Our leadership team

Born in Chicago, devoted to Chicago—together, our leaders are realizing their vision for early education in our city.

leadership-kellyKelly Lambrinatos
Co-Founder & Executive Director

Program operations, public funding and private development

I’m passionate about empowering young children, knowing the power and long-term impact of an exceptional early childhood education. VOCEL was built to support children’s developing views and interactions with the world around them. My mission is to ensure that children thrive on their own terms, and ultimately, have the opportunity to become influential contributors to their communities on any scale. A native of the western suburbs of Chicago, I graduated from SMU with a BA in Corporate Communication and Public Affairs, going on to teach 1st and 2nd grade as part of Teach For America in St. Louis. Soon after, I joined Teach For America’s regional staff in Chicago, coaching preschool teachers on the south and west sides of the city. For two years, I served as Managing Director of Teacher Leadership Development, during which I led the Early Childhood Education Literacy Pilot in Chicago. When I’m not in the classroom, I enjoy traveling, reading, exercising and spending time with my husband, Jerry, who also works in the education sector.
jesse-leadership-newJesse Ilhardt
Director of Program & Evaluation
Curriculum development, staff management and family partnership programming

I fundamentally believe that all children are entitled to a quality education—that they are competent, curious learners by nature. Through my experience, I’ve discovered that a child’s learning potential is limitless when they engage with nurturing teachers in a creative environment. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, I received my MA in Early Childhood Education from Dominican University. Back in Chicago, I began my education career as Lead Pre-Kindergarten Teacher at our local Casa Central through Teach For America. Later, I began to coach other early childhood teachers, eventually taking on the role of Managing Director of Teacher Leadership Development in which I led Teach For America’s Early Childhood Education Literacy Pilot in the city. Today, I manage VOCEL’s curriculum and family partnership programs, while also teaching in VOCEL’s classroom and fostering the professional growth of our team. When not spending time with young children or teachers, I love spending time with my husband, Ben, exploring the restaurant scene, enjoying the outdoors and re-reading my favorite childhood storybooks—again and again.