AmeriCorps Staff 2019-20
Eric Abrams is the Chief Inclusion Officer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, and formerly served as Diversity Director at University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Born in Berkeley, Abrams spent his childhood in the Bay Area and Chicago before matriculating at Stanford, where he majored in political science and drama and served on the student senate as well as acting in and directing a number of student theatrical productions. As a graduate student at UCLA, Abrams studied political science, as well as being elected Secretary of the Black Graduate Student Association. He has served as Director of Admissions at Pitzer College, Berkeley Law, and the Stanford MBA Admission Office, where he worked to increase diversity and enrollment of traditionally underrepresented groups. Abrams has led workshops on topics such as public speaking for admissions professionals, outreach to students from underrepresented communities, and working with student groups, and he is member of the Finalist Selection Committee for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Program. Eric lives in Oakland with his wife and two teenage sons. He is a huge sports fan, a beginning motorcyclist, and an avid barbecue pitmaster.
Colleen Quinn Amster is a writer and editor from Boca Raton, Florida who earned degrees in English literature and Spanish from Middlebury College and Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Colleen worked as a reporter and assistant editor at New York Magazine and moved to San Francisco to work as an associate editor at Mother Jones. Colleen now lives in San Francisco with her husband, John, and their three children, Finn, Aidan, and Curran. She has served on the boards of several San Francisco philanthropic organizations, including Children of Shelters and the National Charity League.
Joya Banerjee, Vice Chair, is a Program Officer at the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, a private family foundation based in San Francisco, where she oversees a grant portfolio that advances the sustainable management of California’s water resources. Prior to joining the foundation, Joya was an attorney at Latham & Watkins and worked for the New York City Mayor’s Office. Joya graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, and she received a Juris Doctor degree from Columbia Law School. She lives in San Francisco.
Lisa Brown is an illustrator, author, designer, and cartoonist. Her award-winning picture books for children include The Airport Book, Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert, Emily’s Blue Period by Cathleen Daly, and The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket. Her writing and illustration has been published in a variety of publications, including NPR, The San Francisco Chronicle, McSweeney’s, Lucky Peach, and The New York Times. She has been joyfully involved in 826 Valencia since its founding; as a donor, field trip illustrator and leader, workshop instructor, and publication contributor. Lisa teaches in the Illustration Department of the California College of the Arts. She received a BA in Humanities from Wesleyan University and an MS in Communications Design from Pratt Institute in New York City.
A creative pioneer, Carolyn has over 20 years of experience leading marketing teams and building creative and effective marketing strategies for high-profile companies. Most recently, she was Dropbox’s Chief Marketing Officer. She led Dropbox’s global marketing organization, driving initiatives to develop the company’s iconic and enduring brand, engaging and acquiring customers, and building lasting relationships that help Dropbox users around the world unleash their creative energy. Before joining Dropbox, Carolyn spent time advising emerging brands from tech to beauty—including Pure Storage, where she was responsible for building the company’s digital marketing strategy and developing their brand and messaging architecture. For over a decade, Carolyn ran Global Consumer Marketing at Electronic Arts, helping to define the strength and personality of EA SPORTS and developing high impact campaigns for franchises from Madden Football to FIFA to Battlefield. She also led the company’s digital transformation across its marketing effort.
Alex Lerner, Treasurer, is a partner of Indaba Capital, an investment firm based in San Francisco. Alex originally joined Indaba at the time of the fund’s launch in 2011 and rejoined in 2014 after earning his MBA from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. He began his career in the Mergers & Acquisitions group at Lazard Ltd following forays in journalism and publishing at Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. Alex also received a B.A. in English from Stanford University.
Jim Lesser, Board Chair, is one of the few Executive Creative Directors in the advertising industry to become the President and CEO of a major agency network office. In the eighteen years he’s been at BBDO San Francisco, the office has gone from five employees to more than 100 and helped BBDO win the 2015 U.S. Agency of the Year Award. Jim began his career as the receptionist at a New York agency before being promoted to copywriter. As a result, he believes a great idea can and often will come from anywhere. Jim has served on the Boards of BBDO New York and Dwell Magazine and is currently serving as Board Chair at 826 Valencia. Jim is a passionate outdoorsman who spends as much time as possible hiking with his wife and two sons.
Julia leads the Impact Advisory practice at Jordan Park, a multi-family office based in San Francisco, whose mission is to help clients enhance their lives and legacies. Prior to joining Jordan Park, Julia was a Vice President at Goldman Sachs, where she worked from 2014 to 2017. Previously, Julia spent a decade in the nonprofit sector where she developed expertise in strategic planning, program evaluation, human capital management, and fundraising through her work at several leading organizations, including Summer Search and Citizen Schools. Julia currently serves on the board of 826 Valencia because she believes in the power of mentoring and self-expression as ways to cultivate young leaders. She also volunteers on advisory councils for several community foundations in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a mentor at Rewriting the Code. Julia received her BA with High Honors from Wesleyan University and her MBA from Cornell University, where she was a Roy H. Park Leadership Fellow and an Environmental Finance and Impact Investing Fellow.
Enikia Ford Morthel is an urban educator with over 15 years of experience serving the Bay Area’s most historically underserved communities. She is currently the Asst. Superintendent for the San Francisco Unified School District’s Bayview/Potrero Hill communities, as part of a collaborative team created to transform San Francisco’s lowest-performing schools. Prior to this appointment, she facilitated the turnaround of underperforming schools and incubation of new schools in some of the Bay Area’s highest-need neighborhoods. Enikia sees education as an act of social justice and is committed to the transformation of our educational system to be more responsive, relevant, and revolutionary in the lives of the children who need it most. Outside of her day job, Enikia continues to engage and empower communities of color. She advances these efforts in her role as professor/Senior Lecturer of Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University. She has consulted for companies like ETS, LeapFrog, and a number of Bay Area CBOs, and partnered with Seneca Family of Agencies as a lead developer of the All-In Partnership, which has transformed Special Education and Response to Intervention in many schools serving communities of increased trauma. She serves on a number of boards and is excited to share her passion and experience in support of the vision of 826 Valencia. Originally from Los Angeles, Enikia is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. She holds a Master’s degree in Education. Although she enjoys the ‘heart work’ that consumes much of her days, her most rewarding role has been that of mother and wife. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, William, and two children—Jayvyn (14) and Samaiya (5).
Dave Pell spends the first half of each day writing the NextDraft newsletter and iOS app where he covers the day’s most fascinating news. The newsletter is syndicated by Time. During the second half of his day, he is the managing partner of Arba Group, a family-owned company that invests in early stage Internet startups. Dave has deep experience in education, having taught high school in Brooklyn and Boston. He has degrees from UC Berkeley and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Dave lives in Marin with his wife and two young children, Herschel and Octavia.
Joe Vasquez is the Manager of Partnerships & Strategy at Runway. Joe is an iOS developer and early co-founder of StartX, an accelerator for Stanford entrepreneurs. Prior to joining Runway, Joe taught at the Kauffman Fellows Academy and was a Data Analyst Fellow at LocoMotive Labs. Joe started his career in investment banking at Goldman Sachs and spent two years teaching bilingual math with Teach For America. Joe holds a BS in Atmosphere & Energy Engineering from Stanford University.
Rachel Swain Yeaman is a writer, communications consultant, and long-time advocate for social justice and civil rights. Over the course of many years, Rachel conceived and directed winning media and communications campaigns for many national and regional advocacy organizations, including the ACLU. She has served on the boards of several nonprofits, including the Breast Cancer Fund and Children’s Day School, where she chaired the capital campaign that enabled the purchase and construction of a new independent, progressive middle school in the heart of San Francisco. Rachel holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is thrilled to bring her passion for social justice and children’s writing to the board of 826.
Talia works in Product at a startup called LightStep, an application and infrastructure monitoring software solution. Talia has previously served on both the Greater Bay Area Make-A-Wish Foundation’s and Kiva Foundation’s inaugural Young Professional Advisory Councils. Talia was connected to 826 Valencia through her work as a Project Lead during a YCore fellowship. Talia is excited to take on leading this group through the second year of being the 826 Valencia Inaugural Associate Board.
Jess wrote her first poem on a rainy Saturday when she was six and has delighted in playing with words ever since. Today, she is the Executive Director at YCore, a fellowship program that partners young professionals with local nonprofits for strategic volunteer projects. Previously, she designed impact programming at Net Impact and taught as a Fulbright ETA in Vitória, Brazil. Jess received a BA in philosophy and literature and an MA in Iberian and Latin American Cultures from Stanford University. When she’s not indulging her inner language and ethics nerd, you can find her running the San Francisco hills or singing in her women’s barbershop chorus.
Ali is a Product Marketing Manager at Google, where she helps small businesses get online and grow. Before Google, Ali worked at Strive and Udemy and is especially interested in the intersection between technology and access to education. When she’s not working, you can find her taking dance classes, running around Fort Funston, and reading too many books at a time. She is a total word nerd and received her BA in English from Yale University. Ali fell in love with 826 Valencia through a YCore fellowship and is honored to be a founding member of the Associate Board.
Since Faryl Ury got her hands on her Dad’s camcorder as a child, she’s loved to tell stories. Currently, she is the Director of Communications at Aurora, a self-driving car company. She also works as a PR consultant and media trainer. Previously, Faryl handled external communications for Square and Uber. While in Washington, DC, she served as the Press Secretary for U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen and worked as a journalist at The Associated Press and NPR. Faryl received her Master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and graduated from Harvard. She’s volunteered with 826 Valencia over the last 5 years and always looks forward to Personal Statement Weekend!
Kiersten is a Bay Area native and a Forensic Engineer at Dolby Laboratories, Inc. Her interest in working with diverse and underserved communities sparked when she interned as a crisis intervention worker at the Family Violence Law Center in Alameda County while attending the University of San Francisco. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, she went on to manage a small, private law firm and eventually received her Master of Business Administration from California State University, Monterey Bay. During Dolby’s corporate volunteer day, Kiersten volunteered at 826 Valencia’s Podcasting Field Trip where she felt immediately drawn to become more involved with the organization. She looks forward to serving on 826’s Associate Board for another year.
Michelle is an artist, educator, and visual storyteller living in San Francisco. With a firm commitment to the intersection of equity, art, and community, she is passionate about creating more spaces and opportunities for creative expression. She received her BA in the Sociology of Education from New York University and her MA from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she studied creativity and maker-centered learning. Currently, Michelle is the co-founder of herCreative and Content Design and Strategy Manager at Twilio. Michelle loves all bodies of water, avocados, and discovering cities by foot.
Faraz is a Bay Area native and a Product Manager at DocuSign. Raised in Mountain View, California, entrepreneurship and technology surrounded him from an early age. He studied electrical engineering and computer science at UC Irvine and was part of multiple early-stage startups during and after university. More recently, he was involved in a fellowship at YCore where he learned about 826 Valencia’s inspiring program and worked with the team on some key challenges. Faraz has a passion for helping those who are in need, and hopes to one day have a career where work and social impact are one and the same. For now, he’s excited to help accelerate 826 Valencia’s wonderful mission to his fullest capacity.
Andrea grew up as the only girl sandwiched between three brothers and quickly latched onto the art of storytelling to lobby for her parent’s support and attention throughout childhood (and still today). Andrea works in communications at Facebook where she covers News Feed and Stories. Born in Palo Alto and raised in Hong Kong, Andrea has straddled the divide between Eastern and Western culture her entire life and is passionate about the power of art and writing in uniting disparate perspectives. She also serves as the Director of Communications for the U.N. Women Silicon Valley Chapter, having previously been the PR Coordinator for U.N. Women San Francisco, helping to launch their flagship Global Voices Film Festival celebrating women in film. Andrea served on the editorial board of her college newspaper as chief copy editor; she has two bachelor’s degrees from the University of California, Santa Barbara in English and psychology.
Matt was born in San Francisco and moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at a very young age, where he developed a love of reading and stories but never really got used to the heat. He is currently a Member Support Lead at Credit Karma and previously ran a branch of a small bookstore in New Orleans before moving back to San Francisco to work at Green Apple Books. In New Orleans, he was involved with Big Class, now 826 New Orleans, and looks forward to continuing the support of such necessary work through 826 Valencia.
Reza is a Director of Engineering at Twitter, leading a group of teams building the home timeline, conversations, and core product platform. Previously, Reza was the Head of Infrastructure and Analytics at TweetDeck, a small company based in London, UK, which was subsequently acquired by Twitter in 2011. Reza originally hails from Canada. He was born in the frozen wheat fields of Saskatchewan and raised in the environmental extremities of southern Ontario, thriving in the ‘just right’ of west coast Vancouver. He also spent over four years in London, UK, before moving to San Francisco. Reza has a graduate degree from the University of British Columbia and an undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto. He’s father to two young boys, ages one and five, and husband to an 826 staffer.
Kenzie graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Arts and Letters in American Studies and Public Policy, and she received a Master of Arts in Education Policy and Leadership degree from Marquette University in her hometown of Milwaukee, WI. She lives in San Francisco and has volunteered for 826 Valencia’s After-School Tutoring programs, in-school programs, and the Young Authors Book Project.
Owen feels as if he may have been made to work with 826 Valencia – at UC Davis, he was a creative writing major who volunteered extensively with organizations serving kids. This primed him for a serendipitous encounter on the streets of San Francisco, where, after seeing an 826 Valencia button on a stranger’s backpack, he promptly looked up the organization and applied to be a volunteer. After serving as a volunteer, Owen became further involved with 826 Valencia as a project lead through YCore. Owen now uses his creativity in his day job as a People Operations Manager at Big Health, but plans to one day write a children’s book too. He hopes to continue to stress the importance of buttons to the stores team while serving on the 826 Valencia Advisory Board.
Tahira Ali is a Special Events Sales Manager with Live Nation, a global entertainment company, representing the newly opened venue, August Hall, in Union Square. Before Live Nation, Tahira most recently worked for Chef Michael Mina and the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium, contributing to major events such as Super Bowl 50. Prior to that, she spent 9+ years as a hotelier for Rosewood and Four Seasons starting in Dallas, and moving to Silicon Valley in 2006. She has a BS in Hotel/Restaurant Management from Texas Tech University. A true Texan at heart, at 13 years old she began working concessions at local ballfields, and participating in peer and youth assistance leadership programs, kickstarting her passion for hospitality and supporting community youth events. After attending a recent 826 Bookeaters’ Bash, she was inspired to get involved with the organization, and is excited to serve on the Associate Board!
Kirby is a Customer Solutions Engineer at Periscope Data. Her passion for languages and the written word stems from her interest in cross-cultural communication. Kirby taught English in China and she also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso. Kirby graduated from Jacksonville University with her BBA in International Business and she earned her MA in Asia Pacific Studies from the University of San Francisco. Always on the search for her next educational adventure, she recently completed Hackbright Academy’s full-stack engineering bootcamp. Kirby connected with 826 Valencia through a YCore fellowship and is thrilled to continue working with such an amazing organization.
Kalani Hicks grew up in Palos Verdes, California where her close proximity to the local library and quest to finish all the books on the summer list sparked her love of reading. She received her BFA in Dance from UC Santa Barbara; during this time she was also a member and captain of the UCSB Dance Team. Currently, Kalani works as the Office Manager at DocuSign where she is co-chair for the SF IMPACT Foundation. Through IMPACT she has been able to connect with local nonprofits and continue her love of philanthropic work. She also dances professionally with ka·nei·see | collective and various contemporary dance companies around the Bay Area. Kalani has always had a passion for the arts and story-telling and is excited for her first year with the 826 Valencia Associate Board.
Maddie Oatman is an editor and writer at Mother Jones and a producer and host of its food politics podcast, Bite. She previously managed the magazine’s research department and fellowship program, working on National Magazine Award-winning investigations and training more than 60 journalists at the start of their careers. And once upon a time, after majoring in literature at Middlebury College, she interned at 826 Valencia. Her award-winning stories have also appeared in Outside, the Rumpus, and The Best American Science and Nature Writing, among others. On the weekends, she inhales fiction, dances at ODC, and hikes up mountains in the snow.
V.E.S.T.volunteer engagement support team
Susan has been volunteering with us since 2015, dedicating over 150 hours to our students, primarily at our Storytelling and Bookmaking Field Trips at the Mission Center. She brings her enthusiasm and unwavering commitment to our programs on a daily basis. A dedicated volunteer, Susan goes above and beyond for our community, supporting our students and volunteers. She seeks out organizations that focus on youth, creativity, and education, and is involved in several nonprofits that support projects created by students, nurturing their ideas and imaginations in the process.
Ed Cavagnaro started out as a regular tutor in our summer programs in 2015 and went on to dedicate himself to projects such as The Straight-Up News, Mission Magazine, and the Young Authors’ Book Project. He is also a staple tutor in several of our Tenderloin programs and used his expertise as a radio producer to help us shape and launch our Podcasting Field Trip Program. On top of all that, Ed has also helped plan and lead several podcasting workshops for high school students at our Mission Center, and taken it upon himself to edit the final products. Needless to say, when he was brought up as a nominee for the Volunteer of the Month, staff lined up to sing his praises.
Gloria Lenhart loves San Francisco the way only an East Coast transplant can. She arrived in San Francisco just in time for the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. When she’s not helping with field trips at 826, you can find her leading walking tours around the city for San Francisco City Guides. In 2014, she launched the City Explorer San Francisco app offering downloadable tours of SF neighborhoods, where you can find sunken ships routes in the financial district, hidden gardens downtown, and more. And proceeds from the app benefit 826 Valencia.
Originally from Tennessee, Kate studied art in Los Angeles before trekking north to San Francisco, where she now works as an artist and freelance web designer. She came to 826 because of her interest in creative writing but “stayed for the community of volunteers and the unique programs,” such as the Storytelling and Bookmaking Field Trips. When not illustrating a book at 826, Kate can be found trying out new recipes in the kitchen or watching movies.
Tim R. studied architecture, apparel, and graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design. He has been involved with 826 as a tutor, volunteer designer, and “snack lady” since 2010. He speaks a bunch of languages and has lived, traveled, and studied in colder, far-flung climates. The sunny Mission is now his home, where he loves the Muni J-line, free-ish yoga, and mandated composting. His design alter-ego is Subject-Object.net, through which he has also produced retail goods, focusing on the informational, the anecdotal, and the PBS in all of us. Some of those “Objects” have found their way into the Pirate Supply Store, where he now also works part-time.