Board of Directors

Board Spotlight: Jeffrey Goldman

Jeffrey 2.jpg

Meet Jeffrey!

Jeffrey Goldman has been a part of the Words Alive family since 2014 and most recently completed his tenure as Board Chair on the Words Alive Board of Directors. Over the past five years, Jeffrey has been a constant source of leadership and inspiration through his commitment to Words Alive and bettering the futures of students in our programs. Jeffrey not only serves on the board, but also volunteers with our Adolescent Book Group as a writing facilitator at the Monarch School.

Jeffrey is the publisher at Santa Monica Press, an independent book publishing company, since he founded the press twenty-five years ago. Santa Monica Press publishes an eclectic list of critically acclaimed and award-winning non-fiction books. Prior to Santa Monica Press, Jeffrey spent a decade as an arts and entertainment journalist and editor, working for a variety of newspapers and magazines both nationally and internationally.

In addition to serving on the Words Alive Board of Directors, Jeffrey is also a member of the Board of Trustees at the La Jolla Playhouse, where he serves on the Executive Committee and is the chair of the Education and Outreach Committee.

I wanted to make an impact on the lives of children and believe that encouraging strong reading and writing skills is the simplest and most effective way to change the story of a child’s life.
— Jeffrey Goldman

Now, let’s hear more directly from Jeffrey!

How has Words Alive changed the story of your life?

Words Alive has changed the story of my life by making me aware of not only the extraordinary need in the community for advocates of reading and writing, but also of the number of incredibly talented children — brilliant writers — whose talent often slips under the radar of their parents and family members. The joy and fulfillment I receive from helping to spread the love of reading and writing to children, and further encouraging those children who already show a tremendous aptitude in these areas, has brought me endless pleasure and has truly changed the story of my life.

When was the first moment you fell in love with reading?

I remember reading a book (whose title I’ve long since forgotten) with my teacher and fellow classmates in kindergarten or first grade. It was a mystery of some sort, and before we turned the page to find out the surprise ending, the teacher asked us if anyone could guess what was going to happen. I guessed correctly, and the shock, surprise, and wonderment on her face gave me so much happiness and confidence that I couldn’t wait to read the next book she assigned! My love of reading (and writing) kicked into high gear from that point on!

How do you use literacy in your day-to-day life?

As a book publisher, writer, and editor, I not only use literacy in my day-to-day life, it has been my profession and my passion for 40 years.

Jeffrey working with an Adolescent Book Group student at Monarch School.

Jeffrey working with an Adolescent Book Group student at Monarch School.

What is your favorite book and why?

This is a nearly impossible question to answer because there are so many. Certainly Shakespeare and William Faulkner top the list of my favorite authors, and King Lear and As I Lay Dying are my two favorite works by these amazing writers. If forced to choose, I guess I’d go with King Lear. Why? Because it’s such a powerful, tragic story that encapsulates so much of the human condition.

What made you join the Words Alive board?

I wanted to make an impact on the lives of children and believe that encouraging strong reading and writing skills is the simplest and most effective way to change the story of a child’s life.

What has been your favorite aspect of being a Words Alive board member?

Working with the kids in the classroom; working with and becoming friends with the incredible Words Alive staff, volunteers, and my fellow board members; and being a champion of Words Alive out in the community.


Thank you, Jeffrey, for all you’ve done for Words Alive! Learn more about our Board of Directors here!

Board Spotlight: Kristina Houck!

An image of Kristina Houck standing in front of bookshelves and holding up a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.

An image of Kristina Houck standing in front of bookshelves and holding up a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.

Kristina Houck came to Words Alive when we folded Rolling Readers into our portfolio of programs in 2014. She is an award-winning journalist and currently works as an editor for Patch, covering San Diego and Marin counties. She previously served as a staff reporter for U-T Community Press, a group of community newspapers in San Diego's North County. 

With a background in journalism and public relations, Kristina sits on Words Alive’s Board, serves as Board Secretary, and chairs the Communication & Marketing committee. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science with minors in English and religious studies from San Diego State University. 

Kristina lives in the San Diego area with her husband, Jason, and son, Harrison.

Let’s hear more from Kristina herself!

When was the first moment you fell in love with reading?

I developed a love of reading at an early age. From Dr. Seuss books as a young child, to "The Baby-Sitters Club" series as a preteen, I constantly had a book in my hand. 

How do you use literacy in your day-to-day life?

As a writer and editor, literacy is crucial to my everyday success. I read and write for work. I also read and write for pleasure. Most importantly, I read to my 19-month-old son, Harrison. It has been an absolute joy watching him discover books and already develop a love of reading. Some of his favorite books include "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," "Where Is Baby's Belly Button?" and "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom," which was one of my favorites as a child. 

What inspired you to join the Words Alive board?

I joined Words Alive by way of Rolling Readers, where I served as a board member and chaired the marketing committee. When Words Alive folded Rolling Readers into their programs in 2014, it was a natural fit for me to join the team. I whole-heartedly believe in the mission of the organization and have seen the impact of the Read Aloud, Adolescent Book Group, Family Literacy and Westreich Scholarship programs on the community. 

In addition to sitting on the board, I serve as Board Secretary and chair the Marketing & Communication Committee, which strives to share the amazing work we do with the greater public. As Marketing & Communication chair, I also spearhead our annual Share Your Love of Reading campaign, which invites San Diego's most prominent politicians, media personalities and other local celebrities to act as honorary readers in Words Alive classrooms. Students receive free books during the month-long campaign, which aims to raise awareness about the importance of literacy and reading aloud.

What has been your favorite aspect of being a Words Alive board member?

From working on the Share Your Love of Reading campaign, to visiting Words Alive classrooms and attending events, I've made so many memories and worked with amazing people while serving as a board member. It’s been truly rewarding to be a small part of an organization that has made such a big impact on the lives of children, teens and families in San Diego County. 

Thank you, Kristina, for all you’ve done for Words Alive! Learn more about our Board of Directors here!

Board Spotlight: Kim Harrison!

A picture of Kim Harrison holding up a children's book, "The Day the Crayons Quit", for our Share Your Love of Reading campaign.

A picture of Kim Harrison holding up a children's book, "The Day the Crayons Quit", for our Share Your Love of Reading campaign.

Kim Harrison is one of our newest Board Members, she joined our Board in January 2018. Kim taught First Grade for seven years in Stamford, CT where she was a grade level team leader, bringing an innovative and progressive approach to the classroom. Kim had regional and statewide responsibilities for exploring new educational approaches to advance curriculum and was the recipient of several awards and grants including “Outstanding Prospective Teacher” from a pool of over 200 applicants.

Kim moved from Connecticut to San Diego in 2015 with her husband Douglas and their two children, Adam and Anna. Kim enjoys her new southern California lifestyle, spending time playing tennis, hiking and volunteering for Words Alive.

Now, let's hear from Kim herself!

Why do you love to read, and why is literacy important to you?

On a personal level, I love to read because it opens up my world, empowering me to be immersed into learning about anything my heart desires! Whether it be exploring other cultures and history, keeping up on current events, reading a recipe, or losing myself in a novel, reading opens up my world. Reading allows me to be an educated citizen, engaging me to be an active member in personal, family and community awareness.  

As a former teacher, I was able to witness the pure joy as my students learned how to read and make meaningful connections to their world. 

I am committed to promote and inspire literacy to our youth. It is my hope that at the highest level, literacy will create educated compassionate citizens. 

Board Spotlight: Orville Brown!

An image of Board Member Orville Brown standing in front of a bookshelf. The image has the following quote from Orville: "As a child growing up in the British Caribbean, it was instilled in me and my siblings  that reading and communication were critical in our development. We spoke the dialect “Patios” at home but in school we were taught English. We were rewarded when we able to spell a word or read a book.

An image of Board Member Orville Brown standing in front of a bookshelf. The image has the following quote from Orville: "As a child growing up in the British Caribbean, it was instilled in me and my siblings  that reading and communication were critical in our development. We spoke the dialect “Patios” at home but in school we were taught English. We were rewarded when we able to spell a word or read a book.

Orville Brown is one of our Board Member who came to us through our merger with Rolling Readers. He is a Senior Research Scientist at Ferro Corporation, and he has 14 patents in the microelectronic field. He received his undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Chemistry from Hunter College of the City of University of NY and his graduate degree in Chemistry from Columbia University. He is also involved in Habitat for Humanity Global Village.

We are so happy to have Orville on our Board! Now, let's hear from him!

What was your relationship with literacy as a child?

As a child growing up in the British Caribbean, it was instilled in me and my siblings  that reading and communication were critical in our development. We spoke the dialect “Patios” at home but in school we were taught English. Reading, writing, spelling/ pronunciation were separate courses which were taught from kindergarten through third grade. We were rewarded when we able to spell a word or read a book.

When was the first moment you fell in love with reading?

I actually fell in love with reading when I was about 7 years old. I was in a school play and I had to remember my lines of a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson – “The Moon”.

How do you use literacy in your day-to-day life?

The “everyday routine” such as traveling, communicating (such as sending an email or a text) or reading the news or a technical journal requires some degree of literacy.

What impact would being illiterate have on your life? Would you have the same profession if you couldn’t read?

Without being literate I could not be in my field. First it requires being literate to complete one’s degree and then as researcher, I have to be able read and write reports, technical journals, patents, standard operating procedures, solve technical problems/challenges and all the other requirements that come with my career. I would not have the same career—I would not be hired.

What is your favorite book and why?

My favorite book is Alice Walker’s, “The Third Life Of Grange Copeland.” The story encompasses love, determination (never give up), hope, and redemption.

What was your favorite book as a child and why?

There was a book series that I was addicted to as a child. The Hardy Boys Series by ghost writer Franklin Dixon (Stratemeyer Syndicate). Joe and Frank Hardy's mystery solving skills kept me up late under the covers as an 8-year-old kid.

My favorite single book was “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain. This book introduced me to a different America than I envisioned it to be growing up in Jamaica. The ordeals, the trails, his relationship with Jim and the excitement of Huck Finn’s journey down the Mississippi got me hooked.

Do you have a favorite memory relating to reading?

Yes—As a 5th grader in a small class in New York we were each given a paragraph of Joseph Conrad’s, “Heart of Darkness” to read aloud. When it came to my turn, I was stuck, I completely went blank for about a minute. It felt like eternity. I was able to pull myself out, recover, and read my paragraph. But, I still remember that feeling!

What made you join the Words Alive board?

I grew up in a home where volunteering and giving back to the less fortunate was a requirement for all. I attended a Rolling Reader’s function and got hooked and wanted to be a part of its mission. In addition my kids were avid readers and are successful in their careers because of that. I wanted others to have the opportunity that I had and my children had because of that childhood reading experience.

What has been your favorite aspect of being a Words Alive board member?

Seeing the positive results of Words Alive's efforts.

Board Spotlight: Sharon Bakcht!

A picture of Sharon Bakcht at our Volunteer Appreciation Event. She is holding her award for Leadership Volunteer of the Year.

A picture of Sharon Bakcht at our Volunteer Appreciation Event. She is holding her award for Leadership Volunteer of the Year.

Sharon Bakcht is one of our newest Board Members but she's already proven to be dedicated to making positive change with us at Words Alive! Sharon is a San Diego native and has 16+ years of experience in strategic planning, innovation leadership, and marketing strategy in a variety of sectors. She currently heads up early stage innovation programs at WD-40 Company for the Americas region. A native of San Diego, Sharon is passionate about fostering positive impact in the local community.

Sharon recently was awarded Leadership Volunteer of the Year at our 9th Annual Volunteer Appreciation Event. Sharon’s journey with Words Alive started three years ago when our partnership with San Diego Social Venture Partners began. She volunteered to serve as the marketing lead with our project and led our staff and leadership in developing and executing our marketing plan. She continues to provide support in her area of expertise on our marketing and communication committee.

Now, let's hear from Sharon herself!

  • What was your relationship with literacy as a child?

As a child I loved looking at picture books in Spanish with my parents, who emigrated from Mexico City. My parents mistakenly thought I could read before the age of two because I would memorize the words and say them at the right times.

  • When was the first moment you fell in love with reading?

As a preteen, I was a voracious consumer of The Babysitter's Club and Sweet Valley High series. I loved immersing myself in the lives of these characters and their worlds. I spent a lot of time checking books out of libraries!

  • How do you use literacy in your day-to-day life?

Literacy is an imperative for my success every day.  I read for pleasure, read for work, and most importantly, I read to my 1.5 year old son, whose face lights up with wonder every time we read new stories and re-read beloved books like "The Hungry Caterpillar". One of my son's absolute favorite books was given to us by Words Alive - "How To Make Vegetable Soup" in Spanish and English. It's the best hearing that little voice say "tomato!" and "water the seeds!"

  • What impact would being illiterate have on your life? Would you have the same profession if you couldn’t read?

Would you have the same profession if you couldn’t read?  Without literacy, I could not have achieved higher education in Psychology and Business Administration, and have the career I do today, leading product innovation programs at WD-40. Literacy is absolutely essential to my success.

  • What is your favorite book and why?

"A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" by Dave Eggers. Some books touch your soul. This was one such for me. The way Dave Eggers writes gets straight to the heart of emotion, and revealed to me what it means to be vulnerable, loving, and humorous in the face of personal tragedy.

  • What was your favorite book as a child and why?

“The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. I loved seeing the relationship between the boy and the tree evolve. Looking back now, I can see that the simplicity of the way the book reveals the moral of the story is brilliant.

  • Do you have a favorite memory relating to reading?

So many! I loved reading Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City" when I was a young twenty-something living in San Francisco. I imagined a wilder San Francisco of the past.

  • What made you join the Words Alive board?

I am truly passionate about language, books, stories, and the roles they play in our lives. On top of this, the staff at Words Alive is top-notch. I couldn't imagine a brighter, more effective, and more dedicated team.

  • What has been your favorite aspect of being a Words Alive board member?

The adventure has just begun!

Giving Spotlight: Sandra Korwek, Danny Cung, and Chirstopher Weil & Company, Inc.

Picture of our Board Members Sandra Korwek (left) and Danny Cung (right).  Source .

Picture of our Board Members Sandra Korwek (left) and Danny Cung (right). Source.

In 1970, at the age of 33, Christopher Weil formed a broker-dealer firm and named it Christopher Weil & Company, Inc. (CWC). In 1990, he redesigned the company as a Registered Investment Advisor to act primarily as a financial advisory and investment management firm, as well as a sponsor of (mostly) real estate-based alternative assets. With ‘eating our own cooking’ (and only our own cooking) being a cornerstone of CWC’s Best Practices, Chris and his family are among the firm’s biggest clients (all three of his adult children work for the firm and his son-in-law is the President and CEO). Now, almost 50 years after the founding of his company, we are proud and grateful to have the support of the Weil Family in more ways than one.

The Patricia & Christopher Weil Family Foundation (WFF) has been financially
supporting Words Alive, and particularly our Family Literacy Program, for years. WFF creates educational opportunities by providing resources, time, and support to children and families in San Diego’s underserved communities.

In addition to financial support, we are thankful to have two employees from Christopher Weil & Company, Inc. donate their time and talent to Words Alive as members of our Board.

Danny Cung has been serving on our Board since 2014 and is our current Board Treasurer. Danny joined CWC full-time in 2006. Currently, Danny serves on CWC’s portfolio management team working to continuously balance clients' evolving needs with the opportunities and obstacles of the markets. He originally came to Words Alive by way of Rolling Readers; when the two organizations merged, it was a natural fit for him to join our team. Since 2014, Danny has been instrumental on our Finance Committee and Board, and we are so grateful for his time and support.

Sandra Korwek is one of our newest Board Members, but she has been a staple of the Words Alive volunteer family for years. Sandra has been serving on the Words Alive Finance Committee for three years, she currently serves on our Event Committee, and she was our Words Alive Volunteer of the Year in 2017. Sandra has over 35 years of accounting and business experience in various fields, including 17 years of operating her own accounting business specializing in nonprofit organizations. After moving to San Diego, she worked as the Business Manager for Mainly Mozart for six years before
eventually being recruited in 2006 to join the expanding accounting department at CWC. Sandra is now in charge of Contracts and Insurance for all of the many entities CWC manages.

A picture of Sandra Korweck holding her Volunteer of the Year Award at our 2017 Volunteer Appreciation Event.

A picture of Sandra Korweck holding her Volunteer of the Year Award at our 2017 Volunteer Appreciation Event.

Both Sandra and Danny have helped Words Alive thrive and grow, and we are excited to continue working with them, with Christopher Weil & Company, and with The Patricia & Christopher Weil Family Foundation.

If you or your company is interested in supporting or learning more about Words Alive, please email info@wordsalive.org! 

Kay Gurtin - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - July 2017

Please join us in congratulating Kay Gurtin – Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for July 2017!

Kay Gurtin is a Words Alive pioneer and veteran volunteer.  She has been with our flagship program, the Adolescent Book Group, since 2005 and has served on the board of directors since 2011.

Going above and beyond, Kay has extended successful programming at her ABG site, where she and her fellow volunteers are leading book discussions throughout the summer months. She also recently facilitated a resume building workshop for students in our other Teen Services program, the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship. Kay and her colleague from Gurtin Municipal Bond Management led an engaging career-readiness session, arming the scholarship students with expert advice as they start to enter the workforce.

On the board, Kay has provided guidance on executive programming decisions, the annual Author’s Luncheon and Fundraiser and marketing efforts.  Kay has been an important part of supporting the Words Alive Author's Luncheon and Fundraiser as our presenting sponsor. She has also taken the time to help secure silent auction items that allow us to raise even more money in support of our programs.

We thank you, Kay, for your commitment to the community and the generosity with which you serve.  Words Alive is lucky to have your leadership!

Check out the Volunteer of the Month interview with Kay below:

Tell us a little about yourself. (Brief introduction)

I have been an active Words Alive volunteer on the ABG front for the last 12 years.  My first volunteer stint was with Lindsay Summit and their amazing teacher, Dawn. I looked forward to my monthly sessions as I loved being with the students, but even more so, loved learning from their perspectives each month. I then segued to the Choice school with 20-year veteran teacher and rock-star, Ben White. As the site-manager at Choice for 6+ years, we had one of the most loyal and consistent volunteer teams in the organization – a lasting bond between students and words alive stalwarts. With Choice closing, I followed Ben White to YDC school, which is a probationary school in Mira Mesa. The learning never stops and it is a challenging experience each month – the students keep us on our toes!  I have also been an active member on the Words Alive Board for the last six years and a mentor to the ABG program. My day job is Head of Recruitment at Gurtin Municipal Bond Management – a proud supporter of literacy and Words Alive.

What are you reading lately?

Just finished Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. It simultaneously tracks two half sisters' lives from Ghana to America over three centuries. Beautifully written and a compelling read. I saw the author speak recently and it sealed my already favorable review of the novel. She shared that books were like unconditional love and “free” at her local library as a child, and influenced her life and career. Plus, I am re–reading The Freedom Writers Diary for my July facilitation at YDC. It has motivated me to re-read the novels the students read and were inspired by in the book – Zlata’s and Anne Frank’s Diary. Fascinating that they can relate the war on drugs and gangs on our streets to the survival of teens in the Holocaust and Bosnia, but most importantly, like the Words Alive mission, the book conveys the success of engagement and making a student feel worthy and acknowledged through reading is the tried and true ticket to success.