Staff and Board
Sanam’s career in education is all about keeping language, learning and community at the heart of our shared experience. A skilled facilitator, she connects people and ideas to break down silos and help people and organizations work better together. In her role as Co-Director, Sanam is responsible for the strategic development and direction of the coalition network, initiatives, and partnerships.
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 at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she completed her Masters. Growing up bilingual she was a cultural translator between herself, her family, and her American surroundings. Fortunate enough to grow up learning her home language surrounded by a strong Iranian community, Sanam is a lifelong advocate for learning and language to power identity and social change.
She has served as a volunteer Delegation Advisor for YMCA Youth & Government for 10 years, supporting high school youth leaders. She has served on the board of BANANAS Inc. since 2016 and is a 2019 Surge Institute Fellow. Sanam lives in Oakland, and grew up in the East Bay by way of Iran and is on a continuous journey to improve her Farsi and Persian Cooking.
Favorite Book Growing Up: Swimmy by Leo Leoni and The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
A lifelong bookworm, Cassie is a wholehearted believer in the transformative power of literacy. In her role as Co-Director, Cassie is responsible for the growth and development of the OLC as an anchor organization for Oakland’s literacy efforts. Cassie leads the organization’s operations, fund development, and strategic 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. Cassie moved to Oakland in 2008 as an AmeriCorps VISTA, supporting 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 San Francisco State University. Cassie lives in Oakland with her family of book-lovers.
Favorite Book Growing Up: Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein and The Giver by Lois Lowry
julia nihar sen
Reading Everywhere Program Manager
julia is a mixed race (Bengali and white), disabled educator, activist, community builder, mama, and Bay Area native who has been working with youth and families for the past 20 years. An avid reader and self proclaimed book nerd since a young age, she loves nothing more than sharing the love of reading with community. julia worked in K-8 schools as an educator and classroom teacher, as well as at family resource centers building and supervising family support programs, all with under-resourced BIPOC communities around the Bay Area. These experiences taught her the power and importance of building relationships and working as an ally, of listening to and learning from families, and that marginalized people are the best ones to find solutions to their problems.
julia lives in Berkeley with her partner and two children, and the best part of her day is reading with them before bed. You can find her in the garden or drumming in the streets.
Favorite book growing up: It’s a tie between the Ramona Quimby series and Bridge to Terabithia
Senior Communications Manager
Heather is a lifelong reader, writer, and storyteller who believes in the transformative power of books. As a baby, she was an early talker and a later walker, so the family joke was that she read a book to learn how to walk.
She has worked as a community organizer, journalist, and nonprofit communications manager, helping to amplify voices of frontline community members and organize for better healthcare, housing, and schools. She grew up in Denver, CO and spent her early adulthood in New York City before moving to Oakland in 2013. She has a master’s degree from the Newmark (CUNY) Graduate School of Journalism.
Heather lives with her daughter and their two cats, Ivy and Bean.
Favorite book growing up: The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble and the Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Events & Outreach Coordinator
Yareli is a bilingual educator, writer, storyteller, and community builder. She has been an educator for the last seven years and has worked most recently as a creative writing teaching artist in the Bay Area. She is a second language learner, Spanish being her first language and has a fierce love of reading and writing. . She has worked in museums, non-profits, and community organizations. Her work is rooted in equity and access for communities who have traditionally been overlooked.
She holds a BA in Sociology and Education from the University of California, Santa Cruz and has been living in the Bay Area for the last five years. She is a huge advocate for self care and considers herself an expert in it. Some of her favorite things include cooking, building legos, hosting brunch, crafting and writing. On days she is not working you can find her hiking in the Oakland hills with her dog Blue Ivy or in her home lounging with her two cats Avocado and Zucchini.
School Library Partnerships Program Coordinator
Leigh grew up a biracial, bicoastal voracious reader whose school library was always her happy place. She is new to the worlds of literacy and education, but years volunteering at her children’s public school libraries allowed her to witness the joy, excitement, and belonging that students feel in their library. This ignited a passion for library advocacy and a commitment to help advance the goal that every school has a model school library staffed by a teacher librarian.
As the coordinator for the School Library Partnerships program, Leigh’s role is to support Oakland’s public school libraries and to champion school library issues. Her professional background is in digital content strategy and user experience, and she holds an English degree from UC Berkeley and a Master’s of Library and Information Science from San Jose State University. She is the fourth generation of her family to call Oakland home and she can often be found running (slowly) around Lake Merritt or playing Super Mario Party with her family.
Michael Rhodes Baker
Michael comes to the OLC as an educator and experienced non-profit professional with over fifteen years of experience in the K-12 education and literacy space. He believes that children learn to read their world in words, and that literacy and reading can unlock transformative power for children and our communities.
As the Development Manager, Michael supports and drives the OLC’s fundraising goals. He previously served the communities of Oakland for eight years at Reading Partners, where he was a Program Manager and later a Partnerships Manager, delivering targeted literacy instruction to school partners throughout Oakland and the Bay Area.
He is a first generation college graduate from Buffalo, New York. He holds a B.S. in Social Studies Education with an American History minor from SUNY Buffalo and an M.A. in Sustainable Development from The School for International Training in Brattleboro, VT. He is proud to call the East Bay home and can be found at most any coffee shop reading a book with his daughter, or out and about in the wonderful nature that the Bay Area has to offer – hiking, fishing, climbing, or just sitting in the grass.
Favorite Book Growing Up: Redwall, by Brian Jacques
Sydney Lee works with the OLC as a Public Service Intern through the University of California, Berkeley. She is a third-year student majoring in Society and Environment, hoping to minor in City Planning. She grew up in the Los Angeles area and is excited to learn from and work with the Oakland community.
Her current experience involves student advocacy and promotion of student rights on campus. Additionally, she is interested in studying more about sustainable urban development and accessibility to basic needs resources. Sydney is most passionate about learning how literacy access intersects with other areas of need. She recognizes that literacy and books actively shape community storytelling and cultivate passions. There is a lot of power to pass along through shared knowledge and reading. Growing up, Sydney remembers spending the summer reading with her older sister.
Favorite Book Growing Up: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Board of Directors
Dulce Torres-Petty is a native from Mexico City who migrated to the United States in 2006 and has dedicated her professional career to work in the education non-profit world ever since. Dulce currently works as the Brilliant Baby Senior Program Manager for the Oakland Promise where she’s committed to support families to pursue their dreams and aspirations for their babies with early investments in their education. Dulce holds a deep commitment to support and empower families through the powerful practice of sharing books and stories, and is honored to support the Oakland Literacy Coalition in their efforts to increase literacy levels in this city that she loves deeply. Dulce is also a big sister, a daughter, a wife, and a proud parent of an Oakland native toddler.
Tiffany Furrell has over a decade of experience in analyzing and reporting data, including work in public policy and the tech sector. She holds an Economics undergraduate degree from University of California, Los Angeles with a minor in Education Studies. For the last 8 years she worked in Oakland at Pandora Media, a leading music and podcast streaming platform. Tiffany is a co-founder of the Pandora Mixtape Community, an employee resource group focused on helping Pandora be the best it can be by supporting its racially and ethnically underrepresented employees as well as its surrounding communities.
Wanting to better connect with the community of Oakland and utilize her passion for childhood literacy and education, Tiffany is excited to work alongside the team with the Oakland Literacy Coalition.
Matt serves as Chief Operating Officer at The Christensen Fund, a SF-based private foundation focused on protecting biocultural diversity. Prior to joining Christensen, Matt spent 13 years at several educational nonprofits, including CollegeSpring and Reading Partners, where he played a number of roles including Chief Operating Officer, Chief of Staff and Chief Regional Operations Officer. Matt lives in Oakland with his wife and two children and is passionate about education, literacy, equity, and his community.
Allison Lopez is the Operations and Development Director for the . She has her M.A. in Linguistics and has supported students in many different classrooms and is passionate about adult literacy. She spent six years teaching for and coordinating the college prep program at Prison University Project, a college program in San Quentin, and learned from students how the lack of support for students, teachers, and families leaves a lasting impact. Allison is excited about joining the board and supporting inclusive literacy efforts in Oakland!
Alexei Eleusis Díaz Vera
Alexei comes from a family of educators and during college got his first experiences as an educator himself, where he taught Mathematics for 8 years. Teaching to kids from the whole social spectrum, he experienced first hand the crucial role literacy plays in development and education, regardless of the subject. Alexei relocated from Mexico to the Bay Area in 2014, where he was surprised to realize that being so prosperous, the Bay Area is also very unequal.
He joined the OLC board hoping to close the gap in literacy and making it a universal right. Alexei works as a Software Engineer in the Tech Industry, but dreams of going back to teach math to kids in college once he retires. Favorite book growing up: A compilation of Sherlock Holmes stories, full of adventure, mystery, and smart reasoning!
Michelle Goldenberg comes to us from the entertainment industry, as an Assistant Production Accountant for film & television. She has had the opportunity to work on such shows as That’s What I Am, Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings, the pilot episode of All-American, as well as All Hail King Julien, Dinotrux, and Dawn of the Croods – all three of which are DreamWorks Animation TV shows. Michelle has an undergraduate degree in Managerial Economics from UC Davis and a master’s degree in Communication Management from USC.
As a Bay Area native, Oakland holds a special place in Michelle’s heart. She credits her Grandma Cecilia (who had been a long-time resident), as well as Apple Garden Montessori of Oakland for making such a lasting impact on her early childhood development. Michelle recently moved back up north from the Los Angeles area and is excited to be of service to promote the importance of literacy and critical thinking skills within our community.
Kira Lewis Clark
Kira is a mixed-race East Bay local who is passionate about working together to dismantle systems of oppression for disenfranchised communities by providing resources, tools and supportive systems that uplift families and allow them to flourish. Supporting early children education is the foundation of her career as she started off as a toddler and preschool teacher before moving into family engagement and community development. Seeing how our youngest children and their families navigated additional barriers in order to access equitable education taught her to see the fuller picture of how to be an educator.
Kira is excited to support the amazing work OLC has been doing to create a network of literacy access across Oakland to support all children in families to enhance the love of reading and educational opportunities.
She lives in San Leandro with her beloved husband and dog! She enjoys acupuncture, house plants, and long walks around the beautiful Bay Area.
Kyra is a passionate education advocate, committed to changing systems to improve outcomes across Oakland, particularly for students who are traditionally marginalized. She is an energetic, metric-driven team player with strong organizational skills and experience in leveraging available resources. As a former Oakland public school teacher, Kyra saw firsthand how under-resourced and underserved communities – most often communities of color – are treated.
Those disparities are what drove her to take a more systems-level approach as an Deputy Director of Education in the Office of Oakland Mayor Schaaf, where she leads early childhood education, collective impact, and teacher recruitment/retention efforts. Kyra holds a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Brown University and a Master’s Degree in Urban Education with a focus on Policy and Administration from Loyola Marymount University. She has a passion for kids, their wellbeing, and their educational opportunities. Kyra always gives 100%, except when donating blood. She enjoys mastering crossword puzzles with a cup of tea, exploring the Bay Area’s beautiful trails, and running into friends at Lake Merritt.
As a classroom teacher, Kyra has seen the power literacy has in shaping education and life outcomes for students, and she’s excited to be part of a collective impact team working to support a whole city of children & youth so that they learn and love to read.
Townes began his career as a high school science teacher in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood and the experiences of his former students drive his passion for ensuring that everyone has access to opportunity. Townes is excited to work towards OLC’s mission in partnership with students, teachers, and families. He formerly worked on the Education Team in the Oakland Mayor’s Office and currently serves as the Chief of Staff at Oakland Thrives, a collective impact organization that drives cross-sector citywide collaboration to improve outcomes for children, youth, and families. Originally from Tennessee, Townes studied Public Health at the University of North Carolina and has an MA in Education Policy from Loyola Marymount University. On the weekends, Townes loves spending time outdoors across the Bay Area.
Laura likes to build things, specifically software products and happy teams. She is currently the CEO and founder of Wanderly, a story-led educational app for 3-8-year-old children using generative Artificial Intelligence. She’s spent the last 8 years working on various software products at the intersection of education and equity: She founded Grasshopper, a mobile-first coding education product that served students from underrepresented backgrounds, and she led the product teams in Google’s AI for Education portfolio. She spent 13 years at Google, taking many products from idea to full product launch. Prior to Google, she graduated from Stanford with a B.S. in Computer Science and grew up with many good books. She is also a current Oakland resident, California native, the mother of two adorable kiddos, and loves talking about her mixed-race heritage.
Laura hopes her time on the OLC board will help her connect and uplift the Oakland community through a shared love of great stories and literacy.