Kendra became involved at 826CHI as a volunteer tutor immediately upon her arrival in the Windy City, and has since co-invented Chicago-specific handshakes with students. Kendra has spent more than a decade involved in educational programming at arts organizations and museums, including work in Mexico and Honduras, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and for the Chinati Foundation and Artpace in Texas. A native Mainer and honorary Texan, Kendra is also an artist who rather obsessively draws, paints, and animates clouds. She earned her BFA in sculpture from the Maryland Institute, College of Art and her Master’s in Art Education from the University of Texas at Austin.
Director of Development
Wandering her new neighborhood trying to acclimate herself to Midwestern winters, Stien was drawn to a curious looking store. She stepped right into the warmth of the 826CHI volunteering adventure, which led to her eventually joining the 826CHI staff. After studying Humanities at the University of Amsterdam, Stien chose to focus her career on taking measurable steps to make a positive and meaningful impact on society. She enjoys solving puzzles, values diversity, and appreciates the unexpected. On her way to move to Chicago from the Netherlands, she had the opportunity to literally journey around the world. A recent citizen, Stien is incredibly excited to now be a voter.
Director of Programs
Maria Villarreal is a native of Chicago, but has lived and worked in Boston for a good chunk of time. She graduated from Boston College with a BA in English and Hispanic Studies and a minor in searching out the best burritos in Boston. After college, she entered a two-year Teaching Fellowship with Citizen Schools. She partnered with Boston Public Schools while concurrently earning her Masters in Education from Lesley University. This led her to become a Literacy Advisor with ReadBoston; coaching educators on best literacy practices and recommending awesome books to anyone she came across! Upon returning to Chicago, Maria found a home with Boundless Readers as Program Director for teacher professional development. She loves working alongside teachers, students, schools, and communities, and is thrilled to join 826CHI as the Director of Programs. Maria also loves reading, yoga, music, binge watching anything, and short walks on the beach (she would rather sit and read than walk!).
Before accepting the mission to lead the Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Co., Tyler spent five years in the nation’s capital working at a theatre arts education center for young people and wearing shark hoods to baseball games. Originally from the great state of Wisconsin, Tyler holds a BA in Theatre from Northwestern University and is the co-creator of the “jawsome” blog, Sharkadina. When he’s not scoping out the latest and greatest in spy gear, Tyler likes to listen to podcasts, attend Star Trek conventions, and visit Civil War battlefields.
Prior to joining 826CHI’s staff, Abi tried her hand at steaming milk in coffee shops, writing an opinion column, nannying five wonderfully insane children, and lunch lady-ing. She graduated from North Park University with a BA in Communication Arts and is pursuing a non-academic and unofficial degree in Drake-ology. When she’s not avidly utilizing thesaurus.com and watching InDesign tutorials on YouTube, you might find Abi writing letters but never managing to send them, karaoking Beyonce, or squealing at puppies as she bikes around Chicago.
Sarah Kokernot has worked as an educator for nearly a decade. Born and raised in Kentucky, she received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she wrote fiction and learned how to survive in the desert. In addition to Sin City, Sarah has resided in the Live Music Capital of the World, Pennsylvania Dutch Country, and the giant wheat field that is Eastern Washington. She likes reading heavy novels that can double as doorstops and frequently uses jogging as an excuse to watch dogs play in the park.
An aspiring polyglot and devoted lover of baked goods, Tracy Woodley is a former 826CHI student and Youth Advisory Board member who joined the 826CHI team through the AmeriCorps VISTA program and now serves as our Development Coordinator. Born in New York City, she grew up in the United States, England, and Cameroon, and this early exposure to international life gave her a strong interest in global exchanges of culture. She is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she studied Political Science and Portuguese. She has spent time working and living in Brazil and Germany, and is always looking for ways to meaningfully contribute to our rapidly globalizing world here in Chicago. In her free time she enjoys going to the cinema and arguing with other film buffs.
Development Associate (AmeriCorps VISTA)
Esther truly believes everyone, and I mean, everyone, is a stakeholder in education whether you work in the sector or not. With this philosophy, she became involved with 826CHI as a volunteer and Communications Intern. She absolutely believes in 826CHI’s mission to empower and support local teachers and to unleash the creativity of students. As one who grew up attending Chicago Public Schools, she feels particularly invested in expanding this region’s educational opportunities. Esther graduated from Emory University with a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and brings with her 5 years of teaching and consulting experience in South Korea and China. She's currently training for her first marathon.
Communications Coordinator (AmeriCorps VISTA)
Mike started volunteering with 826CHI's After-School Tutoring & Writing program in 2013 and never looked back. He spent a few years trying to work with our young writers as much as possible, while moonlighting at web companies and teaching writing to college students. He graduated from Dominican University with a BA in English. When he's not working, he likes to rile up his cat Friday, read comics, and spend time with his family. Although he dearly misses the day-to-day writing fun with our students, he's excited to join 826CHI's team and contribute to our mission full-time.
Volunteer Coordinator (AmeriCorps VISTA)
Among the things Marty loves most – music video choreography, Alias, early afternoon walks – words have offered the greatest comfort and power. A graduate of Kenyon College, where his proudest moment was dancing onstage with a power drill, he spent two years working in college access before moving to Turkey to teach English. After a year of eating tahini with every meal, he joined 826CHI as a Programming Intern (though there are rumors he made his initial appearance in the first ever Compendium). Back in Chicago, he is happy to be making a new home in an old one.
Student Impact and Data Coordinator (AmeriCorps VISTA)
Despite growing up in Chicago, Ola just began volunteering with 826CHI in September 2015 and fell in love with the organization shortly thereafter. Outside of work Ola writes, eats candy, and somehow convinces herself that walking everywhere is as good as a gym membership. Ola graduated from St. Olaf College with B.A.s in English and French. If you speak French and happen to meet her, feel free to strike up a convo! (Seriously...she loves/needs conversation partners)
After his daughter rejected the family toy business in pursuit of a theatre career, Nigel FeBland was amused to hear that Gaby would be peddling novelties to her local spy ring for a living. Brooklyn born and bred, Gaby was drawn to Chicago to study theatre and Spanish at Northwestern. After graduating, she wrote a play that was produced Off-Broadway and was the first American production to feature solely actors with dwarfism. She plays accordion in the folk-rock band, “Friends of the Bog” and watercolors Maya Angelou quotes onto greeting cards for Gabuelita Card Co. Gaby is thrilled to be supporting 826 in its mission to empower young voices.