• 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
    • Shared learning and dialogue in safe environments of mutual respect.
    • Literature as a means to make connections, and discover strength and meaning in our lives.
    • Writing as a way to find our voices, share our stories, and free our imaginations.
    • The strengths of young people, their families and communities.
    • Nurturing parenting as fostered by our children’s literature program.
    • Collaboration as a way to increase the impact of our literacy programs.
    • Equity and social justice.

Our Vision

We envision a future where:

All young people have opportunities to access their voices, write their stories, embrace meaning in their lives, and imagine possibilities for their futures. In safe environments, they have the support of responsible adults to explore their strengths and share their ideas. As parents they nurture their children with love, respect, structure, and consistent exposure to literature. Working with others, they use the power of words to change the world.


  • Karen ThomsonFounder and Executive Director
    Karen has lead discussions and published articles on literature and book group leadership with women, men, seniors and young people throughout the Chicago area for the past 25 years.

    Karen Thomson

    Founder and Executive Director

    Lauren BerndtDirector of 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 Operations

    Anthony BetoriTeaching Artist
    Anthony Betori is an educator and mentor. They built and manage the LGBTQ+ programming, which now serves three permanent sites, and have been instrumental in revamping of the curriculum for young men. They also oversee the Action Council, the organization's young adult board and coordinate LFAOU's relationships with universities and university students.

    Anthony Betori

    Teaching Artist

    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

    Justin DanzyTeaching Artist
    Before joining Literature for All of Us in 2016, Justin facilitated creative writing workshops for youth and adults in several locations, including the Kalamazoo Probation Enhancement Program and the New York City Department of Probation while working with poet and playwright Dave Johnson and Free Verse Magazine. He now brings his knowledge of poetry and his belief in literature as a transformative tool to his Literature for All of Us book groups. Justin received a BA in English and African Studies from Kalamazoo College in 2016.

    Justin Danzy

    Teaching Artist

    Barbara GrierAccountant
    As the numbers manager for an organization dedicated to words, she handles our accounting and human resources departments. She also has volunteered in every book group and attended nearly every event, from readings to galas.

    Barbara Grier


    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

    Sarena KorniTeaching Artist
    A Chicago native, Sarena studied Hispanic Literature and Language, and History (African American, African and Latin American) at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. She also received a Masters degree in Secondary Education from National Louis University in Chicago.

    Sarena Korni

    Teaching Artist

    Sam WaldorfProgram Assistant
    Sam joins the Literature for All of Us team as a 2016-17 Avodah Service Core Member. Growing up outside Philadelphia, Sam graduated from Lehigh University with a BS in Supply Chain Management. He was drawn to LFAOU’s mission to promote literacy because of their commitment to helping youth in urban settings.

    Sam Waldorf

    Program Assistant

  • Barbara Disko

    Courtney Francis

    Tim Harrington - Treasurer

    Lynn Hiestand

    Loretta Kaplan - Secretary

    Judy Keller

    Maryjane Klein

    Susan Munro

    Rob Simmons

    Linda Stevenson

    Karen Thomson - Executive Director

    Eliseo Thorrens

    Sandy Toback - Board Co-Chair

    Beth Uyenco

    Julie Victor

    Elizabeth Banko

    Terrie Bridgman

    Lydia Evans

    Roselyn Hampton

    Donna Landsman

    Michelle Sloan

  • Kathy Bresler Sue Brodarick
    Marilynn J. Cason Patty Coghlan
    Carol Lynn Connell Susan Doctors
    Howard S. Dubin Noreen Edwards
    Mary Erickson Nancy & Tom Figel
    Carol Gifford Jennifer Grau
    Mildred Harris Keri Holleb Hotaling
    Susan K. Kaden Lissa Karron
    Ann Lagory Lisa E. Lewis
    Nancy Liebman Mary J. Marasa
    Iris Marreck Casandra Melton
    Leslie J. Millenson Denise Morton
    Helen Moshak Bonnie Oberman
    Ann Ohlrogge Johnson Michele Pockross
    Elizabeth Posner Jane Punwani
    Roberta Rubin Sandra Shane-DuBow
    Eileen L. Share Debbie Smith
    Susan Sneider Rekha Tobaccowala
    Angela Valavanis Jan Valukas
    Bernice Weissbourd Denise Philip Winter

  • Jane Hamilton
    Joy Harjo
    Nami Mun
    Sara Paretsky
    Diane Seuss
    B.A. Shapiro
    Anna Solomon
    Gail Tsukiyama
    Dawn Turner
  • The purpose of the Action Council 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