Sanam Jorjani
Coalition Network & Initiatives

A native Farsi speaker, Sanam is both believer and witness to the power of language and literacy as a tool for empowering identity and social change.  In her role as Co-Director, Sanam is responsible for strategic development, direction, and management of the the coalition network and various initiatives.  Sanam started her role as Co-Director in 2016 after four years of supporting the coalition and leading the Oakland Reads campaign, while a part of the Rogers Family Foundation.  Prior to her work with the coalition, Sanam coordinated international projects for the Teachers College, Columbia University, where she completed her Masters in International Educational Development in 2011. Sanam worked for several years in after school programs around the Bay Area.  Sanam serves on the Board of Directors of BANANAS, Inc., and is a long-time volunteer with the Albany YMCA Youth & Government Program. Sanam grew up in the East Bay by way of Iran and lives in Oakland with her rambunctious young pit-mix, Namak.

Favorite Book Growing Up:  Swimmy by Leo Leoni and The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein



Cassie Perham
Operations, Development, & Strategic Partnerships

A lifelong bookworm, Cassie is a wholehearted believer in the transformational power of literacy. In her role as Co-Director, Cassie is responsible for the strategic growth and development of the coalition as an anchor organization for Oakland’s literacy efforts. Cassie manages the organization’s operations, fund development, and partnerships.

Cassie previously managed the coalition’s programs and operations out of the Rogers Family Foundation, where she served for six years leading the Foundation’s early literacy grantmaking and initiatives aimed at increasing third grade reading achievement for Oakland students. Cassie moved to Oakland in 2008 as an AmeriCorps VISTA, running service learning programs in elementary schools. Cassie holds a BA in International Relations from the University of California, Davis and a Professional Certificate in Nonprofit Management from the San Francisco State University. Cassie lives in East Oakland with her family of book-lovers.

Favorite Book Growing Up: The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf was a bedtime family favorite but it was The Giver by Lois Lowry that made me fall in love with the magic of stories.


Board of Directors

D. Lacy Asbill
Board President

Lacy is the Founding Director of Moving Forward Education. Lacy holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology & Women’s Studies from Mills College, and an Interdisciplinary Master’s Degree from San Francisco State University. She is the recipient of the Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneur Award, and her organization has won the “Best for the World” Award from B Lab three years in a row. She has been an Oakland resident for seventeen years, and is deeply committed to inspiring positive community transformation through her work. She currently serves as a Commissioner for Oakland Unified School District’s high school re-design commission.

Lacy believes deeply in the power and potential of collective impact.  Oakland literacy partners do amazing work individually — she knows we can make a difference for all children in our community when we align our efforts and work together as one Oakland team!


Rhonnel Sotelo
Board Treasurer

Rhonnel is the Executive Director of the Rogers Family Foundation where his responsibilities include the executive management of the Foundation’s operations, grantmaking, and strategy. Previously, Rhonnel served as the Chief Operating Officer and Vice President for Program & Operations for the Stuart Foundation where he oversaw program strategy, grants management, and operations. His 25 years of experience also includes coordinating and managing The San Francisco Foundation’s West Oakland Initiative and owning and operating Urban Works, an urban planning and design firm focused on neighborhood planning and livable communities in California and the Pacific Northwest. Rhonnel holds a Master of Arts in Urban Planning and a Bachelor of Arts in English, both from the University of California, Los Angeles. He is a member of The San Francisco Foundation’s Koshland Committee for Civic Unity and serves on the Board of Directors for the Oakland Public Education Fund.

As a parent who read stories to his daughters every night during their early childhood, Rhonnel is committed to the coalition’s vision of ensuring all parents, grandparents, and caregivers are positioned to play an active role in their own child’s early learning and literacy.


Paula Ambrose
Board Secretary 

Paula serves as the Education Program Officer for the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, where she manages the grantmaking for early literacy initiatives. Her nonprofit experience includes serving as Director of National Partnerships at Playworks where she led the identification, development and launch of strategic partnerships and programs to help advance the mission of the organization. Paula’s for-profit experience includes supporting the global philanthropy efforts of a fortune 500 company. In this role she managed the company’s education and economic development grantmaking through planning, execution, evaluation and dissemination of results. She also served as an adjunct instructor with the Coro Center for Civic Leadership Development. Paula received an MS in Human Resource Management and Organization Development from Golden Gate University in San Francisco and holds BS degrees in Psychology and Organization Behavior from Pitzer College.

Paula grew up in Oakland, and recalls the important role her family, teachers and community of supporters played in helping her succeed in and out of school. Like the coalition, she believes the success of our children will depend on meaningful collaboration with parents/caregivers, teachers, and community providers. She is excited to work alongside the Oakland Literacy Coalition to support the adults who love and teach children, and help them be successful in school and in life.


Toni Alexander

Toni Alexander is a retired marketing communicator with past experience in public information and news reporting.  She currently mentors domestic abuse survivors, guides a scholarship fund for aspiring educators, maintains social media for a senior citizens advocacy organization, and leads a reading and discussion group of women like herself.

Toni has a lifetime love of literacy; her parents were constant readers who taught her to read and write before she entered kindergarten, and she followed this example in raising her own son.  She credits early literacy as the key to her life’s successes, and joined the OLC Board to help develop Oakland students’ love of the written word.


Alex Madsen

Alex works as the Project Manager for the Contra Costa County Human Trafficking Coalition and the County’s Services for Victims of Human Trafficking Project. Prior to her work in human trafficking Alex worked as an Assessment and Evaluation Consultant for Citizen Schools, an education non-profit working to expand the learning day, and learning opportunities, for students. Alex holds a Master’s Degree in International Human Rights from the University of Denver. Her research, and much of her past work, has focused on collaborative models for creating comprehensive, cross-agency, support for victims of human trafficking in the Bay Area. Prior to receiving her graduate degree, Alex spent over two years as an early childhood educator in San Francisco.

Alex is thrilled to be a part of a dedicated team of individuals who are committed to systemic change, collaboration and coordination to promote literacy.


Bennie Patterson

Bennie Patterson continues to be highly regarded as an expert within youth related organizing & development efforts on a local and national level. With a commitment to provide a skill-set as diverse and dynamic as the needs of the communities around the nation, he strives to stay relevant and effective in his fight for better lives, families, and communities. Through his current capacity as the Owner & Chief Strategist of Patterson Consulting, LLC, a cause-based consultant agency that provides organizational development and branding services, he’s focused on bringing together a dedicated, holistic development outlook to every individual, every community, and every company aligned with his values. It is this experience, dedication, and over 15 years of specialized knowledge that is geared towards positioning Patterson Consulting, LLC as an emerging force in cause-based branding, consulting, & strategic initiative development.

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