Our Team


Our instructors are professional, working artists who use Writerly Play to break the writing process into manageable steps. We help students deepen their critical and creative thinking- real life skills which serve them not only in developing as artists, but in all parts of their lives. Society of Young Inklings is always looking for creative individuals to join our thriving community! Check out our current opportunities here.


Naomi Kinsman Downing

Executive Director/Founder

Author of the From Sadie’s Sketchbook Series and Spilled Ink, the award winning Inklings Writers’ Notebook, Naomi is passionate about sharing her love of writing and creativity with young writers. Naomi’s background in improvisational and story theatre as well as her arts education work in Chicago, Portland and the Bay Area has convinced her that creative play is a doorway through which learners can find inspiration and transformative learning experiences. Naomi loves to play in many ways, but some of her favorites are tap-dancing, sketching, experimenting in the kitchen and tag with her Portuguese Water Dog, Turley. Naomi has a BA in Theatre Arts from Seattle Pacific University and has studied theatre with the Piven Theatre Workshop and ACT. She also has a Masters in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University.


IMG_5363Jena Brigantino

Managing Director

Jena grew up playing outdoors in central California where she dreamed up stories featuring animals. Jena wishes she had the opportunity to take an Inklings class as a child. She strives to extend the opportunity to as many children as possible. Jena began working with Society of Young Inklings as an intern in 2010. She holds a B.A in Creative Arts and a minor in Education from San Jose State University. She’s worked with children of all ages teaching dance, theatre arts, and creative writing classes. Jena loves collaborating with such a creative team at SYI.


Madeline Knutson 

Grant Writer

Maddie has been finding ways to create characters and tell stories since she can remember. She began by putting on plays for her neighborhood in her early years, and turned to short-story, and poetry writing in her adolescence. Maddie returned to her love of theatre and writing in college, earning her degree in Theatre Arts, and cultivating the art of grant writing at Santa Clara University. As a professional Teaching Artist and Actress, Maddie believes that storytelling and creative writing are incredible tools for problem solving, vocabulary expansion, communication, and of course imagination. Every child deserves a quality education through the arts, at least in Maddie’s book.


Sarah Lyn Rogers 

Editorial Director

Sarah Lyn Rogers is a Pushcart-nominated writer and editor from the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the author of Inevitable What, a poetry collection focused on magic and rituals, which is being translated into Chinese by a faraway pen pal named Jane. As Fiction Editor for The Rumpus, Sarah reads hundreds of stories by adults every year and publishes the ones that strike a nice balance between funny and heartbreaking.


Sarah Perez

Administrative Assistant

Sarah joins the Inklings team remotely from Southern California. Her love for organization and administration along with her passion for arts education make her a key partner in handling the behind-the-scenes tasks that help keep the Young Inklings wheels turning.

Sarah is a life-long musician and can’t remember not playing piano or singing!  She grew up in Orlando, Florida where she sharpened her creative skills at a performing arts high school and later majored in music education. She spent several years teaching elementary school music before moving to California. Sarah loves reading, staring at the California mountains, and good coffee (sometimes even not-so-good coffee).  She lives in South Orange County with her husband Socrates, and her two young children, Cora and Miles.


Karyn Bechtel

Board Member

Karyn’s two daughters have benefitted immensely from Young Inklings programs, including the Inklings Book Contest, summer and fall classes, and one-on-one mentorships. She is passionate about kids, creativity and the kind of playfully nurturing environment Young Inklings creates. Her contributions as a board member stem both rom being a parent of two young writers and also from her previous work in education and non-profits. Karyn’s professional work has taken several interesting turns, having spent time in higher education at the University of Colorado Boulder and Stanford University, helping found and incubate a small public charter elementary school in rural Colorado, and also working as a consultant to plan and facilitate leadership conferences and nonprofit strategic planning sessions. Her advanced degrees include a Master’s Certificate in Dialogue, Deliberation and Public Engagement from Fielding University.

Odette Harris 

Board Member

Dr. Odette Harris is an Associate Professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford University School of Medicine and Director of Brain Injury for Stanford Medical Center. Dr Harris manages and coordinates the medical and surgical care of all patients suffering from traumatic brain injury that are admitted to the Stanford System. She focuses on implementing and streamlining current treatment algorithms aimed at improving the outcomes of this growing population. The primary focus is specific not only to mortality, but to functional outcome improvements. Dr Harris works in a collaborative manner with colleagues in Surgical Trauma, Neuro-Critical Care, Nursing, Rehabilitation and all related Specialties.

Ravi Kalkunte

Board Member

Ravi is an Innovation manager in the field of Polymers and plastic films.  He has been involved in new product development all his professional life and continues to introduce new products with unique functionalities. He has a Master’s in Textiles from the University of Georgia and an MBA from Wake Forest University. He came to the US as a student to pursue higher education. Ravi likes to travel and play tennis.  Ravi has 3 children and has experienced first-hand how good writing skills can facilitate access to great opportunities. He is passionate about encouraging children into trying new and creative pursuits.


Sue Penchina

Board Member

Sue Penchina has had a lifetime passion for story– bringing stories to life as a TV reporter, museum marketing director, EdTech creator & novelist. Sue is a partner in the social venture fund SV2 and serves as a judge for the Bluefire fiction-writing contest. Insatiably curious, Sue is always diving into something new, from hiking a remote stretch of coast to going on photo expeditions all over the world. Sue has her MBA from Northwestern University and is currently participating in the MFA program at Vermont College. Sue loves how the Society of Young Inklings creates that little spark of creative magic that helps kids discover the stories that they were meant to tell.



Ann Jacobus Kordahl

Ann has published short fiction, poetry, and essays for young readers and adults in the US and the UK. Her debut YA thriller is Romancing the Dark in the City of Light. She holds a MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College, and lives with her family in San Francisco.




Erica Morgan

A drive to better understand the people and world around her led Erica to a love for both literature and psychology. In the spring of 2004, she graduated summa cum laude with a BA in Psychology. She worked at domestic violence shelters as a counselor, advocate, and case manager for three years before deciding to switch careers and focus on writing and teaching. Over the next few years, Erica taught preschool, middle school, and high school. She also worked with children of all ages as a tutor, mentor, nanny, behavior therapist, and instructor. Throughout that time, she wrote several collections of poetry and began developing her writing portfolio. Erica is now proud to work for the Society of Young Inklings as an Instructor and Mentor. She is excited to be able to further develop her skills and passion for writing while helping children find their own.


Helen Pyne

Helen Pyne has always loved making up stories. Growing up, she staged plays, performed magic shows and designed haunted houses in the basement of her house. She’s rappelled down cliffs in Alaska, traveled in a hot air balloon in Africa and eaten scorpions-on-a-stick in China, but she thinks reading is the biggest adventure of all. Helen has a B.A. in English from Middlebury College and an M.F.A. in creative writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. The mother of four children, she is the author of two young adult mystery novels and works as a writer and editor.




 Jenn Castro

As a child and young adult, Jenn Castro wanted to be an actress and a writer, but she kept these dreams a secret. While teaching her youngest to read, she used play writing and performance to inspire him. She soon started Children’s Backyard Theater, a neighborhood group where kids could write and perform. Recently Jenn studied improvisation and her class performed in the theater of San Jose Sportz Comedy. Armed with wild-eyed idealism, Jenn started a writing group in a fifth grade classroom. She holds a teaching credential and has taught writing and reading to kindergarten, first, and third graders. Jenn has always written — on napkins, backs of envelopes, and in newspapers, diaries, and journals – but she wanted to write books. In 2013, she started Hippowl Press and under it, published MOM ME, a children’s picture book. Jenn is excited to join Young Inklings where she can merge her acting, teaching, and writing energy to help kids use play and performance to find their creative writing passions. To get to know Jenn, stop by her website, jenncastro.com where she writes about parenting, stop signs, and other quirky parts of life.


Jennifer Eneriz 

With a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Chapman University, Jennifer has written and published in various mediums including magazines, anthologies, and online. Her passion for editing has been the focus of her career as she loves working collaboratively with authors and artists to fulfill their artistic goals. One of Jennifer’s favorite “clients” to work with are children and young adults. A former camp counselor, Jennifer has always felt a special kinship with children and frequently finds them in her writing. She appreciates their unshakable honesty and strives to communicate that sort of truth in her own work. As a teacher with Inklings, Jennifer hopes to assist young writers in unlocking their imaginations through play, encouragement, and creative storytelling. A transplant from Los Angeles county, Jennifer is enjoying the lush greenery of northern Californian trails. When she is not editing, reading, or writing—or partaking in the playful antics of her niece and nephew—Jennifer is out on a trail, delighting in nature and exploration.


Kelly Smith

Moving 14 times before graduating high school created a love of adventure and wanderlust for Kelly, but feeling “at home” was sometimes a challenge. Writing letters kept her connected to friends, and journaling provided stability and roots. Kelly studied Fine Arts, yet after graduation was drawn to work based around words – writing bios and reviews for an art gallery, newspaper copy-writing, and then a long foray into high-tech marketing and technical writing. After the birth of her daughter, she fell into her dream field of Education, working as an instructional assistant and writing instructor, drawing on her love of words to inspire students to find their Writer Within. In her spare time Kelly reads too much, but spends as much time as possible outdoors with her family.


Kristi Wright

Kristi Wright, winner and finalist of several national writing contests, transports young readers into the thirty-first century with her fast-paced adventures. With two Basker Twins in the 31st Century books published, Kristi is hard at work on the last of the series. Besides futuristic novels, she loves to write stories with elements of fantasy or magic. Kristi facilitates writers’ workshops at elementary and middle schools throughout the bay area with a focus on students writing with all five senses and a strong character point of view. She is very excited to join the Young Inklings program which uses creative play to bring aspiring authors’ tales to life.


Laura Schmidt

Laura Schmidt has an MFA in writing from the California Institute of the Arts and a BA in Humanities from San Jose State University. She has been a composition/creative writing teacher and tutor for students from elementary school since college. Stories of all shapes and types have always been the centerpiece of her life, either through books, theatre or film. She personally thinks that somewhere, all stories or true, and one day she’ll open or a door to Narnia or fall into Wonderland. When she’s not writing or inspiring young minds, Laura enjoys tackling knitting projects she will never finish. 


Loraine McCormick

Loraine enjoys sharing her love of literature and creative play with young writers. From San Jose State University, she has a B.A. in Advertising, with a concentration in English. Loraine has worked in publishing as a copywriter and in high tech as a publications manager and as a senior technical editor. Recently, she edited short stories featured in Dean Butler’s Prairie Christmas DVD and assisted at the Los Angeles filming. Loraine’s interests include photography, decorative (tole) painting, art doll design, and family time. She loves to hike, especially in Switzerland, where she has family. She and her husband have two sons, a senior in high school and a senior in college. Loraine is writing a children’s picture book, starring her rambunctious golden doodle, Ginger.


Malar Ganapathiappan

Malar has always had stories and characters in her head. She graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelors degree in Psychology, which was a joy to study and is applied to her writing as well as work as a tutor and creative writing instructor. Of all the grade levels and subjects she’s taught, writing is her favorite. She loves inspiration and sharing her passion for creativity with her students.





Patricia Pinedo

Patricia Pinedo has been writing poetry since Jr. High when she was published in a school district wide publication. She graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing- Poetry. Her poetry has been published in literary journals. She completed her Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing at San Jose State. She is currently a substitute teacher and enjoys working with a wide range of grade levels. Patricia looks forward to helping young students develop their storytelling skills that will help them grow in their writing.


Patrick York

Patrick Garrett York is from the Mojave Desert of California. He received his MFA from the University of California, Riverside where he was a Gluck Fellow of the Arts. He lives in Los Gatos, California with his wife.




Philomena Block

Philomena is a Santa Cruz native who developed a love of characters and learning early on.  She graduated with Bachelors degrees in both Musical Theatre and Psychology from California State University, Chico. Philomena is also trained in Stand Up Comedy, Sketch Comedy Writing, and the Michael Chekhov Acting Technique.  Philomena enjoys encouraging children to use their bodies and unique creative voice to create stories through the Inklings Program!  Away from the classroom, you will probably find her in rehearsal for whatever play she’s doing, writing comedy, playing with puppets or researching something new on the internet.

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