Anthony Tassi, Chief Executive Officer

Anthony joined Literacy Partners in 2013 after leading the New York City Mayor’s Office of Adult Education for five years during the Bloomberg Administration. Previously, he served as a health policy advisor in the mayor’s office for four years. During that time, he saw how strengthening adult literacy programs would not only improve education outcomes but would have a profound public health impact as well. Anthony is the co-creator of the Emmy Award-winning We Are New York video series. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, he is a (reasonably) fluent speaker of Italian and Portuguese, an ongoing student of Farsi and Spanish, and would love to master Nepali someday. The most inspiring part of his job, he says, is “seeing what our students are able to do with the resources we provide and how powerful they really are to make huge changes in their lives.” anthonyt@literacypartners.org

Sung E Bai, Chief Operating Officer

Initially a student activist, Sung E has been a social justice advocate for most of her life. Along with being executive director of a NYC community organization for over 11 years, she has been part of many national movements, and taught Asian American and Women’s Literature courses in local colleges. As a young child in Queens, NY, she befriended the bookstore staff near where her parents worked, and spent hours reading books each day. Her decision to get a BA and two masters degrees in literature was inspired by her coming to consciousness through the writings of Audre Lorde, Franz Fanon, Toni Morrison, Jamaica Kincaid, and many others. Both a mother of a public school student and a martial arts teacher, Sung E comes to Literacy Partners with a guiding mantra from Frederick Douglass: “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” jsbai@literacypartners.org

Lynn Clark, Chief Program Officer

Lynn learned about literacy at the knee of her mother—a children’s librarian from India who dedicated her career to putting authentic multicultural literature into the hands of children. “She was the first one to show me how a book can be both a mirror and a window into our own and another person’s culture.” Lynn brings fresh experience building 2-generation literacy programs in under-resourced communities in the rural South. As Executive Director of a regional non-profit serving children and families, she expanded programming to serve 11,000 children each year. Prior to moving into the non-profit sector, Lynn was education faculty at a state university, where she developed PK-16 pathway programs for underrepresented groups in STEM. She has worked coast to coast as a program evaluator and presented and published internationally, including award-winning print and multi-media textbooks. She continues to teach at the doctoral level in the area of multicultural education. Lynn believes that all children should have access to books in which they can see themselves—and others—in positive ways, and she is excited to be part of an organization that helps parents “hold up a mirror and open a window” for their child through reading. lynnc@literacypartners.org

Crystal Brown, Director of Institutional Giving

As a teenager, Crystal grew up watching her uncle lead her small Mississippi Delta town as mayor, resulting in a strong desire to continue the family legacy as a public servant. With more than 15 years of experience in non-profits and higher education, she comes to Literacy Partners with a broad background in fund development. During her tenure with the American Red Cross, she managed a six-figure portfolio and helped to reinstate the local region’s annual donor recognition program.

She is a two-time graduate of Jackson State University with a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communication and a Master of Public Policy and Administration. When she is not working, she enjoys volunteering through her sorority, cheering on her Jackson State Tigers, and exploring new adventures with her daughter and husband. Crystal resides in Brandon, Mississippi. crystalb@literacypartners.org

Sandra Céspedes, Project Manager of National Programs

Sandra formerly taught beginning English for parents in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. “Information is power, and I became a teacher to help people become empowered through language,” she says. Newly arrived in the United States from Peru at age 17, Sandra learned English while earning her BA in bilingual journalism from Lehman College, and went on to earn her MA in teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages from Hunter College. Sandra always felt a strong connection to her students: “I’m not just a stranger who’s trying to teach them English,” she says. “I know it’s difficult, but it’s definitely possible.” sandrac@literacypartners.org

Elizabeth Chrysafi, Student Resource Support Navigator

Elizabeth was raised in a predominantly Greek immigrant community in Astoria, Queens. Elizabeth is an avid reader and particularly enjoys nonfiction pieces pertaining to culture and psychology. Elizabeth is currently completing her Bachelor of Science in Human Services from the College of Technology, CUNY. She is a Licensed Cosmetologist and has worked in the industry for over four years as a skin specialist and laser technician. In addition to her passion for esthetics, she has always valued education and literacy, and above all, enjoys helping people in different capacities. As a child of non-native English speaking immigrants, Elizabeth understands the importance of developing language skills at an early age, and is eager to support parents with the tools necessary to facilitate a strong academic foundation that begins at home. elizabethc@literacypartners.org

Mark Conard, Director of Finance & Administration

With a grandfather who immigrated from Spain and a grandmother who emigrated from Italy, Mark understood the challenges of not being proficient in speaking and reading English. His grandfather, at times, would ask him to read newspaper articles or mail to him. His mother was a teacher and spent a great deal of time reading to Mark and his brother, which had a big impact on their educational development. Mark has spent his career working in Finance with a passion for increasing financial literacy across the organization and has years of experience in supporting central finance functions, operations, and information technology. Mark works with leaders to develop and implement strategies to deliver organizational transformation and growth. Mark graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Finance from Marshall University and an MBA from The Ohio State University. Mark feels extremely lucky to work for Literacy Partners and be a part of its mission to help others. In his spare time, he enjoys playing tennis and working out.  markc@literacypartners.org

Romelia Corvacho, Health Equity Manager

Romelia, or Romy as her friends and family call her, came to the US in 1992. A teenager from Callao, a suburb of Lima, Peru. Romy and her family fled a nation under attack by the Maoist guerilla group, the Shining Path.  Terrified and desperate, her family bought passage to America in search of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, a dangerous journey across five countries that ended with their arrival in New York City nearly 30 years ago.

They say that America is the land of opportunity, and it certainly is, but it is also a land of struggle. Romy immediately went to work to support herself and her family. The most difficult challenges she faced were learning to access health services and navigating the complicated health care systems of New York City.  Romy had to learn a new language and a new culture.  Through years of perseverance, hard work, and dedication she was able to succeed, but her struggles told her that there had to be a better way to help people like her.  Romy put herself through college, earning a BA in Community Health Policy and Administration.  This led Romy to discover her true calling in life for the field of health outreach.  For the past 16 years, she has worked in developing and implementing programs to improve health outcomes.

When not working to improve health care delivery in communities across New York, Romy is a fitness enthusiast.  She is also an avid runner and ran the 2019 New York City Marathon. romeliac@literacypartners.org

Oksana Dudnik, Student Resource Support Navigator

Oksana was born and raised in Ukraine, and her love for books comes from her mother, a teacher. From early childhood, she dreamed of studying foreign languages. Upon graduation, she entered university majoring in French and English language and literature. Knowing how hard it was to comprehend a new language, she started to give students lessons to help them improve their grades and pass exams. At the age of nineteen, Oksana moved to Bay Ridge, NY where she began her career as a pre-K tutor, helping children prepare for the Gifted and Talented test. She has always had a passion for education and has shared her knowledge with others, resulting in Oksana’s decision to return to college. Now she is a student at the NYC College of Technology in the Human Services Department. Her future profession inspired Oksana to join the Red Cross and the Crisis Text Line, which occupies most of her time. Now Oksana reads psychology literature to enhance her knowledge. Oksana is genuinely grateful to be a part of the Literacy Partners during her internship and help people open the door to a new world through books and literature. oksanad@literacypartners.org

Yevgeniya Gershkovich, Senior Bookkeeper

After moving to New York City from Moscow in 1993, Yevgeniya simultaneously learned English and earned a BS in accounting at Touro College, from which she graduated summa cum laude. As a non-native English speaker, Yevgeniya relates to the challenges that Literacy Partners’ students overcome. “As a child, my favorite toy was a book,” says Yevgeniya, whose favorite way to spend time now is reading and discussing books with her grandchildren. yevgeniyag@literacypartners.org

Dinara Yeung Gilmanova, ESOL Teacher

Inspired by her mother who was her first, though unofficial, teacher of English language literacy, Dinara became determined to pursue a career in education. Her genuine love of teaching coupled with her fascination with the English language motivated her to choose the Kazakh Ablai Khan University of International Relations and World Languages, the leading school in teacher education in Kazakhstan—her home country— from which she graduated cum laude with a B.A. in two foreign languages: English and Korean. Dinara also holds an M.A. from CUNY Hunter in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL). She has presented nationally in the area of English Language Learning. 

Dinara does not discriminate when it comes to reading and reads “absolutely everything.” Her favorites range from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Becoming by Michelle Obama, and This Is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends about Racism by Don Lemon. In her free time, Dinara likes to write poetry and experiment with different recipes in the kitchen. 

Dinara considers herself a proud ambassador of Literacy Partners’ dual-generational approach and is committed to eliminating the disparities in academic achievement of low-income immigrant children compared to their higher-income counterparts. dinarayg@literacypartners.org 

Giovanna Gouvea, ESOL Teacher

My mother had one piece of career advice for me –  “Don’t become a teacher.” It was sound guidance since teachers, in my native Brazil, are severely underpaid. After moving to the United States at the age of 16 to learn English and finish high school, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and went on to work as a family therapist with at-risk youth. My native language is Portuguese, but I also learned Spanish and took French and Greek courses.

The turning point came in 2016 when I taught English in Japan for one year. “Despite the difficulties, I felt at home in the classroom. I had never planned on becoming an English teacher–I actually did not want to learn English as a child.”  Despite my mother’s advice, I pursued a Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages at The New School and graduated with a 4.0 GPA.

I immediately began teaching English to an amazingly diverse adult immigrant population in New York City and quickly realized how the language barrier negatively affected the students’ progress and access opportunities for their families. At Literacy Partners, I believe that through language teaching and other services, students will be able to close the socio-economic and educational gap, not only for themselves but for their children as well.  giovannag@literacypartners.org

Alvin Irby, Senior Advisor for Reading Promotion

Alvin Irby is a former kindergarten teacher turned award-winning social entrepreneur, international speaker, comedian, and author. He is Founder and Chief Reading Inspirer at Barbershop Books, a literacy program that creates child-friendly reading spaces in barbershops and provides early literacy training to barbers. His work connecting reading to male-centered spaces and involving men in boys’ early reading experiences earned him the National Book Foundation’s 2017 Innovations in Reading Prize. Irby’s popular TED Talk “How to inspire every child to be a lifelong reader,” has been viewed over 1 million times.

Irby’s nationally-recognized cultural competency workshops help school districts, library systems, and education organizations create relevant and engaging learning experiences for all students.  His Diversity & Inclusion trainings have been described as informative, inspiring, engaging, and humorous. Irby helps educators better understand and address the systemic and personal challenges that inhibit children’s intrinsic motivation to read and learn. His debut children’s book, Gross Greg, combines Irby’s passion for early literacy and comedy. Gross Greg is a laugh-out-loud story that captures the hilariously gross behavior of kids everywhere.

Alvin Irby holds a Masters of Science (MS) in Childhood Education from Bank Street Graduate School of Education, a Masters of Public Administration (MPA) from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, and a Bachelors of Arts (BA) in Sociology from Grinnell College.

Jasmine Jeffers, Senior Director of Institutional Advancement

Jasmine’s decade-long career in fundraising stems from a deep belief that a well-told story can change the world. She comes to Literacy Partners from Achievement First (AF), a network of public charter schools that provides a college-preparatory K-12 education to 16,000 students in three states. At AF, Jasmine managed a seven-figure portfolio of major institutional donors and worked closely with the organization’s Brooklyn Board of Directors. Prior to her time at AF, Jasmine managed alumni outreach for Princeton AlumniCorps, an organization that provides civic engagement opportunities for passionate individuals of all ages. Jasmine graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and is currently completing an MPA at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service. When she’s not at work, she’s fond of baking and exploring New York City’s many museums. jasminej@literacypartners.org

Jessica Jimenez, Associate Manager of Data and Program Support

Born and Raised in The Bronx, Jessica has always been obsessed with mathematics and numerology, even as a child. Through her studies she realized numbers are important! The interpretation of data can be a key contributor to decisions related to organizational effectiveness and performance (and for better and for worse). She joins Literacy Partners after spending over 17 years with Harlem Children’s Zone where she enjoyed applying and growing her skillset within a fast moving, ever evolving non-profit, as a Salesforce Associate.

Jessica wants to help close the achievement gap by supporting programs designed to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. She believes that access to education and literacy are pivotal ingredients in the recipe that can level the playing field for families while creating opportunities to prepare them for success. jessicaj@literacypartners.org

Michael Kengmana, Program Manager for English for Parents & ESOL Teacher

Michael grew up in New York City, and struggled with learning how to read as a child. He is thankful that his parents and teachers took the time to make sure he grew up not only learning how to read and write, but enjoying it as well. Today, Michael reads a lot of historical fiction and non-fiction historical texts. Michael earned his bachelor’s degree in history at Kenyon College in Ohio and a master’s degree in special education at Hunter College. Michael taught in New York City public schools as a high school special education teacher for four years. He saw firsthand the literacy gaps that many students had coming into and leaving high school. From this, Michael’s passion for literacy grew and he feels extremely lucky to work for Literacy Partners and be a part of their mission to help others. In his spare time, Michael enjoys playing rugby and playing music. michaelk@literacypartners.org 

Michelle López, National Director of Parent Education

Motivated by her own struggle with reading, Michelle turned to art and play to craft her own stories. At age 11, she co-created a soap opera with her cousin, a foreshadowing of her work at Literacy Partners. Michelle joined the team to advance media for social impact and leverage partnerships to expand our work nationally by bringing the La Fuerza de Creer initiative into communities. She is an Art Therapist with a Masters degree from Hofstra University and a B.A. in Communication Arts with a focus on film and broadcast from Fordham University. Michelle is also an alumni of the International Exchange Program of the US Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. She joins us from the museum field, where she served as Director of Education & Community Programs at the Children’s Museum of the Arts in SoHo and Manager of ArtAccess Programs & Autism Initiatives at Queens Museum. A leader in the City’s community of early childhood stakeholders, she has expertise and passion for working with families across cultures to make artistic and educational resources accessible. She believes stories are the artifacts of the soul and looks forward to working with colleagues on promoting the power of storytelling. michellel@literacypartners.org

Rosa Loza, Community Engagement Manager

As a child, Rosa fell in love with short stories, particularly the stories of Aesop. When she was attending Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru (PUCP) in Lima, where she grew up, she realized the lack of comprehensive education reform. She says, “in order to create change, it’s necessary to educate parents first – so that they can invest in their child’s education.” Her love of literacy and interest in dual-generation education led her to Literacy Partners, and a “mission that is close to my heart.” Rosa previously worked in development at Citizens Union. She has a Bachelor’s degree in sociology and Latino studies from City College. rosal@literacypartners.org

Crisol Merlos, Student Resource Support Navigator

Crisol grew up in Queens, NY. As a child, she loved the Captain Underpants and The Rainbow Fish book series. She graduated at BMCC with an associates degree in Liberal Arts and decided to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services at City Tech College in NYC. After graduation, she will pursue a Master’s in Social Work. Although Crisol does not have a favorite author, she is a fan of William Shakespeare. Pre-COVID, Crisol loved going to the gym in her free time. Currently, she is enjoying cooking meals at home. crisolm@literacypartners.org

Clementine Morel, Digital Media Specialist

Afro-Dominican advertiser Clementine was born in the USA and raised in the Dominican Republic. With a Bachelor in Advertising Communications and a Masters Degree in Digital Marketing and Communications, she has worked in the online and offline creative world for over 7 years in different areas. By dedicating her work and personal life to social justice, Clem has created awareness about social topics, especially in Dominican communities. Her passion is storytelling in any way, shape, or form. Clem’s favorite writer is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and wishes everyone would read her work, as it shows how important it is to raise everyone as equals. clementinem@literacypartners.org

Audrey Dahyung Oh, Multimedia Specialist

Audrey was born and bred in Seoul, Republic of Korea, where she was surrounded by a fresh set of library books that her mother picked out every week. She grew up fascinated by old Korean tales of magpies, tigers, and wise, powerful women, as well as U.S. classics like The Secrets of Droon and George’s Marvellous Medicine. Reading has been an inseparable part of learning English as a child in Korea, so she is excited to take part in the mission of Literacy Partners. Audrey graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in Race and Ethnic Studies (CSER) and Visual Arts. She has previously worked for non-profits like CITYarts and OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates helping youth to find their voices through art. When she is not working, she often finds herself propped on a bean bag next to her ever-growing houseplant collection and finishing a book. audreydo@literacypartners.org

Paige Peterson, Author and Artist in Residence

As a journalist, Paige has reported extensively about the Middle East and contributed to Marin Magazine, New York Social Diary and the National Council on U.S. Arab Relations. She is the author of “Growing Up Belvedere-Tiburon.” With Christoper Cerf, she is the co-author and illustrator of “Blackie: The Horse Who Stood Still,” and the illustrator of “A Christmas Carol,” adapted by Jesse Kornbluth. As a painter, she is represented by Gerald Peters Gallery in New York and has been honored by The Guild Hall Academy of the Arts in East Hampton. She is Author and Artist in Residence at Literacy Partners and a board member of Catmosphere, National Council on U.S. Arab Relations, and Safari West Wildlife Foundation. Raised in Belvedere, Ms. Peterson has two adult children and lives in New York City. PaigeMPeterson.com

Kimiko Petsche, Program Manager for Basic Literacy and Volunteer Coordinator

Kimiko found the passion for literacy and reading as a child from her parents, who despite working long hours and enduring stressful commutes, always managed to fight off exhaustion in the evenings to read her a bedtime story. “Reading provides a way to build understanding and empathy across generations,” she says. She has a passion for direct service, especially literacy intervention and high school equivalency completion and program intake with transitional-aged youth. Direct service is important to Kimiko because it is a way she is able to create student-centered programs and advocate for the needs of those she works with.

After completing her Bachelor’s degree in Children and Family Sciences with a minor in Education, Kimiko pursued an MA in adult education to contribute and fight for educational equity.  Kimiko works with a transformational learning lens and the belief that knowledge is power. Kimiko’s favorite childhood stories are a Series of Unfortunate Events, Miss Nelson is Missing and the Arthur book series, currently Kimiko loves to read a variety of non-fiction books as she believes we learn most from hearing the stories of our fellow humans. kimikop@literacypartners.org

Katherine Rivera, National Community Engagement Manager

Katherine Rivera grew up in Queens, New York. As a young student, she felt overwhelmed by subjects such as Math and Science, then later realized she wasn’t provided a supportive pathway. This experience fuels her commitment to equitable access to education for all. Hardship impacts access to resources that lead children and their families feeling less confident about their abilities to learn. She is committed to the dreams of those she serves and supporting their developing skills to get there.

Katherine brings 8 years of experience as a community advocate, elevating the voices of the next generation of leaders. Her expertise lies in engaging communities of color and strengthening literacy through informal STEM education. While serving as the Community Engagement Manager at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, she witnessed the spark of wonder in the eyes of first-time museum-goers who never before saw themselves in STEM. Observing children and adults transform, as their literacy for science and math is strengthened, has been her greatest joy.

Katherine also brings coaching experience to our work with parents, early childcare, and education providers who are seeking to engage immigrant parents in their child’s early education. She is a graduate of Psychology from Queens College, NY, and served as a fellow with AmeriCorps- Vista. katheriner@literacypartners.org

Susan Straub, Senior Advisor for Reading Promotion

Susan Straub created The READ TO ME Program to encourage young families to read with their babies. Based on her own pleasurable experiences of shared family reading as a child, mother, and grandmother, and her training in social work, Read To Me brings fun interactive practice to families with very young children. She is the co-author of Reading With Babies, Toddlers & Twos [Sourcebooks, reprinted 2013] with KJ Dell’Antonia and the early childhood Brooklyn librarian Rachel Payne. She and her novelist husband live in Brooklyn near her novelist daughter and son-in-law’s independent bookstore Books Are Magic.

Lorna Torres, Executive Assistant to the CEO and Special Projects Manager

Born in Nicaragua, Lorna grew up near the Grand Concourse in the Bronx in a predominantly immigrant community and attended City College. “I understand firsthand the pressures and obstacles facing young people, especially immigrants, in finishing their educations,” says Lorna, whose mother, like many Literacy Partners parents, relied on her to translate English conversations into Spanish. When Lorna’s son, Jonathan, was a toddler, her favorite books to read to him were The Cat in the Hat and I Love You Forever. lornat@literacypartners.org

Mery Vieira, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications

Mery immigrated to the US from Cabo Verde, an island country off the West Coast of Africa. As a child, she was not only responsible for her own learning of the English language, but was also entrusted with the responsibility of serving as translator and facilitator for her family – a task she took to her heart. She later went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Rhode Island College, and is now a Telly Award-winning content producer and brand strategist. Mery has worked across various industries in both the nonprofit and private sector, including serving as Director of Communications for Summer Camp Opportunities Promote Education and as Director of Operations & Administration for The Oliver Scholars Program. Outside of work Mery has served as an ESL teacher volunteer at the Jersey City Public Library, serving immigrant communities studying for their citizenship exam. She was also the founder of Literacy Exchange – a volunteer-lead grassroots organization. In partnership with Word Bookstore, LE promoted literacy, showcased upcoming authors of color, and donated books to the Jersey City Public Library. Mery is currently pursuing her MBA at the University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign, and believes that literacy is the gateway toward creating a more inclusive and equitable world. meryv@literacypartners.org

Jacqueline Espinosa, Executive Assistant to the COO, CPO, CDO

Jackie was born in the little village of San Miguel, El Salvador. Immigrating to the United States when she was three months old, she has spent her entire life in Queens, New York City. She attended LaGuardia Community College for an associate degree in “Business Administration and Management.” She enjoys reading inspirational books; “Clarity & Connection” is her favorite. Music is one of her greatest pleasures; she enjoys listening and dancing to it. Jackie worked as an Administrative Assistant for an environmental consulting firm that worked on contracts with the NYCSCA, DOE, NYCHA, and other government agencies. Her duties included issuing project numbers to all new projects, assisting office employees, and maintaining weekly reports that included pending invoiced projects. She joined Literacy Partners because she was not only responsible for her own English language development as a child, but she was also tasked with translating and facilitating for her grandmother, who was raising her and did not speak English. She took this responsibility very seriously and wants to help immigrant families learn to read so that they can better support their children’s education.

Cecilia Fernandez, Deputy Director of Operations for La Fuerza de Familias Latinas

As a daughter of a single mother, Cecilia helped navigate responsibilities for her family in Guatemala City. As a way of showing appreciation, her mother repaid her in comic books of the series, “The Adventures of Tintin.” This beloved series sparked a passion for reading exposing her to different cultures, traditions, cuisines and landscapes. Cecilia worked as an Early Education Teacher for 2 years. Her experience in teaching along with the stories and illustrations about diverse ecosystems motivated her to earn her Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Engineering from Universidad Rural de Guatemala in 2003. Then in 2010, Cecilia earned an Associates Degree in Digital Photography from EFTI Centro Internacional de Fotografía y Cine in Madrid, Spain in order to capture images of diverse human environments like those from her childhood books. In 2012 Cecilia moved to the United States to apply her interest in systems, communication skills, and her post-graduate management degree to the field of Advertising and Business. Her expertise as a Business Performance Lead for a transnational agency will help power up the La Fuerza Team with organizational business systems to boost capacity for impacting Spanish-speaking caregivers on a greater scale. Cecilia’s lived experience as an immigrant parent, her passion for reading and her collaborative spirit make this Miami resident, a great addition to Literacy Partners’ family and national program, La Fuerza de Familias Latinas.