About Us

Our Mission Statement



Image credit: Dr. Derrick L. Cogburn

To promote literacy and motivate children to read by providing new books to create home libraries for underserved children in Southern California.

RIFSoCal Board Members


7250 Bandini Boulevard, Suite 209
Los Angeles, CA 90040
(323) 890-0876
(323) 890-0875

Alva Sachs — President of the Board

Alva earned her Bachelor’s of Science degree from the University of Illinois. She holds a Master’s of Education degree from Northern Illinois University. Her previous teaching experience for more than sixteen years and a life-long passion for writing for kids is her motivation.

Serving as President of Reading Is Fundamental of Southern California, has enhanced her goal for the purpose of not only promoting literacy for children, but also helping to build home libraries for underserved children in the greater Los Angeles and Orange County areas.

As Vice President of the Angel of the Alliance of the Thousand Oaks Civics Arts Plaza in California, and Liaison to the Kids for the Arts program, she helps to raise funds for Title 1 schools to have the opportunity to experience live theatre.

She is the founder/author of Three Wishes Publishing Company. An award-winning children’s author, Alva pursues her writing and passion for children and books.


Penny S. Markey — Secretary of the Board

Penny Markey was the long-time Coordinator of Youth Services for the County of Los Angeles Public Library. She has been a member of many child advocacy and literacy related organizations such as the Los Angeles County Children’s Planning Council, L.A. Roundtable for Children; Board of the Association of Library Service to Children of the American Library Association and others. She has developed reading motivation and literacy programs for children ages 0 – teens, parents and caregivers.   She has received honors for her work from First 5, Children Now, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors as well the American Library Association. In her retirement she serves an Advocate for Libraries and Literacy, Children and Families.

 “I am delighted to be joining the RIFSoCal Board of Directors where I can continue to fulfill my passion for connecting children and families with books and encouraging a love of reading.”  ~Penny Markey     


Christopher E. Ranieri — Treasurer of the Board

Chris Ranieri is the Director of Global Health & Welfare Benefits at Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. where he manages the design, administration, communication, contracting and reporting for all health, welfare and fringe benefit plans programs and policies for approx. 65,000 employees in over 30 countries worldwide. Prior to joining Jacobs in 2006, Chris has 12 years of similar experience in employee benefits at Litton Industries Inc. and Northrop Grumman Corporation and 13 years of audit experience with Price Waterhouse and Litton Industries. Chris is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a Certified Public Accountant (inactive) in Texas and California.

Chris has volunteered with Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters as a Big Brother for over 15 years and serves on the Boards of Directors for Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters (from 2004 to the present) and Reading Is Fundamental of Southern California Inc. (from 2005 to the present).


Monyca Brown – Board Member

After serving as a volunteer for RIFSoCal during 2011-2014, Monyca Brown now enjoys a seat on its Board.

Monyca Brown brings a unique set of skills to this position as a result of her professional and personal background.   She has over 20 years of combined experience in Human Resources, Commercial Property Management and Administrative Services, in addition to operating her own consulting company that specializes in providing Human Capital/Human Resources expertise and administrative support in areas ranging from employee relations/development, organizational development/management, staffing plans, recruiting, on-boarding, manager/employee development and coaching, team-building, event management marketing, customer service and office administration.


Veronica Toyomi Ota -- Board Member

Veronica is currently the Interim Choir Director at Marshall Fundamental Secondary School in Pasadena. Music and education are her passion.
Veronica received her Bachelor of Arts degree in International Literary and Visual Studies from Tufts University in Boston. There, she had the opportunity to study literature from around the world, focusing on Japanese Literature and culture. She hopes to further her education and pursue a Masters in Education.
As a proud product of Pasadena public schools, Veronica is dedicated to improving public education and hopes to someday help develop a curriculum that focuses on the importance of compassionate activism. She believes that improving literacy among children is the first step in making this world a better place.


Katherine Richards -- Board Member

"My mother was legally blind.  She knew how to read because the onset of her vision loss came when she was a teenager.  She could not read.  My father read to me and my sister before our bedtimes and he read to my mother in the afternoon.  She finally started getting records for the blind from the Library of Congress when I was in elementary school.  And I read informational items to her when my father was at work.

Obviously I have a passion to make sure that everyone has a chance to read.   My mother's story has a happy ending.  She had surgery when I was in college and she could read again."



Melanie Thorne -- Board Member

Melanie Thorne is the award-winning author of the novel Hand Me Down (Dutton/Plume), a Kirkus Reviews’ Best Fiction Book of 2012. Her short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Good Housekeeping, Global City Review, The Florida Review and The Nervous Breakdown, among others. She was awarded the Maurice Prize in Fiction, the Alva Englund Fellowship, and a Hedgebrook residency, and was a 2015 Tomales Bay Workshops Fellow, a 2014 Virginia Quarterly Review Scholar, and a 2014 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Mentor.

Melanie holds an MA in Creative Writing from UC Davis, and a BA in English from UC Davis, and currently teaches at the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program and in private workshops. She has more than thirteen years of teaching experience with all age levels, and is excited to be working towards expanding the minds and hearts of kids through story and education. She believes that fostering a love of reading is the best gift we can give our children now and ourselves for the future. 

RIFSoCal Staff

Phyllis Shlecter — Chair Emeritus

I arrived in Los Angeles in 1984, forced to retire from teaching in New York City by rheumatoid arthritis, and immediately began a search for meaningful volunteer opportunities to help me fill my days.  Fortuitously, RIFSoCal was running an ad in the LA Times seeking volunteers - I answered the ad, attended a Board meeting in spring of 1985, and the rest is history!  RIFSoCal kept me alive and alert!  Volunteering at the warehouse every Monday and Wednesday from 10 am – 1 pm gave me a reason to get out of bed, no matter how much pain I was in.  In 1986 I became the VP of Volunteers, training others to do Motivational Reading Events and book distributions.  In 1990, I took over as VP of the Book Program.  Until I became Chair Emeritus in the late 1990’s, I was either President or Chair of the RIFSoCal Board of Directors.  In 2011, I was thrilled to be honored as RIFSoCal’s first recipient of the Julie Cooke Humanitarian Award.  RIFSoCal will always be my “baby.”


Carol K. Henault — Executive Director

Carol Henault, RIFSoCal’s Executive Director since October 2004, has been dedicated to the advancement of literacy throughout her 28 years in the nonprofit world.  Carol ardently supports RIFSoCal’s work to ensure that underserved children can continue to choose books to call their own and discover the magic of reading for fun.  “Inspiring children’s passion for reading is the greatest gift we can give them on their personal road to success.”

“You could say that children without books provide the wind beneath my sails – as well as my passion.”


Suzanne Coscarelli — Community Relations Manager

Suzanne Coscarelli, Community Relations Manager, joined RIFSoCal in May 2004 to help the organization increase its volunteer base and improve the quality of its programs.  She is a retiree of GTE/Verizon, where she had a 32-year career in sales and marketing, most recently as Director of Employee Giving Programs.  She has extensive volunteer experience in the nonprofit sector, having served on the Board of Directors of the GAR Foundation and Rancho San Antonio.  Ms. Coscarelli is largely responsible for more than tripling the number of volunteers who support the Motivational Reading Program countywide and expanding our program to over 200 sites.


Erin Landry — Program Coordinator

Erin Landry is Reading Is Fundamental’s Program Coordinator. She has been in the non-profit industry since 2003, managing and coordinating programs for successful organizations such as Starlight Children's Foundation.  Erin brings a passion for literacy and a deep gratitude for the opportunity to deliver programs to underserved children. When Erin is not at Reading Is Fundamental, you can find her in her studio designing jewelry and concocting new candles scents, playing with her dogs, and of course avidly reading anything she can get her hands on.


Andrea Leonardi -- Book and Web Coordinator

“As a child, I treasured my library of books. I lined up my Little Golden Books on their shelf and loved curling up and reading them again and again. I’ve watched our culture change from print-based information to virtual information sourcing, and although there are many benefits and opportunities inherent in this shift, I would hate to see children lose the pleasure of reading a hard copy book: the feel of the book, turning the pages, making up visual images to go with the words, rolling a well written phrase around on one’s tongue, and looking at all of one’s books on a bookshelf. When I think of my childhood library, those were my books and I belonged to them. So many of the paths I have taken have started with a good book. Books have been my friends in lonely times, books have given me adventures in dull times, books have led to skills and joys, and have been the source of fascinating discussions with friends and colleagues. I consider myself to be extremely lucky to work at RIFSoCal. I am honored to work with such wonderful people and to be part of an organization which brings brand new books to children…books they are able to choose, write their names in the front cover, and take home to line up on a bookshelf, or stack in a basket, and to read over and over again.”

Andrea’s education includes a BA in English Literature and an Elementary Teaching Credential from UC Berkeley, an MA in Curriculum Development and Instructional Technology from Grand Canyon University, and a Certificate in Fashion Design from Long Beach City College. She has logged over 21 years of teaching at the Elementary, Middle School, and College levels. She is currently teaching Gerber Patternmaking at FIDM in Los Angeles.


Raymond Gonis — Warehouse Manager

Raymond became acquainted with RIFSoCal as a volunteer in 2010.  He was hired as the Warehouse Manager soon thereafter and enjoys being able to distribute books to the children in our program.  He continues to volunteer his time whenever possible and encourages others to also volunteer.  Each time he attends a Motivational Reading Event at a participating school he is amazed at the impact the RIFSoCal program has on the children.  He looks forward to unpacking boxes and putting books on shelves for many years to come.  


Julie Cooke 

I am honored to have the opportunity to celebrate the wonder of Julie with you. Julie was, quite simply, RIFSoCal’s heart. Her undauntable spirit was the best RIFSoCal had to offer. Our spirit has dimmed with Julie’s loss, but as she would expect - it will continue to shine as we work to bring the books Julie loved to order, unpack and place on the shelves, to children all over Greater Los Angeles who go home every day to rooms with no books. Julie will always be in our hearts - every time we open a box of especially wonderful books we will hear her exclamations of delight and pleasure - and every time we grow to inspire more Readers for Tomorrow we will feel her happiness and satisfaction. The world is a better place because of Julie’s passion, love and dedication and she is sorely missed.

~Carol Henault, Executive Director of RIFSoCal