Victoria is perfectly suited to orchestrate all of our human and dog volunteer activity. 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 and in-house designer, Victoria puts her marketing degree to good use in both digital and traditional channels. Whether she is presenting a training program or organizing a volunteer book club, her enthusiasm is infectious.

Bachelor of Arts in Marketing Communications
Columbia College Chicago

 
Jamie Crockett | Part Time Program Leader

Jamie Crockett | Part Time Program Leader

Mimi Rosales | Part Time Program Leader

Mimi Rosales | Part Time Program Leader

Marlene Silva | Part Time Program Leader

Marlene Silva | Part Time Program Leader


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

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.