Our Team


Demetrius Amparan

Executive Director

Demetrius Amparan is an artist and leader with eleven years of experience as a manger and director in the nonprofit sector. He has spent several of those years building a donor network for his childhood nonprofit, Young Chicago Authors. Amparan’s community work is centered on access and equity for Chicago’s underserved populations.

Our Team


Asia Calcagno

Director of Programs

Asia Calcagno is an awarded writer and educator from Chicago. Her professional and creative background includes time spent working as a high-school English Language Arts teacher, doing leadership and youth development work in both higher education and youth nonprofits, serving as a teaching artist, and formerly serving as the Director of Programs at 826CHI. She is particularly interested in effective and equitable writing education and using writing as a tool for cross-cultural dialogue, liberation, and encouraging young people to write their own narratives. Asia holds an MFA from Bennington College.

E’mon Lauren

Program Manager

E’mon Lauren is a blk queer Scorpio, from the Wes and Souf side of Chicago, whose work unpacks her coined philosophy of “hood-womanism”. She was named Chicago’s first Youth Poet Laureate. She has been featured in Vogue Magazine, Chicago Magazine, and The Chicago Tribune. Her work has appeared in ​The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic,​ and elsewhere. She is a member of Young Chicago Authors Teaching Artist Corps and host of her new podcast, “The RealHoodwives of Chicago”. Her first chapbook of poems, ​COMMANDO​, was published by Haymarket Books, Fall of 2017.

Rich Robbins

Program Manager

Rich Robbins is a rapper, songwriter, producer, and educator. But more than anything, the Oak Park-born, Chicago-based artist is a world-builder. Rich’s early years as a college student in Madison, Wisconsin’s First Wave hip-hop scholarship program jumpstarted his artistry. He recorded wide-reaching tracks like “Dreams” feat. Mick Jenkins, along with records with Saba, Mother Nature, and more. He has performed at historic venues like the Apollo Theater in NY, and has done everything from music festivals, to working at Hot 97 as an intern, to teaching classrooms of high school students how to read and write poetry/songs. His work is an inward look at society’s ills and creates spaces for listeners to explore. In short, Rich’s work critiques the old while envisioning and manifesting the new. His latest releases are available on all streaming platforms.

Jessica Mascarenhas

Youth Outreach Manager

Jessica Mascarenhas is a writer, herbalist, educator, standup poet and spoken word comedian. She is a creative writing graduate of Columbia College and an LTAB Alum. Jessica is the co-creator of Nature Ninjaz, an nature-based youth leadership program. She is the host of Respect the Mic, Chicago’s most intimate open mic. Jessica also teaches a monthly herbalism class for people healing from uc/crohn’s. When she isn’t climbing mountains barefoot, you can find her writing and performing somewhere.

Carlo Liou

Documentarian & Videographer

Carlo Liou uses images as a medium to share stories with others. As YCA’s digital media producer, he carries with him a decade’s worth of experience in filmmaking, photography and content creation. Carlo believes in the importance of using imagery to immortalize the stories of our time and strives to uplift those around him through his work.

Our Team


Heather Roberts

Director of Education

Heather Roberts is a dedicated visionary leader passionate about empowering youth through language, youth development, and empowerment. With over 15 years of experience, she has dedicated her career to creating transformative programs that harness the power of words and storytelling to inspire and uplift young minds.

With a bachelor’s in performance art, a master’s degree in organizational leadership, and a certificate in spoken word pedagogy, Heather possesses a unique blend of academic knowledge and practical expertise. Her deep understanding of organizational dynamics enables her to design and implement impactful initiatives that foster creativity, critical thinking, and personal growth among youth. Fun fact: her favorite words are balloon and bubble.

Robin Reid Drake

Education Associate / Teaching Artist

Robin Reid Drake (she/they) is a Chicago (Kiikaapoi, Peoria, Kaskaskia, Bodéwadmiakiwen & Myaamia lands) based writer, artist and educator originally from Greensboro, North Carolina (Eno, Sappony & Shakori lands). White, trans & queer, Drake is passionate about combining abolitionist somatics, creative practice and popular education to heal lines of violence in herself and her communities. She holds an MFA in writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a BA in writing from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and certification in meditation & mindfulness instruction from MNDFL Studio in New York City. Drake’s written work can be found in DREGINALD, Palimpsest, WUSSY, Understory Quarterly, and Foglifter Press’ Home Is Where You Queer the Heart, among others. More info on Robin Reid Drake…

Christie Valentin-Bati

Teaching Artist

Christie Valentin-Bati (she/her) is a suburban kid from Florida now mostly grown up with an MFA in Poetry from Columbia College. She is an interdisciplinary poet and photographer writing in the lineage of Black women writers declaring radical truth/love through unflinching self-expression like Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and Lucille Clifton. Her creative work and pedagogy emphasizes the quotidian as the bulk of life resides in the ordinary. Beyond the mundane, her work explores ecology and gender, and hybridity and genre-defying forms which includes combining text with visual art, collage, and photography. Her work has received honorable mention in the 2022 and 2021 Academy of American Poet’s Poetry Contest, has been commissioned by the ACLU of Illinois, and exhibited in Porous Gallery and Davis Street Drawing Room. She is published in Allium Journal, Bending Genres, and Menacing Hedge among others. More info on Christie Valentin-Bati…

Chima Ikoro

Teaching Artist

Chima “Naira” Ikoro (she/they) is an interdisciplinary writer, a student of the Young Chicago Authors’ space since 2014, and a Louder Than A Bomb alum. With poetry as her first language, she took fifth place at the Women of The World Poetry slam in 2020. Currently, she is the Community Organizing section editor at South Side Weekly, and the co-founder of a mutual aid organization, Blck Rising. More info on Chima “Naira” Ikoro…

C. Lofty Bolling

Teaching Artist

C.Lofty Bolling (they/them) is a black, queer, and southern poet who has recently relocated to Chicago in 2021 and have been writing poetry regularly since middle school, self publishing since their senior year of high school. Through their poetry they explore notions of identity formations, the quantum imagination, history, ontology and voodoo practices. They have 6 self published works titled, Lofty (2019), The Aquarius’ Aquarium (2019), Blue and Orange (2020), Unloc’d (2021), Black Atlanteans (2021) and The Master’s House (2021) and additional individual poems published through Lupercalia Press, and Rigorous Press. More info on C.Lofty Bolling…

Mayra Almaraz

Education Fellow

Mayra Almaraz has been in the education field for over 18 years as an educator and as a content specialist. She is a National Board Certified teacher, Golden Apple Scholar, and winner of the 2018 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence. As an educator she taught high school history classes in the third largest school district in the nation, where she created original curriculum for Ethnic Studies, Latin American history and Mexican Studies. She has designed and led multiple professional development workshops for various organizations, on racism, white supremacy, connecting with humanity through our stories, and various other topics pertaining to equity. Mayra prides herself in helping create workshops that create community and build trust to effectively engage in difficult conversations.

Madeline Kobayashi

Education Fellow

Madeline “Desi” Kobayashi (she/her) is an educator, writer, instructional coach, curriculum designer, and professional development specialist. She earned her Bachelors in Secondary Education/History from DePaul University, and spent 14 years as a classroom teacher, for which she received the 2014 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. Her extensive teaching experience includes middle and high school Social Science, English Language Arts, and College and Career Readiness, serving youth in four schools across Chicago. She has also worked as a literacy specialist with the Chicago Public Schools Department of Literacy, as well as an instructional coach for Rogers Elementary School. She holds two Masters Degrees in Secondary Education/English Language Arts, and Literacy Education with a Reading Specialist endorsement. She is currently a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and her research interests include liberatory literacies, abolitionist teaching, and trauma-responsive pedagogies. She is passionate about building collaborative spaces for educators, and designing research-based literacy curricula that is culturally sustaining and attends to the academic and human needs of Black and Latinx youth. Madeline is the co-founder of Critical Learning Collaborative, an education consulting business that supports justice-centered communities of practice in order to transform classrooms into the liberatory spaces our youth need and deserve.

Our Team


Alondra Apuli

Director of Development

Alondra (she/her/ella) is a multi-disciplinary creator, excelling in grant and proposal writing, graphic design, and content creation. Holding a Bachelor of Arts in English with a focus on professional writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago, she brings a unique blend of skills and experience to her nonprofit work.

With over five years in the nonprofit sector, Alondra is adept at fostering relationships across diverse sectors. Deeply committed to her community, she passionately amplifies the voices of marginalized communities, driven by her identity as a proud Latina.

Beyond her professional endeavors, Alondra expresses herself through pottery, poetry, and short stories, drawing inspiration from her own experiences and ancestral roots.

Our Team


Scott Schenke

Technical Consultant

Scott Schenke (he/him) is a contractor who has been working with YCA’s various technologies since 2005. He has a BA in Communications from Elmhurst College, followed by graduate studies in Education and Rhetoric at Northern Illinois University. Scott is also a musician, vocalist, composer and audio engineer whose work crosses boundaries of rock, folk, country, blues, jazz, experimental and global music. As both a technical consultant and a creative person he has a long-standing working relationship with and commitment to the local arts community, as well as independent writers, artists and musicians.

Lynna Tyler

Finance Manager