Meet the Collaboration for Early Childhood Staff
The Collaboration for Early Childhood currently has a core team of full time staff members but we work in partnership with a variety of other agencies, consultants, and part-time staff members. Program committees help to steer our work. Without these partnerships, would not be able to do what we do.
If you are interested in joining our team, please check out our opportunities page to see any current openings that we may have.
Whitney Brooks (she/her)
Whitney joined the Collaboration in the summer of 2018 as a Community Ambassador. Prior to that she had been a stay at home mother for many years, and now brings a unique perspective both as a parent of two children, and as a preschool teacher here in Oak Park. As a Community Ambassador, Whitney is heavily involved in community outreach and leading our parent team, Families First. She also helps facilitate the Collaboration’s annual Parent Leadership Training. Additionally, she serves on the Family Advisory Committee for the Illinois Early Learning Council. Whitney holds a BA in Criminology and Sociology from Dominican University.
Laura Crawford (she/her)
Laura has worked in the field of early childhood for 25 years, and has been active with the Collaboration since she joined the Measurement & Evaluation Committee in 2013. She later came on as a consultant with the longitudinal data project, maintained the website and handled general communications. As the Associate Executive Director, Laura continues these activities and supports with overseeing the the organization as a whole. Previously, she provided nonprofits and small businesses with technology assistance and was the Technology Manager at Ounce of Prevention. Laura was co-chair of District 97’s PTO Council, and was involved with the Irving Schoolyard Project as well as the South East Oak Park Community Organization.
Shannon T. Ellison (she/her)
Director of Programs and Contracts
Shannon joined the Collaboration in January 2014 as the Developmental Screening Coordinator. She brings more than 20 years of experience working with children and families. She has held the positions of child care teacher assistant, family service worker, Early Head Start infant and Head Start 3-5 year-old teacher, preschool site director, infant-toddler specialist (working with homeless families and children), Illinois and Indiana early intervention developmental therapist and Indiana early intervention developmental therapist parent advisor (working with families with children diagnosed as deaf or hard-of-hearing). She holds a Master in Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy from National-Louis University.
Azucena Galvez (she/her)
Azucena is a Community Ambassador for the Collaboration and a preschool teacher. She specializes in early childhood education and is responsible for teaching kids at an early age. Azucena facilitates the Parent Leadership Training and bimonthly Parent Circles hosted by Families First | La Familia Primero. When she lived in Mexico, Azucena taught people to read and write. She has also volunteered as a teaching assistant at her church. In the workplace, Azucena is a powerful force and uses her positive attitude and her bilingual communication skills to bring the community together. She is tireless in her efforts to encourage others to work and succeed. Azucena is inspired daily by her family. In her free time, Azucena likes to run, ride bikes, and read books with her kids.
Wendy Giardina (she/her)
Community Engagement Coordinator
Wendy has been involved with the Collaboration since she joined the Development Committee in 2019. She began her professional career as a paralegal, specializing in litigation and environmental law. After leaving the for-profit world, she volunteered for numerous leadership roles in her children’s’ schools and other community organizations, for which she was recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education’s Those Who Excel Program in 2013. Volunteering opened her eyes to the deep disparity in early childhood experiences that exist in our community and created a desire to help all families succeed in their child’s earliest years. She was also actively involved with Parenthesis Family Center and upon their merger with New Moms, was hired as Parent Education Coordinator. Wendy holds a BA in History and Political Science from The University of Michigan.
Sophie Grimes (she/her)
Sophie joined the Collaboration in the summer of 2020 as the Communications Coordinator. She brings a creative lens and a background in social media marketing to the role. Before joining the Collaboration, Sophie worked at the NYC Department of Education in the Office of Teacher Recruitment & Quality, where she supported on impactful messaging, teacher recruitment campaigns, and managed a resource website for current NYC public school teachers. She has also worked at an international exchange program on the campus of Oberlin College and as a Chicago tour guide. Sophie holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry from Boston University.
Michelle Howell (she/her)
Family Engagement Partnership Coordinator
Michelle officially joined the Collaboration for Early Childhood team in the spring of 2023, but before that, she was working across the hall as Program Manager for the Easterseals Partnering with Parents Home Visiting Program. She is a member of the Collaboration’s Home Visiting Task Force and the Parenting Resource Program Committee. Michelle holds a Bachelor’s degree in Child Development and Family Studies, and a Masters Degree in Social Service Administration. As Family Engagement Partnership Coordinator, Michelle oversees and guides all aspects of the Collaboration’s outreach and leadership activities involving parents and caregivers of children from birth to age five, working collectively with Families First | La Familia Primero and all our community family resource partners.
Lisa Jarvis (she/her)
Lisa joined the Collaboration in October of 2022 as the Operations Coordinator. She brings 20+ years of customer service experience in a non-profit setting to the position. Prior to joining the Collaboration, Lisa served as the Fitness Manger at the Community House in Winnetka where she was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the fitness center including customer engagement and staff management. As a Montessori teacher, she acknowledges that young children will flourish when all of their physical and educational needs are secured. Lisa holds a BA in Recreation Management from Northeastern Illinois University.
Hearing & Vision Screening Technician
The Collaboration contracts with Tiffany Kelly to conduct hearing and vision screenings. Tiffany is a licensed Hearing and Vision Screening Technician. She has extensive experience screening preschool and school-aged children and has worked for the Chicago Department of Public Health and had contracted with the Illinois Department of Public Health to train other technicians.
Janique McCowan (she/her)
Child Development and Health Partnership Coordinator
Janique joined the Collaboration team in May of 2023 and brings deep professional experience in early childhood care and education, as well as maternal and child health to her role as Child Development and Health Partnership Coordinator. She holds a Masters Degree in Child Development with a specialization in Child Life from Erikson Institute and is working toward her Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education at Concordia University. In her most recent role, she was the site director of the Salvation Army’s Early Head Start Home Visiting Program in Chicago, overseeing the program, which enrolled 18 children. Before that she worked as a supervisor in the Maryville Academy Crisis Nursery, a program that provides free, safe, temporary child care for families in distress and experiencing crisis.
Mary Reynolds (she/her)
Mary Reynolds joined the Collaboration as Executive Director in spring of 2023. A resident of Forest Park, Illinois, Mary has centered her career in service, working to strengthen families and young children’s development during those crucial early years. Before joining the Collaboration, Mary had spent the past 15 years of her career at Casa Central Social Services in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. She held roles as a therapist for young children and their families, program director of their violence prevention and intervention programming, Head Start Director, and Vice President of Children’s Services. In this last position, she oversaw a division of roughly 60 staff across Casa Central’s program areas of home visiting, counseling services, center-based early childhood education and out-of-school time. Mary is a licensed clinical social worker, as well as a credentialed Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health specialist.
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We champion high-quality early childhood care and learning experiences and support for families so all children develop their full potential.