The Literacy Cooperative Staff

Robert Paponetti

Robert Paponetti

President & Chief Executive Officer

Robert E. Paponetti currently serves as the President & Chief Executive Officer of The Literacy Cooperative of Greater Cleveland. In this capacity, Mr. Paponetti leads an intermediary agency for literacy initiatives involving Adult Literacy and Career Pathways, Early Literacy, and Parent Engagement. He works to strengthen our community’s ability to increase literacy by engaging stakeholders, promoting promising practices, aligning actions, measuring progress, and advocating for sustained support of effective literacy efforts.

Major initiatives for adult literacy and workforce development include advancing the skills of low-literate adults through effective models of Career Pathway implementation in targeted growth sectors, supporting evidence-based workplace literacy projects, and blending contextualized literacy with vocational training. Early literacy initiatives address barriers to success for children, and support aligned activities for school readiness and parent engagement.  Professional development and technical assistance are provided for early literacy, adult education, and family literacy based on research-based and promising practices.

Prior to joining The Literacy Cooperative, Mr. Paponetti served as the Vice President of Cuyahoga Community College’s Workforce and Economic Development Division and the Executive Director of the Workforce Solutions Division. In this capacity, he developed, implemented and directed a wide array of workforce preparation initiatives and training programs that supported regional economic growth. Mr. Paponetti incorporated innovative workplace literacy and contextualized learning components into the training curriculum that met the needs of the business community. Mr. Paponetti was the project manager of the Jobs For the Future-Breaking Through Initiative.

As the Director of Cuyahoga County’s Department of Workforce Development, Mr. Paponetti guided workforce preparation systems and skills upgrading activities for County residents. He also managed the County’s “One-Stop” which was recognized as the first certified center in Ohio to have multiple partners housed together providing all needed services for job seekers and employers. During this time, Mr. Paponetti was the Executive Director of the 35-member Cuyahoga County Workforce Investment Board that included many of the County’s business, education, and civic leaders.

Mr. Paponetti also served as a Director of Workforce Development for both CGI Group, Inc. and ORION Consulting where he designed and operated workforce training programs customized to meet the needs of employers combining both technical skills and workplace success skills.

Mr. Paponetti is a member of the Executive Council of the Ohio Workforce Coalition, the Literacy Funders Network Executive Committee, the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education, and the Commission on Adult Continuing Education. He served as a member of the United Way of Greater Cleveland Executive Committee and Board of Directors, Co-Chair of the United Way Self-Sufficiency and Basic Skills Investment Committee as well as the Ohio Skills Bank Healthcare Sub-Committee, and the Talent Team for the Fund For Our Economic Future.

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Laureen Atkins

Laureen Atkins

Vice President – Strategic Initiatives

Laureen Atkins serves as the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives. In her role, Ms. Atkins engages stakeholders to address literacy gaps, researches promising literacy practices that articulate seamlessly with workforce initiatives, and advocates for literacy inclusion practices with evidence-based measures for learner outcomes.  Her work includes leading initiatives for two-generational learning environments, career pathway opportunities for low-literate adults, and implementing industry-specific contextualized curriculum.  In addition, she oversees our series of Professional Development offerings that focus on Excellent Teaching, which bring together literacy experts with area practitioners and administrators.

Prior to joining The Literacy Cooperative, Laureen was a Social Program Administrator in the Office of Health & Human Services division of Cuyahoga County where she managed a $4.5 million federal grant. While at Cuyahoga County, she was Deputy Director of Workforce Development for six years and oversaw the operation of the One-Stop System with responsibilities including evaluating and reviewing service delivery; monitoring compliance to federal and state regulations; providing oversight for regional and multiple partner grant-funded projects; and overseeing program budgets and expenditures with an operating budget of more than $20 million. Ms. Atkins also worked for the Center of Career Pathway Development for Cuyahoga Community College’s Workforce and Economic Development Division. As Director III, she oversaw and managed the staff of literacy and workplace success skills programs. Her private sector work includes 13 years as a consultant and manager with CGI Information Systems and Management Consultants. 

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McKenzae Bartels

Resource Development Manager

McKenzae serves as the Resource Development Manager. Prior to joining The Literacy Cooperative, McKenzae worked at Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland as the Development Operations Coordinator and as a Family Advocate at The Centers for Families and Children. She is passionate about serving the Cleveland community and advancing the goals of The Literacy Cooperative. McKenzae holds a Master’s degree in Non-Profit Administration and a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and Religious Studies from John Carroll University.

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Mersadies Hunter

Marketing & Communications Associate

Mersadies Hunter serves as the Marketing & Communications Associate. In this role, she collaborates with staff, partners, and literacy providers to increase awareness surrounding the many initiatives of The Literacy Cooperative. She is passionate about making a difference by increasing the literacy of adults and children in the Greater Cleveland area. Prior to joining The Literacy Cooperative, Mersadies worked at the Cleveland Foundation as a Marketing & Communications intern. Mersadies holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communication from John Carroll University.

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Jason Kluk-Barany

Office Administrator

Jason serves as the Office Administrator. In this role, he manages daily office operations and provides support for The Literacy Cooperative’s various initiatives. Prior to joining the Literacy Cooperative, Jason worked in administration, support, and inside sales for the recycling brokerage firm, Creative Green Marketing. Moreover, with experience as a tutor and English teacher, he is passionate about expanding literacy and making Cleveland a better place. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Syracuse University and a Master’s degree in International Development from Université Grenoble Alpes.

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Joan Spoerl, M.A.T.

Director, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

Joan Spoerl serves as Director of the Imagination Library. She works to expand the number of families enrolled in the communities in which the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program is currently available. In high school, she tutored adults at Milwaukee’s Laubach Literacy Center. This experience and her studies in public policy led her to the field of early childhood education. In Chicago, she taught kindergarten for 10 years in a National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accredited hospital-based child care center, Head Start and State Pre-K in the Chicago Public Schools and served as an adjunct faculty member at Oakton Community College. As a kindergarten teacher, she was honored as a finalist for the Kohl-McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Award and was chosen as the featured teacher in Voices for Illinois Children’s Start Early: Learning Begins at Birth prime-time television and radio advertising campaign. Click here to view this brief video.

Since moving to Northeast Ohio from Chicago, she has worked for the Shaker Family Center (now Family Connections), as a part-time naturalist at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, as a Community Educator for Beyond Pesticides Ohio and as a substitute teacher at local private and public schools. She has been an active volunteer in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights public schools, with the local affiliate of the NAEYC, with University of Chicago Alumni activities in various capacities including serving as a member of the University’s Alumni Board of Governors, President of the University of Chicago Alumni Club of Ohio and as a Trustee of the Summer on the Cuyahoga internship program.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Studies from the University of Chicago and her Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts University.

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Christine Lee

Training & Communications Consultant

Christine has fifteen years of experience in adult education. She has worked as an ESOL instructor at the Jewish Community Center and Parma ABLE, as well as the Davidson County Adult Education Program in Nashville, Tennessee. Her prior work as a refugee resettlement case worker at Catholic Charities and her experience as an exchange student to Brazil strongly shaped her interest and commitment to serving non-English speakers. In addition to ESOL, Christine has worked over six years as an instructor, coordinator and trainer at Seeds of Literacy, a community-based adult education program that utilizes volunteer tutors. She has assisted hundreds of students in their efforts towards their GED and participated in the training and development of countless tutors.

Christine holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Latin American Studies from Kent State University. She is a certified Proliteracy trainer, a certified conflict resolution mediator, and an alumni of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

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