Sondra Hall and %22Take My Word For It!%22 Sondra Hall is the founder and Director of "Take My Word For It!". Her inspiration as an artist-educator is fueled by her belief in the power of the written word to transform. Sondra has seen first hand that when their imaginations are ignited, kids are more engaged and enthusiastic about learning.

She develops "Take My Word For It!" 's curriculum, teaches classes in Oakland and is always looking for more ways to connect kids to the literary arts.



Marissa Bell Toffoli_TMWFI creative writing instructor

Marissa Bell Toffoli,  in addition to teaching with “Take My Word For It!”, works with California Poets in the Schools as a poetry teacher, and for UC Berkeley as an editor. Previously, Marissa has coached students for the national Poetry Out Loud competition, and has been a writing judge for annual high school student recognition projects in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. She earned her BA in English at UC Santa Barbara and her MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts. Marissa also publishes interviews with writers at Words With Writers

Maceo Cabrera Estévez, Take My Word for it creative writing instructorMaceo Cabrera Estévez is the playwright and performer of Amor Cubano: In a bottle, a tube and a small packet produced at La Peña in Berkeley; The Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in San Francisco; The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance and The Brooklyn Arts Exchange. She holds an MA from New College in Writing and Consciousness. Her writing has been published in Hakima Midwifery, InCulture Parent Magazine, Riffrag Journal and Sojourner: The Women Forum.  Maceo is in the process of writing a memoir on her spiritual journey towards Islam. She is a mother, wife and wannabe urban homesteader. 

Jenny Chu_TMWFI creative writing instructor Jenny M. Chu is currently pursuing her Master of Fine Arts in Writing at the University of San Francisco. She was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and has taught writing to a wide age group ranging from children to adults. Jenny's work has been published in MReview, Voice Catcher 3, The Molotov Cocktail and The Ignation.

Rey-Philip Genaldo, kids' creative writing instructor Rey-Philip Genaldo is currently pursuing his MFA in Fiction Writing at the University of San Francisco.  A Southern California native, he has studied, lived, and taught English (both writing and language) in England, the Netherlands, and Taiwan.  His work has been published in several magazines.

Naomi Goldner_TMWFI creative writing instructor For Naomi Goldner writing has always been a part of life, a safe haven for her emotions and thoughts. As a writer and educator working in San Francisco for over ten years, Naomi has worked with children of all ages, providing students with the tools to explore their creativity in a supportive and nurturing environment. She has published short stories, volunteered at San Franciscoʼs famed writing center, 826 Valencia, and is currently working toward an MFA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University.

Creative writing instructor Louise KraftLouise Kraft has always had a passion for creative writing and education. Before moving to the Bay Area this summer, Louise was a Teach for America Corps Member in Boston. There, she taught 5th and 6th Grade Writing and English at a KIPP Academy charter school. Louise graduated from Cornell University in 2009 with degrees in English and Psychology, and earned her Masters in Education from Boston University in 2011. Louise grew up just outside of Philadelphia and currently lives in Palo Alto. In her free time, Louise loves writing, cooking, and reading.

Michael Lukas

Michael Lukas has taught creative writing in a variety of settings, from the Gotham Writersʼ Workshop in New York City, to the Providence Housing Authority. His first novel, the story of a preternaturally intelligent girl who becomes an advisor to the Ottoman Sultan was published by Harper Collins this past Spring. Michael has a BA from Brown University in Comparative Literature and an MFA from the University of Maryland in Creative Writing.

Children's writing instructor Laureen Mahler Laureen Mahler lives and works in Oakland, California, where she is co-owner of Volta Press, a letterpress and book arts studio. She received her BA in English from San Francisco State University and her MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts. While at CCA, she co-founded Beeswax Magazine, an annual journal of literature and art, and since then she has worked as a teacher, private tutor, and freelance writer.

 Zeina Nasr is a musician and writer from Beirut, Lebanon. Her passion for creative writing  began Zeina Nasrat an early age, when she composed a poem called "Kiwi" which her third grade teacher pronoun ced to be "very strange indeed!" She holds an M.F.A. in Music  Performance from Mills College and  a B.A. in English and Theater from Amherst College. As a volunteer tutor for the Bay Area organization, Refugee Transitions, a reading and writing mentor to students both young and old, a freelance journalist, and a writer of rambling memoirish prose, Zeina is committed to spreading her love of the written word. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, and songwriting.

Emily Phillips_TMWFI creative writing instructor Emily Phillips was bitten by the writing bug while walking through a quiet field of fireflies at the tender age of 10. Poems, short stories, and novels have been in her blood ever since. She taught creative writing to elementary school kids through SF Arts Education and received her MFA in Creative Writing from California College of the Arts.

Claire Rawlins_TMWFI creative writing instructor Claire Rawlins is currently working on her MFA in poetry from the University of San Francisco while tutoring children through 826 Valencia.  She has taught English in three different countries, worked with over 300 students, edited several non-fiction books, and co-wrote the literary website

Hagar Scher Hagar Scher is a freelance writer and editor whose work has been published in dozens of regional and national publications, including the Chicago Tribune, Fitness, Glamour, Ms., Parents, Redbook and Self. Over the years, Hagar has worked in a variety of editorial jobs including being an arts reporter for Reuters and an editorial director for Lifetime Television’s digital properties. After moving to the Bay Area a few years ago from New York City, she began volunteering with 826 Valencia where she worked on the exciting Young Authors Project. Previously, she worked as a guest instructor for NYU’s undergraduate writing courses. When she is not writing or reading, Hagar is doing yoga, gardening and cooking, and going on adventures with her two young sons.

Lauran Wienmann Lauran Weinmann has been writing professionally for 20 years, helping people craft words and communicate effectively. She served on the Advisory Board for SF WritersCorps, a non-profit in-school writing program, for 7 years. Lauran is a parent, loves writing and is especially fond of kids and their stories!

Tessa White_TMWFI creative writing instructor Tessa White has a BA in Journalism from the University of Oregon, and an MFA in Writing from the University of San Francisco. When she's not building legos or chasing masked villains with her two sons, she's writing and reading. Tessa has taught undergrads at USF, tutored with 826 Valencia’s in-school program, and has published a series of educational activities for the non-profit website, Her short fiction has been featured in Glimmer Train PressStones Throw and Freight Train

Zach Wyner Zach Wyner has been a playwright, actor and tutor and has spent eight years teaching in progressive elementary schools, including the past four years at Park Day School in Oakland. He earned his MFA in Creative Writing from University of San Francisco in 2009. Currently, he is tutoring, volunteering at 826 Valencia and is at work on a collection of short stories. His work as a teacher had clarified his passion for writing and he is thrilled to bring the two together as an instructor for “Take My Word For It!”.

S arah Bruhns recently graduated from SF State with a degree in Creative Writing and has volunteered/interned with 826 Valencia's programs for over two years including  designing and leading a comic strip writing class, teaching a class on Magical Realism for elementary and middle school students and teaching in their ELL Summer Series.


Our Camp Art Instructor

Laurie Croft_TMWFI art instructor

Laurie Croft is an artist and art instructor at MOCHA (Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland) teaching classroom field trips and off-site Community Workshops curriculum and craft projects based on California Visual Arts standards. Laurie also designs and illustrates products for the juvenile and gift markets and has exhibited her paintings at SOMA and other galleries. She was the designer of Flying Colors Ceramics sold nationally and  commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum to produce jewelry based on their permanent collection. Laurie has a BFA in painting from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio and is currently taking Early Childhood Development classes at Merritt College. An avid reader and book club member for fifteen years, Laurie looks forward to incorporating art curriculum into "Take My word for It" summer camps.