Raising Readers in Story County

Our Board

Executive Committee

President: Julie Popken, Ames

Julie joined the board of Raising Readers in Story County in December 2021. The mission of the organization had already inspired her to volunteer for the Story Pals and Reading Buddy programs where she loves seeing young children light up as a book catches their attention. As a life-long reader and the parent of an even more passionate reader, Julie has seen how reading and access to books not only adds joy to life but is a cornerstone to educational and life success. Julie received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and went on to enjoy a 32-year career in human resources, serving as a senior human resources business partner in the financial services industry during the final years of her career. She retired in 2019, giving her time to pursue a variety of interests which include volunteering her skills and experience to the mission of Raising Readers. She and her husband, Jim, have lived in Ames for over 30 years. 

Vice President: Diana Claus, Ames

Diana Claus has served on the Raising Readers Board since 2007. Committed to supporting literacy development initiatives for children in Story County, she places special emphasis on creating joy through reading and serving underserved populations. Diana has a B.S. in Elementary Education from Drake, an M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction from Drake, and Literacy Coaching Certification from ISU. She taught elementary school, supervised the administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, Nation’s Report Card), and was a lecturer in the ISU School of Education. Interacting with families while working with students from preschool through college ages has provided her with a broad perspective of literacy development. Diana enjoys designing innovative literacy programs that examine best practices, build on the foundations of the science of reading, and motivate students to sprout their academic wings.

Treasurer: Sue Wuhs, Ames

Sue is retired after serving 36 years as director of the Ames Community Preschool Center. She had contacts with Raising Readers over the years and is pleased to be involved once again. She enjoys working with former ACPC parents. Sue has three grown children and five grandchildren of various ages.

Secretary: Carolyn Jons, Ames*

My dream is a future in which all children grow up healthy, with loving relationships, and with a strong foundation in literacy and learning in order to maximize their potentials. This passion has guided me as a parent and grandparent, a school board member, a member of Raising Readers in Story County and Story County Reads, a Rotarian, a neighbor, and a philanthropist. Every day I look forward to working with dedicated partners to contribute a little more toward this vision. 

Past President: Lynne Carey, Nevada*

Lynne recently retired from the Ames Public Library after 36 years of service. At APL, Lynne developed a strong passion for community building through collaboration. She has experience with strategic planning, human resource management, budgeting, fundraising, and policy development. While literacy efforts of every stripe are important to Lynne, she believes that a focus on early literacy and parent education is vital. Lynne received a BS from ISU in psychology and women’s studies. She is one of the rare Story County natives who stayed put.  She and her spouse, Navid Emami, live in Nevada in Lynne’s childhood home and appreciate the small-town living that Iowa offers.

Board of Directors

Malai Amfahr, Des Moines

Senior Program Officer, Constituency Outreach and Engagement, Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Malai has over 20 years of experience working in advocacy and community engagement in the nonprofit sector, primarily focused on youth. She is currently the Senior Program Officer for Constituency Outreach and Engagement with the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (CGLR). In her role, she supports macro-level systems change within the education sector across CGLR’s 350+ coalition communities across the nation. This work involves supporting community backbone agencies with deeper engagement and learning opportunities around CGLR’s shared agenda to ensure more hopeful futures for children with literacy as the primary driver. Prior to her role with CGLR, Malai was previously with United Way of Story County (UWSC) for 4+ years where she provided oversight of UWSC’s work in education, including the CGLR community lead role with Story County Reads. She has served on several committees and non-profit board of directors focused on youth. Her current board appointments include Raising Readers in Story County and ArtForce Iowa. Malai is a Fellow in Cohort 2 with Mid-Iowa Health Foundation’s HealthConnect Fellowship and served as co-chair of the state’s Equity Advisory Committee with Early Childhood Iowa. She has facilitated workshops and conducted presentations at national, state, and local conferences.

Connie Beecher, Des Moines

My former work experience was teaching children with and without disabilities. The majority of my teaching was Pk-3, but I have taught all ages up to and including post-secondary. My current work is community-based education and intervention around language and literacy development. This includes the use of technology for intervention, progress monitoring, and engagement of children and families. I also continue to develop my research skill set with quantitative methodology that is suited for a developmental framework. My passion is working with communities to improve awareness and practice about the importance of talking and reading with young children.

Specialties: My expertise is in the areas of early intervention and literacy. Community-based research, intervention development using human-centered design and rapid cycle testing.

Samantha Cross, Ames 

Samantha N. N. Cross is an Associate Professor of Marketing in the Debbie and Jerry Ivy College of Business at Iowa State University. She studies how diverse entities, identities, perspectives, beliefs and abilities co-exist in consumers, households and the marketplace. Her work has been published in top marketing journals, including the Journal of Marketing, Journal of Consumer Psychology and Journal of Public Policy and Marketing. She currently serves on several boards and committees in her field, including the Transformative Consumer Research (TCR) Advisory Committee; the Board for the Association for Consumer Research (ACR) and the Academic Council of the American Marketing Association (AMA). She was selected as one of the 12 honorees on the 2022 Women Impacting ISU Calendar. Samantha received her Ph.D. in Marketing from the University of California, Irvine; her M.B.A. in International Business from DePaul University and a B.Sc. in Management Studies from The University of The West Indies. Samantha believes that it is important to champion and encourage reading as a basic life skill and a joy. She is honored to serve as a Board Member for Raising Readers of Story County.

Dan Franklin, Ames

Dan Franklin has been a member of the Board of Directors since August 2018 and focused on the Little Free Library program.  He grew up in northwest Iowa and attended the University of Northern Iowa while planning for a teaching career.   After 1 ½ years at UNI, transferred to Iowa State University and graduated with minors in three areas of interest – Education, Math, and History.  Dan retired after 43 years with Iowa Highway Commission/Iowa Department of Transportation in June 2016 and immediately began volunteering with Raising Readers in Story County.

L. Wesley Harris, Jr., Ames 

Wesley is an experienced scholar-activist, educator, and organizer who is committed to justice and equity. Dr. Harris has presented at dozens of national, regional, and local conferences and published several articles in higher education and student affairs journals. He is a sought-after speaker/facilitator for community organizations, educational institutions, and private corporations. Dr. Harris’ professional experiences include multicultural affairs, academic coaching, pre-college and college student success programs, community outreach and engagement, volunteer recruitment, athletic coaching, ASTEM student support, and school counseling in K-12 and postsecondary contexts. His scholarship employs critical qualitative research methodologies to explore (in)equity in higher education while his teaching, facilitation, and praxis also involve understanding the connections between the individual and institutional to build coalitions to act in solidarity with others across difference. Ultimately, Dr. Harris strives to educate, engage, and empower students, institutions, organizations, and communities through their collaborations.

Dr. Harris currently serves as Coordinator, Student Access and Success at Des Moines Area Community College where he works to advance equity-centered approaches to support students across the district which includes 6 campuses and 8 learning centers. He is the founder and owner of Black Gravity Educational Consulting, where he provides expert justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion speaking, facilitation, and consulting services for community organizations, educational institutions, and private corporations.

Jerri Heid, Ames

Jerri's involvement with Raising Readers in Story County is fueled by her passion to ensure every child in Story County has access to the literacy skills essential for success in both academics and life. Hand in hand with this mission is our commitment to empowering parents to have tools in their toolbox to cultivate their children's early literacy skills and nurturing a future generation of empathetic, responsible, and actively engaged community members.

Joanie Jamison, Colo

Joanie Jamison has been working in the library field for 37 years and has been director of the Colo Public Library since 2000. She has been a member of many organizations and served on several boards throughout the years. Currently she serves on the Colo Community Pantry Board. Joanie loves books and the community she strives to serve. She truly believes that if a child has a positive experience with libraries and books at a young age that it will continue throughout a lifetime. She is very excited to serve on the Raising Readers of Story County Board and help reach families and children throughout the entire county.

Wendy Phillips, Ames

Wendy recently relocated from Indiana to be near family, including two young granddaughters. After having served 40 years in several capacities in libraries in Illinois and Indiana, she retired as director of the Carmel (IN) Public Library. During her tenure, she had the opportunity to develop skills in team building, working with a board of trustees and community leaders, and serving a vibrant community of engaged citizens. She feels honored to serve on the RRSC board and to help achieve the goal to expand early childhood literacy throughout the county. Wendy believes all children should have the same advantages to reach their potential.

Ralph Rosenberg, Ames

Ralph Rosenberg is a retired legislator, attorney, nonprofit leader and lobbyist. He served 13 years in the Iowa Legislature. Mr. Rosenberg served as executive director of the Coalition for Family and Children Services, Iowa Environmental Council, Youth Law Center, Legal Aid Society and Heartland Senior Services. Earlier in his career, he worked for Ralph Nader and later in the county attorney’s office. Mr. Rosenberg serves on the boards of the Johnson Center for Land Stewardship Policy, Raising Readers of Story County, and PROIOWA (a group of progressive rural activists).

Kathryn Wirth, Ames

Kathryn is a long-time employee of First National Bank in Ames. She has also enjoyed volunteering for Raising Readers in Story County in various capacities since 2008.

*Photos by Brittany Barlow Photography  
© 2024 Raising Readers in Story County. All Rights Reserved.