• 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.



  • Karen ThomsonFounder and Executive Director
    Karen has led 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 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

  • 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.

    Eric Doctors

    Eric Doctors, SVP of Learning and Organizational Development at Leo Burnett and Publicis Communications NA, has had 30 plus year career as an artist, actuary, people developer and creativity evangelist. Eric works within companies and organizations to develop connection to community and with their employees to enhance their career experiences, specifically around inclusion and diversity.  Being part of the LFAOU community is an opportunity to help the organization grow and have broader impact to the communities it serves and put into action his passion to help people discover their dreams and make them happen.

    Lydia Evans

    Lydia Evans joined the LFAOU Board in 2016 after several years of being a proud "chronic volunteer" in which capacity she co-chaired the LFAOU signature event, Honor Thy Mother. Following a career in educational publishing, Lydia started her own letterpress printing and design business. Her previous volunteer work also supports her passion for learning, education, and equality. She enjoys traveling with her husband, who is a pilot, and loves reading and teaching printing.

    Courtney Francis

    A Northeastern Illinois University faculty member and former principal, Courtney Francis joined the LFAOU board in 2015.  Courtney, who was an LFAOU book group leader many years ago, has always believed that all people have talent and potential, and that it is up to education, and other systems, to help individuals realize their potential.  Courtney, a member of the Local School Council at Franklin Fine Arts Center, has always had a love of literature and poetry and has seen, firsthand, how they can be real vehicles for empowerment.  Courtney, a native of New York City, lives in Hyde Park with her husband and children.  She loves all the cultural attractions that Chicago has to offer.

    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.

    Tim Harrington

    Tim Harrington joined the LFAOU Board in 2013 as Treasurer after careers in local government and environmental protection. He has watched young people change their lives at LFAOU by writing and owning their own stories. Tim lives with his wife in West Rogers Park on Chicago’s north side where he indulges in bookbinding, reading, and enjoying life in the city.

    Lynn Hiestand

    Lynn Hiestand joined the Board of LFAOU in 2015, having previously been on its Advisory Board for 12 years. She is a retired corporate lawyer and former partner of the law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. Lynn served as Iraqi Legal Programs Director and then Country Director for Heartland Alliance International, a human rights organization providing legal, social and mental health services to vulnerable populations. Lynn has lived in both Chicago and London and serves on a number of boards in those cities.  She now divides her time between family in South Carolina and California.

    Loretta Kaplan

    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.

    Maryjane Klein

    A former Chicago Public Schools primary grade teacher and reading tutor, Maryjane Klein joined the Board of LFAOU in 2016 where she is currently serving as Secretary. A Landscape Architect, Maryjane has enjoyed using her skills for a series of projects that enriched and empowered the lives of individuals with disabilities through creative design of gardens & landscapes. A believer in public education, her twin sons were educated in the Evanston/Skokie Public School where she is a long-time resident.

    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.

    Susan Munro

    After working in publishing and as a consultant to nonprofits, Susan Munro now calls herself a free-range activist. She attended the first-ever coffee held to introduce LFAOU to potential donors in 1997 and has been involved since then as a donor, volunteer, consultant, and board member (2005-2012, 2015-present). She is currently board vice-president and co-chair of the Honor Thy Mother event. Susan lives in Evanston; she loves spending time with her four grandchildren, volunteering, taking classes, and traveling the world.

    Sandy Toback

    Sandy Toback, former board co-chair, was attracted to the mission of LFAOU because of her deep interest in both literature and education, and by the opportunity to serve the youth of Chicago. She had a twenty-year career in advertising, followed by her “second chapter” as a mother, teacher and member of other educational oriented boards. When not spending time with her grown children and husband, Sandy loves to travel and make things like jewelry and oil paintings, and has authored several humor books.

    Beth Uyenco Shatto

    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.

    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.

    Newlin O. Wallaston

    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 community where he also resides.  Newlin's passion is community development by impacting individuals through providing spiritual, financial & economical awareness.
  • 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 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