Keynote Speaker
Peter A. White, PHD
Executive Vice President
ProLiteracy Worldwide 

Peter Waite is the Executive Vice President for ProLiteracy. In this position, he provides leadership for ProLiteracy's national and international operations, policy work and oversees the development division.

Peter has a doctoral degree in educational leadership and serves on various boards and advisory groups in the education and human services fields. Some of these include the Friends of VISTA National Board; Advisory Committees for the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services and the International Council on Adult Education (ICAE). He is the former president and a founding member of the National Coalition for Literacy and has also served on the board of the Coalition of Lifelong Learning Organizations. He consults with public and private agencies on literacy issues, including the literacy initiatives of Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Obama. He has also served as vice president of International Associates, a unit of the Coalition of Lifelong Learning Organizations, which represented the United States at various international conferences and meetings.


Dagmara Avelar was borin in Quito, Ecuador but grew up in Bolingbrook, IL. She earned a BA in Justice with a minor in Political Science from Northeastern Illinois University. As the Programs Manager for the New Americans Initiative and Immigrant Family Resource Program for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), she is part of the team responsible for overseeing program implementation, training, outreach, and technical support for partner organizations. She is an active member of her community and has participated in various community organizing projects such as ICIRR's DREAM team (youth organizing group), the New Americans Democracy Project (civic particiaption), the Campaign to Reform Immigration for America which generated contacts to Congress around immigration reform and Family Support Coordinator for ICIRR's FSN hotline in 2011-2012. Before joining ICIRR, Dagmara worked at Instituto Del progreso Latino as a Board of Immigrant Appeals accredited representative with a focus on citizenship and DACA.


Shana Barerra is a native of Mundelein Illinois, who obtained a B.A in Political Science and and Spanish from the Univeristy of Arizona. As well as an M.A in Education with a specialization in Youth Development at University of Illinois at Chicago. She currently is the Visiting Research Assistant and Lead ESL instructor at UIC center for Literacy. Her passion from Political Science to education took her to her love for ESL and literacy. She believes that youth education is crucial to the happiness of every individual in society.

Harold Barnes is originally from Mississippi, he came to Chicago years back and since then has been living on the southside. In the beginning he was not able to read and write and struggled with literacy. After finding Literacy Chicago, it helped him to learn to read and write enabling him to furthur his education in the literacy sector. As a student in Literacy Chicago's adult literacy progrm he now has the ability to participate more fully in society. In his free time he enjoys long walks in the parks and frequently makes visits to the Senior Citizen's Center. He enjoys meeting new people and making friends with everyone.

Fantazia Berry is a current full-time AmeriCorps National Service member at the UIC Center for Literacy. She serves at the FAmily STart (FAST) Adult Education program on the south side of Chicago where she provides small group instruction and one-on-one tutoring as well as classroom assistence to their adult learners in Math and Science. Fantazia received her Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice from Chicago State University and is now pursuing her Master's degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in Criminology-Criminal Justice. Fantazia's personal mission is to help as many people as she can to meet their full potential. She has help countless students who have come through the FAST South Adult Education program realize and achieve their own goals as she works on her own.

Midwest Asian Americn Center


Vandana G. Dalal  has been in the Literacy sector for more than 20 years. Originally the founder of the Indo-American Center in Chicago, she has been the Executive Director of Midwest Asian American Center in Schaumburg, IL. A practitioner of ensuring the Asian community in the Schaumburg area get access to resources such as ESL, and citizenship classes. Vandana is a strong believe in education and makes it a known cause in the South Asian community. She is a certified yoga instructor with 40 years of experience teaching and practicing yoga, the power of breath, and reflexology. Her philosophy is  that you need to have patience and faith to accomplish any result. She is confident that you can throw the toxins from your body and build healthy habits through regular practice of yoga. 

Becky DeForest has over 15 years of experience in education. She started out as an elementary school teacher, but found herself drawn to adult education and its rewarding combination of teaching and public service. Becky brings knowledge and skills in ESL, ABE and HSE/GED instruction, job readiness training, textbook publishing, and low-literacy materials. As the Program Director For Literacy Works, Becky coordinates trainings for adult education staff and volunteers, and facilitates trainings for other organizations wishing to better serve their clients with low literacy. Becky enjoys taking dance classes, cooking, and falling down Wikipedia rabbit holes. 

Bria Dolnick is an ESL teacher at Chinese Mutual Aid Association. She has a Master's degree in Adolescent and Adult Literacy from the University of Arizona, and has worked extensively as an ESL/ABE teacher, community organizer, and refugee resettlement case manager. Bria has taught developing reading classes at Truman College where she also worked one-on-one with readers of all levels in Truman's Help Clinic and has also taught oral histroy workshops in Chciago Public Schools. 

Dena Giacometti is the Program Manager for the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition (CCLC), has been in the field of adult education for more than nine years. Prior to joining CCLC, Dena served as the Adult Education Department Director at Centro Romero. In addition to administering adult education programs, Dena has been an illinois Association of Continuing and Adult Educators (IACEA) board member and part of the elected leadership of the Area Planning Council #508 of an Illinois Community College Board since 2015. She was named the Beyond Books Adult Education Provider of the Year by the Chicago Citywide Coalition in 2016


Rachel Gruen is currently a Ph.D candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the Literacy, Language, and Culture Program and teaches adult education classes in the West Garfield neighborhood. As an instructor, she is responsible for developing curriculum that is culturally responsive and sustaibable, project based, individualized, and reflective of the student requirements to pass a high school equivalency exam.

Sara Heidbreder is a councelor at Apna Ghar(Our Home), which is an agency that provides holistic services for survivors of gender based violence in the immigrant community. Sara Holds a Masters Degree in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling from Columbia College Chicago, and is originally from Japan.


Rebecca Herrera is a first year AmeriCorps member with the Parent Outreach Program of the UIC Center for Literacy. She is involved within her community and an active member of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. Currently, she is seeking to go back to school to obtain her degree in Graphic Design. As an AmeriCorps member Rebecca is always hands on in all activities bringing her creativity to the table. She is a huge sports aficiondo who also plays Club League Soccer on weekends. She is a passionate writer and is always eager to lend a helping hand. 


Charles Johnson is the Lead GED instructor at Centro Romero in Chicago. He completed a Bachelor of Science Degree in English and holds a certificate from the TEFL institute. For the past eight years, he has been teaching ESL, Citizenship, and ABE/GED. Specialized GED courses he has also taught Field Biology. As well as the Take a Stand (History of the Holocauast), and The Life of Gandhi. He is interested in peace studies, and has been educated in Unarmed Cicilian Protection through the U.N. He also loves soccer and looks forward to the World Cup this summer.

Debbie Kaputska is a passionate educator. Currently, she is the Lead Adult Basic Education teacher at Centro Romero. Debbie completed her bachelor's degree in Elementary Education at Northeastern Illinois University, which enabled her to become a K-9 teacher state certified teacher with a degree in Curriculum & Instruction from Oliver Nazarene Unviersity. Debbie has spent 26 years in the education field in various capacities. For the bulk of her career, she engaged students in hands on/minds on learning in the middle school and Title 1 classroom,and as an ESL/ABE instructor in college and CBO settings. When Debbie is not in the classroom, she enjoys reading, gardening, and most of all spending time with her granddaughter.


Sophia Kortchmar is an English as a Second Language instructor in the UIC Center for Literacy's FAmily START ( FAST) Learning Program Southwest.

Carol Larsen is an Independent Sales Consultant who represents New Readers Press/ProLiteracy Adult Education materials in Illinois. Carol has assisted Illinois adult educators in selecting materials for their students for 15 years. Carol is a certified reading and math specialist who has taught adult ABE, GED, and ESL students in a variety of settings. She has also conducted literacy audits, written curricula, and taught in three National Workplace Literacy Grants and served as the Executive Director of the Literacy Volunteers of Western Cook County for five years. Carol is EBRI trained and well-versed in phonics, reading strategies, and math

Susan Levels is a graduate of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, Susan left her position as a director of finance at AT&T at her husband’s request to be a stay at home mom of their two young daughters. When the girls went away to college (to study engineering and microbiology, respectively) she began looking for a way to give back to her community. Spotting an ad in the local newspaper for adult literacy tutoring she signed up for the training and has never looked back. In addition to her tutoring she has created a network of friends and family in an informal ‘adopt a student’ program that enables her to provide all the materials - from books to workbooks to calculators to test vouchers – at no cost to her students. “If people could see what I see – the pride in the eyes of a former gang banger and heroin dealer when he tells his mother he passed the math GED – or the 50 year old grandmother who cries at our session because she finally understands fractions and begins to believe she is not ‘too dumb to learn’ then EVERYONE would be doing this.  Susan is a 20 year Board Member of the United Methodist Women and former Board Member of Options and Advocacy.


Laura Luna is an English as a Second Language instructor in the UIC Center for Literacy's Family Start ( FAST) Learning Program-Southwest and a member of the Center's AmeriCorps Program.  

           Michael Matos taught seven years at a Chicago Public HS and sixteen years in adult education centers. He currently is the Director of Adult Education Programs and Data of the Albany Park Community Center (APCC) where he manages 10 instructors and various support staff, volunteers and interns. Michael helped develop the Illinois Common Core Standards in Language Arts and created the in-house ABE Curriculum for APCC based on them. He is a tutor trainer for Literacy Works and a Project Consultant for the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition on a Technology Pilot Program involving six community-based programs. He has presented at conferences throughout the country since 2007 and has been involved in local and statewide advocacy projects to promote adult education.



Sally Maybrook  has been a tutor at Literacy Chicago for 16 years. She said that it has been one of the most satisfying experiences in her life. The joy of adults learning to read, who had not had the opportunity before, made her aware that it is possible to learn at any age. Sally taught 1st and 2nd grade many years ago. No matter the age, seeing the “light" go on when being able to read, has been a privilege and joy for her.


 Carol Morris is an adult educator at the College of Lake County and a member of the Literacy Volunteers of Illinois' Board of Directors. She is a STAR-trained reading teacher and is the retired Director of Adult Literacy for the Waukegan Public Library, a position she held for over twenty years. A former high school teacher, Carol has a Bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University.and a Masters in Teaching Degree from the National College of Education.

 Jeanine Ntihirageza holds a PhD in Lingusitics from the University of Chicago, with a specialization in Bantu languages and an MA in Applied Linguistics from Southern Illinois Univeristy, Carbondale. She received her BA in English Language and Literature from the University of Burundi where she taught TEFL and EFL classes. She has developed ES: curriculum for various institutions including the Illinois Institute of Technology. Currently, she is as Associate professor at Northeastern Illinois University, and Chair of the Anthropology Department. She is actively involved in the fight for Human Rights with a focus on immigrants issues and is a consultant for a number of organizations that serve immigrants. In 2017, she joined the Chicago Cancer Health Equity Collaborative (Chicago CHEC) as a community Engagement Core Co-Leader and is a Board member of the Refugee Education & Adventure Challenge ( REACH). In 2007, she and her colleagues received a NEIU research grant to work with Burundian refugees resettled by Heartland Alliance. She has presented at conferences on various issues immigrants are faced in relation to language, education,culture shock, health, and much more.


Phonicia Peterson is a current AmeriCorps member at the UIC Center for Literacy. She serves at the Family Start (FAST) Adult Education program providing assistance in the ESL classroom.


Nereyda Santos is an English as a Second Language instructor in the UIC Center for Literacy's Family Start( FAST) Learning Program-Southwest and is a graduate of the Center's GED and ESL programs. She is a student at Harold Washington College.


Timothy White is the Program Associate with the Literacy Volunteers of Illinois and is part of a program called Unbound College Bound. His tasks are to provide youth at the Illinois Youth Centers with educational knowledge and success building, by preparing them for their future to furthur their education, and to have financial literacy and life skills. Timothy was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago and is currently pursuing his bachelor of Arts Degree at Roosevelt University, where he is majoring in Sociology with an interest in social justice. Timothy is aslo an veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He enjoys exercising, sports, music, and art.


George Wright began his journey of learning to better his reading skills around 4 years ago. He was not able to finish school at an early age. When the opportunity came up to go to Literacy Chicago, he was eager to learn what he missed, and has quickly earned a plaque reflecting his progress.