Michelle Dinneen-White

Founder, Director

Michelle Dinneen-White's career is strengthened by the combination of over twenty years of experiences teaching early childhood, high school, community college level and adult basic education students.  Mrs. White has a strong academic foundation in Early Childhood education practices, curriculum & instruction, child and adolescent psychology, and economics.

She knows that creating a peaceful, interesting and inspiring environment for young children to explore and learn is so important for their development, and also very healing and educational for the parent. She is a strong believer in the family model for learning and preventative systems of care. Mrs. White was a Core Member of  Innovation Zone for Little Village/Pilsen, a collaboration between the Governor's Office of Early Childhood Development and Illinois Action for Children.


She seeks to continue to find progressive ways to reform education and fight the challenges of poverty using science-based and collaborative innovations of thought and practice.  She practices growth-focused, intentional development of strong, resilient families. She lives in Chicago with her husband and five daughters.  Mrs. White is very excited about the Play Smart Literacy Initiative, where she can use her experiences and strong academic foundation to help empower children and their parents to be dynamic learners by building relationships and strengthening healthy parent-child interactions.

Cristina Barkowski


Cristina is a Social Work and Child Development graduate student from Erikson Institute. She has helped us create better data systems to capture our measurable outcomes at PSL, along with quantifiable family engagement behaviors. Concurrently, she is completing an internship where she delivers a preventative Postpartum Depression intervention to new moms and dads to ease their transition into parenthood. In her undergraduate years, she gained experience working with youth suffering from trauma and chronic illness/diseases. Her background shows her passion for working with children and families. She believes parents are a child’s first teachers and loves how PSL unites families together through play and learning!

Diane O'Grady

Play coach

Diane O’Grady brings her amazing energy and many years of playing and mentoring kids while running the St. John Fisher Before & After School Care program.  Diane believes in nurturing families, supporting parents and always being a strong language model.   

Nancy Banky


Nancy Banky  is dynamic, energized, talented, and an experienced preschool teacher who is still always beyond excited about teaching strategies and practices. She generously donated and shared a huge amount of toys, play kits for our use and thankfully brings amazing organizational skills and artistic flair to the program! 



Hope Orsi is our Mary Poland Play Smart Intern.  We are so lucky to benefit from her skills and energy and to be with her as she develops her educational and professional pathway.  She graduated from Marist HS and attends St. Xavier University, where she is pursuing a degree in Public Health and Social Work.  Hope does workshop and play visit preparation for PSL, meets with parents to help them sign up and start the play date process, and leads playful conversations and activities during play visits to all our sites. 


Hope spent a year studying abroad in Spain and speaks Spanish, she loves to run, paint, and listen to music, as well as attend live music shows with friends.  Hope's love of learning and families is evident in the way she talks about her own family, and interacts with Play Smart families. "My hero is my mother. She is hardworking and selfless. She never complains and somehow always manages to find a way to work everything out. She has taught me how to be a strong woman, show compassion to all people I encounter, and never pass judgement."  

Jonathan Nicoletti

Acolyte Applications

As Founder and FileMaker Developer at Acolyte Applications, we cannot thank Jonathan enough for providing Play Smart Literacy with our amazing new family engagement data platform.  Visit www.acolyteapplications.net to find out more about the work they are doing to use technology to transform social justice projects. 




Juliet Bradley MD, FAAFP
Cook County Health and Hospitals System
Lead Physician, Dr. Jorge Prieto Family Health Center
 James P. Duff 

National Head of Banking

BMO Wealth Management 


Jim Barry

President, March4Meg

Meg Zwick

Millennium Trust Company

SVP & Director, Alternative Custody Services.

MaryEllen Lesniak

Tolton Family Literacy of De La Salle

Michelle Dinneen-White  

Founder, Play Smart Literacy