President, The Edwards Consulting Group
Though trained as an educator, Barbara has spent nearly 40 years in corporate America, the last 17 as President/CEO of highly profitable consumer products companies such as the Kohler Company and the Eureka Company. Barbara is currently President of The Edwards Consulting Group, where she helps deliver operational expertise to private equity groups and independent business owners. But more than a businessperson, Barbara is first and foremost a reader. Ever since she was a young girl, books have provided her insight and solace, which is why she was drawn to VOCEL. As a language-intensive preschool, VOCEL helps children and their caregivers connect to the world and find their place within it by fostering reading skills and a love of books and learning. The world of books opened up myriad opportunities for Barbara, and at its foundation, VOCEL is providing that same service to its students—page by page, child by child.
Vice President, Marketing
Director, Client Engagement, VSA Partners
With a background in marketing, brand consulting and media strategy, Erin has crafted integrated marketing campaigns for some of the world’s biggest brands and Fortune 500 companies. An author of children’s books, Erin developed an intrinsic love of learning at a young age. Erin believes that VOCEL exemplifies the innovation, courage and creativity required to enact meaningful change in the lives of children living in some of Chicago’s most underserved communities. She is a graduate of Cambridge University’s Judge School of Business and the Kellogg School of Management, where she earned her MBA.
Vice President, Program
Former Teacher & Non-profit Leader
Amy is the former Executive Director and co-founder of More Than Milk NFP, a family volunteer organization. Her non-profit experience, in addition to teaching in Chicago Public Schools and her three young boys, creates a deep connection to VOCEL’s mission. While teaching on the West Side of Chicago, she saw firsthand the need to elevate our educational system. As a mother of young children, she understands the power of early education. And as an active member of the Chicago non-profit community, she is inspired by new ideas backed by hard work and strong leadership. As an educator’s daughter, Amy grew up believing that every child should feel valued and important.
Managing Director, Diversey Capital, LLC
Jack is an investment manager for private families, focusing on the public capital equity and private equity real estate markets. In conjunction with his role at Diversey Capital, he is also a principal at Pike Street Properties, where he leads the multi-family syndication practice, placing firm and client capital into apartment private equity investments. Prior to these roles, he worked at Cushman & Wakefield, serving various Fortune 500 companies with their real estate requirements. Jack was inspired by his parents’ educational experience, as both were able to leverage their education to immigrate to the US for a better life. He believes that VOCEL will enable children to positively alter their life trajectory, bettering their own lives while simultaneously improving the immediate community. Jack is a proud graduate of the University of Chicago (MBA/MPP) and Emory University.
Senior Vice President, Co-General Counsel, GEM Realty Capital, Inc.
Louis is senior vice president and co-general counsel for GEM Realty Capital, which he joined in 2010. Louis works on structuring, documenting and closing transactions for GEM Realty Properties, and legal, regulatory and compliance matters for GEM Realty Securities. Louis first learned of VOCEL through GEM’s Charitable Contribution Committee and became more involved as he learned about how VOCEL’s methods are successfully improving the lives of the children and families. Louis has served on VOCEL’s board since 2014.
Organization Consultant, Damron Associates
Char is a leadership development and organization strategy consultant. She works with both non-profit start-ups and established boards. She is committed to VOCEL because of the profound difference VOCEL’s educational approach and supportive parent programming can make to the trajectory of a child’s life, and the enormous potential to extend this programming across the city. Charlotte currently serves as board member and former board chair of Chicago’s $60 million Uhlich Children’s Advantage Network, and she was a founding board member of Lincoln Park Village. Charlotte holds a MSc. in Sociology from the London School of Economics and an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Principal, DiMeo Schneider & Associates, LLP
As a Principal and Senior Investment Consultant for The Wealth Office™, Jon specializes in providing comprehensive investment consulting services to foundations, endowments, non-profit organizations and high-net-worth families. Prior to joining the firm in 2003, Jon worked in the Family Wealth Group in the Chicago office of Bernstein Investment Research & Management. A CFA® charter holder, Jon is also a member of CFA Institute and the CFA Society Chicago. He received a BBA in Finance and Accounting from the University of Michigan and an MS in Finance, Investment and Banking from the University of Wisconsin. In addition to serving on VOCEL’s board of directors, Jon is a volunteer basketball and baseball coach in the Chicagoland area.
Alumna Partner, The Boston Consulting Group
Lindy is a Kellogg MBA, an alumna BCG partner and an active social entrepreneur, with 20+ years’ board/advisory experience advancing education, job creation and women’s mobility in Chicago, South Africa and Israel. Raising two children while studying the economics of poverty, neuroscience and crime, she is convinced that early childhood education and parent development are the two most powerful levers for rebooting Chicago. With half of our city’s children at risk, VOCEL’s mission to raise the early education bar in low-income communities struck an instant chord. Captivated by the founders’ adaptive ethos, language platform and stellar first pilot, Lindy joined the board to help scale VOCEL’s footprint. Today, immersed in VOCEL’s expansion strategy, Lindy helps shape new programs, build the brand and expose potential/current donors to VOCEL’s transformative impact.
Co-Founder and Director of Program & Development
With nearly 10 years spent teaching and coaching teachers in the early education field, Jesse co-founded VOCEL in 2013 and serves as VOCEL’s Director of Program & Development. Even as a young child, Jesse has always loved helping others and is inspired by VOCEL’s unique approach to fostering empathy by forging authentic connections between teachers and children, teachers and parents and especially among young children themselves. Young children are the future—and everything looks more optimistic when we envision a truly connected, caring society. Jesse holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Minnesota, an MA in Early Childhood from Dominican University and is pursuing the Infant Mental Health Certificate from Erikson Institute. Jesse’s deep knowledge of early childhood has allowed her to present at the Austin Early Childhood Symposium (2016), the Collaboration for Early Childhood Symposium (2017) and the Illinois Association for Infant Mental Health Spring Seminar Series (2017). Jesse is a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
Program Officer, Robert R. McCormick Foundation
Safiyah brings a decade of early childhood experience, working in a variety of roles across the education sector. From museum education to preK-3 school-based education and higher education she is dedicated to advancing positive outcomes for children birth to grade 3. Most recently Safiyah was the Director of Training at the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University where she managed a portfolio of leadership academies for early childhood program leaders. In her role, she developed strategic partnerships to expand capacity of the early childhood workforce. Prior to that, Safiyah was the Director of Learning Programs at Shedd Aquarium where she led the development and implementation of an early science learning program. Her experience leading and managing a wide range of organizational growth initiatives, nonprofit board activities, and pro bono consulting projects is rooted in her passion for learning organizations. Safiyah obtained an MBA (Marketing) from Florida A&M University and M.Ed. (both Early Childhood Administration and Educational Psychology) from National Louis University. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in NLU’s Educational Psychology program.
Director of Creative Campaigns, Invesco
In her role as Director of Creative Campaigns with Invesco’s Consulting Group, Lisa develops thought-provoking educational presentations for financial professionals and investors, which she delivers at conferences nationwide. As the daughter of a career educator, Lisa places a tremendous value on education. In her current career as a writer, speaker and communications coach, a significant part of her work centers on adult education. As a 30-year Chicago resident, she cares deeply about the city and its people and is pleased to be a part of VOCEL, which she sees as a way to help address the critical need to end cycles of poverty and violence. Lisa also believes wholeheartedly in the power of vision and positive thinking, which is featured in a New York Times bestselling book she co-authored in 2015 called “Picture Your Prosperity: Smart Money Moves to Turn Your Vision into Reality.” She has been featured in media, including Businessweek, the New York Times and NPR’s “Marketplace Weekend.” Prior to assuming her current role at Invesco, she completed a 10-year stint in advertising account management. Lisa holds a BS in Journalism with a concentration in Speech Communications from the University of Illinois and earned her Registered Corporate Coach designation in 2004.
Co-Founder & Executive Director, VOCEL
A passionate education advocate, Kelly leads VOCEL as Executive Director. Kelly co-founded VOCEL in 2013 with Jesse Ilhardt after a career that included teaching 1st & 2nd grade, coaching teachers and managing a team of educational coaches at Teach For America in Chicago. Kelly believes deeply in the potential of each child and works daily to ensure that a child’s zip code is not the determinant of his or her educational opportunity and trajectory. At VOCEL, Kelly leads the organization’s strategy and growth, board of directors and private philanthropy efforts. Kelly was a Hunt Leadership Scholar at SMU, where she earned her BA in Communications and English. Currently part of the inaugural cohort of Neubauer Civic Scholars, Kelly is pursuing her MBA at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
Former Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Northwestern School of Law
Ellen is retired from a career in education, ranging from preschool through graduate school. After receiving her degree in early childhood education from Northwestern University, she worked as a research assistant on a study examining the impact of different care settings and services on young children who are wards of the state. The juvenile justice issues she encountered inspired her to pursue a law degree. She graduated from Yale Law School, where she focused on the areas of child welfare, education and civil rights law. Ellen practiced labor and employment law for a short time before entering academia, teaching Constitutional Law, Legislation and Education Law at DePaul Law School and serving as Dean of Students and of Academic Affairs at Northwestern Law School. Ellen credits her parents, who created a home environment for their nine children that encouraged reading, discussion, inquiry and mutual respect, for inspiring her involvement in education and her commitment to quality early learning experiences for all children.
Early Childhood Education Consultant
Ashley is a former early childhood teacher and current education consultant. While teaching on Chicago’s southwest side, Ashley witnessed the power of schools and families working together to support young children’s development. VOCEL is leading innovation in this field and Ashley is honored to guide its direction. Ashley received her BA with honors from Harvard, and has a Master’s in Early Childhood Education from Dominican University and a Master’s in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. She previously led Teach For America’s early education program in the San Francisco Bay Area and has presented at the National Association of Young Children (NAEYC) annual conference.