Our team

Our mentors are hard-working, creative professionals, dedicated to the art of mentorship as well as to their own writing, illustration and storytelling projects. Below, meet the talented pros who make up our Inklings community, and who join our mentorship team as their creative commitments allow. Society of Young Inklings is always looking for creative individuals to join our thriving community! Check out our current opportunities here.


naomiNaomi 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 McNealy

Managing Director

Jena grew up playing outdoors in central California where she dreamed up stories featuring animals. Jena wishes she had the opportunity participate in an Inklings program as a child. She strives to extend the opportunity to as many children as possible. Jena began working with Society of Young Inklings in 2010. She holds a B.A in Creative Arts and a minor in Education from San Jose State University. 




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.



perezfamily-305 copy

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.



Natalie Stroble
Marketing Assistant
Natalie practically grew up in a third-grade classroom. Her mother, a retired third-grade teacher, always exhibited a passion for helping children discover their confidence and creativity. These are passions Natalie values greatly in her work today.
Having a Bachelors Degree in Communications, Natalie enjoys social media communications and finding new ways to share and connect with people around the world. Natalie and her family of three enjoy nature walks and biking together near their home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-11-12-23-amMadeline Knutson 

Grant Writer

Maddie has been telling stories since she can remember. She began creating and performing plays for her neighborhood when she was just four years old and started writing poetry during her adolescence.

To continue her love of theatre and writing, Maddie earned her degree in Theatre Arts at Santa Clara University, while working in professional theatre over the summers. One summer, while performing in San Francisco Shakespeare Festival’s Romeo and Juliet, she discovered that her castmate who played the Nurse, Gwyneth Loeb, was a seasoned Grant Writer. Intrigued, Maddie began working with Professor Stephen Carroll of Santa Clara University, learning how to search for suitable grants, write effective proposals, and generate clear reports. 

As a professional Actor and Writer, Maddie believes that creative writing is an incredible tool for problem-solving, communication, and of course imagination. Every child deserves a quality education through the arts, at least in Maddie’s book.


Ani Singh

Ani is an experienced Management Consultant with over 20 years of consulting, focused on developing market strategies, strategic planning and program implementation for various profit/non-profit clients within education and healthcare. Ani’s talent is her ability to jump-start projects, including starting her own consulting business, and has worked with senior executives to lead cross-functional teams, identify strategic and operational opportunities, undertake market/competitive assessments, and manage large-scale change programs. Over the last few years, she has become ever more conscious about the disparities in the system, and hopes to make an impact on the under-served. Other facts: Ani loves to ski, hike and travel off the beaten path; her passions include yoga, reading, jewelry making, and all things Italian. Ani holds BSc and MSc from the London School of Economics, and a MBA from The Wharton School of Business.


screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-8-29-51-pmKaryn 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.

Kelly Hoy

Board Member

Kelly Hoy has been a public and private school teacher for more than 20 years. After completing her degree at the University of Rhode Island, she started her public-school career as a computer specialist at Crim Elementary in Bridgewater, NJ and as a third-grade elementary school teacher in Dunellen, NJ. She then moved to California private schools: teaching special education at Star Academy in San Anselmo, fifth-grade at Phillips Brooks School in Menlo Park, and currently, fifth-grade humanities at Katherine Delmar Burke School in San Francisco. Teaching and writing are her passions. She has published a number of case studies and analyses in several editions of Anita Woolfolk’s best-selling psychology text, Educational Psychology. Her goals as a teacher are to develop an appreciation for the unique stories of her students, strengthen their voices, cultivate empathy, and advance social justice, as they all grow academically, socially, and emotionally.  

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-8-34-54-pmOdette 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.


screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-8-32-34-pmSue 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.



Ailynn Knox-Collins

Ailynn was a Montessori teacher for many years, and loved sharing her love of books and writing with her students. She has a degree in law, several teaching credentials and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. With four books in the middle grade scifi Redworld series published, and another nonfiction series coming out in 2018, Ailynn is working hard on a graphic novel, among other books. When she’s not writing, she is working with her 4 dogs on agility, obedience and rally competitions. She is excited to join Young Inklings, and sharing her love for writing with young authors everywhere. 


Alex Doherty

Alex is a writer based in the Bay Area and has an MFA in screenwriting. He worked as a Story Assistant for film and TV production in Los Angeles before working as an Assistant Producer at LucasArts in San Francisco. He’s querying his first novel in 2018, a Middle Grade adventure! He’s inspired by the creativity of others and enjoys theater, movies, reading and finding time to practice his green thumb when he’s not hiking.


AJK 1 copyAnn 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.

Beth Spencewood 

Beth Spencewood grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota where she spent the long winters reading her favorite books and writing funny short stories starring her friends. She got a bachelor’s degree in psychology and worked in nonprofit management for many years. Now she has an MFA in writing and writes novels for young adults. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling, playing board games, biking with her family, or cross-stitching.


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 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.


Gwen Lee

Gwen Lee is the award-winning author of six children’s books and an architecture book. Fluent in three languages, she had worked as a translator, theater manager, and cartoonist in her youth before studying architecture in the UK. In her final year in college, Gwen discovered that what she really wanted to do was to tell stories. While working as an architect and design writer, Gwen published her first children’s book Little Cloud Wants Snow! A recommended book for the Read! Singapore Festival 2014, Little Cloud Wants Snow! has been translated to Korean and Mandarin, and is being used by schools in Texas to educate children about weather science. Today, Gwen is one of the few interdisciplinary writers straddling the fields of architecture and literature, writing for both children and adults alike. She enjoys working with young writers from all backgrounds to help them discover their unique literary voices. Gwen lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.


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 PicJenn 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.


Kelly SoYI headshotKelly 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-photo-150-200Kristi 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.



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 received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, summa cum laude, from Arizona State University and recently became certified as a Creativity and Empowerment NLP Coach. Writing is a profound part of her life as a way to process, reflect, generate ideas, create, and express herself. She loves inspiration and sharing her passion for writing in her roles as writing instructor, coach, mentor, and tutor.



Melody Ramie Reed

As a child, Melody could be found sitting on the floor surrounded by books at the public library. The friends she met in those pages and the adventures she experienced sparked her imagination. Her love of story led to her love of writing at an early age.

As an adult, Melody can still be found surrounded by books at the public library, but now she’s behind the desk. She enjoys helping patrons find enriching tales and shares her passion by leading writing classes for adults and teens. Melody is a creative professional with over 15 years teaching children. She has a BS in Computer Science from St. Francis University and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. When she’s not writing, reading or revising, she fancies walking her dogs, listening to beach waves, or eating ice cream. She has raised 3 children and lives with her husband near Chicago.


Olivia Ghafoerkhan

Olivia grew up in rural north Florida, hiking through the woods imagining different worlds. She now lives outside Washington DC. She received her BA from Florida State University, where she majored in English and minored in Women’s Studies. She received her MFA from Hamline University, specializing in writing for children and young adults. She writes both fiction and nonfiction. When she’s not hard at work, Olivia enjoys hiking, visiting the beach, and Bollywood movies.


yorkPatrick 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.




Polly McCann

Polly grew up in the heartland. When she wasn’t up in a cottonwood tree reading a book, or trail blazing with her mom’s sewing scissors, she spent most of her time “making something.” She began art classes at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City before her Buster Browns ever reached the floor. Polly graduated from Messiah College with a degree in Studio Art, then with her MA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University in St. Paul in 2011. She is a published poet and author, an adjunct English professor, and loves spending time painting in her studio. Polly thinks writing with kids is all about exploring our imaginations, creating new places, new inventions, new worlds and new friends. Her favorite animals are goats, unicorns and mermaids.  She is always planning the next adventure to share with her family. They have an enormous coon hound dog and live by a stream in Kansas City, Missouri. Check out her children’s illustrations at www.pollymadison.com.


Sonja Solter

Sonja spent her childhood summers in her mother’s homeland of Finland and traveled the world extensively with her family. She read so voraciously as a child that she once brought over 70 books on a trip. (Her mother is still trying to figure out how that slipped by her.) Sonja graduated with an interdisciplinary degree in Human Biology from Stanford University and has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. She writes for all age levels and has had a reader published for the educational market. She has also been a Music Together director and teacher, where she especially enjoyed the collaborative improvisation aspect of the program. Sonja lives with her husband and two children in Louisville, CO, and enjoys nature, travel, and yoga.


Tasslyn Magnusson 

As a fourth grader, Tasslyn Magnusson once tried to read her school library from A to Z, backwards. She got stuck on PL Travers and Mary Poppins and has been reading anything and everything since. When she’s not writing her poetry or working on her middle grade novels, she’s reading fan fiction written by her teens and trading book recommendations with their friends. Tasslyn received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University in January 2017. She has had several poems published and won the 2017 Room Magazine Poetry prize.



We also partner with a group of professional authors, illustrators, and creatives that we call our Collaborating Artists. Collaborating Artists serve as volunteers and encouragers for Society of Young Inklings and our young writers.