Meet Our Contributors

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

Meet Our Contributors

Sonia M. Agron has been a volunteer docent for the 9/11 Tribute Center for seven years. She shares her personal experience of 9/11/01 with visitors who come from all over the country. She speaks to visitors to honor all those who were taken from us on 9/11, delivering messages of honor, hope, courage, peace and resilience.

T.A. Barbella holds a bachelor’s degree in art and a master’s degree in special education. Originally from the East Coast, she resides in San Jose, CA, where she enjoys teaching art part-time and volunteering her services with various organizations. She is a published author and a professional illustrator.

Sara Dobie Bauer is a Pushcart Prize–nominated writer and prison volunteer in Phoenix, AZ, with an honors degree in creative writing from Ohio University. She is an official book nerd at and author of the novel Life without Harry. Read more about Sara at

The author of Shared Challenges, Penny Black lives in the North of England. She received her B.A. with honours through the Open University and, after working for many years in government jobs, now works for the country’s free National Health Service. Shared Challenges describes a time in her life that was full of learning and great change.

Jennifer Bly is a freelance writer and blogger at The Deliberate Mom. Mother of two girls and wife to one amazing husband, she spends her days homeschooling and living life fully. Jennifer regularly writes about parenting, homeschooling, blogging and her Christian faith. Her writing has been featured on The Huffington Post.

Since childhood, curiosity and wanderlust have inspired Linda J. Bottjer to create. Notebooks filled with sketches and stories document her life’s journey. Her words have appeared with CBS News and The New York Times newspaper group, and her first book was published in 2014 through History Press. Children’s historical fiction is her passion.

Andrea Bowen is a middle school Language Arts teacher in Oregon. She enjoys dabbling in recreational writing and would like to thank her husband and children for providing inspiration. Andrea would also like to dedicate her story to her best friend Holly who was a tremendous support to her during her husband’s deployment.

Michele Boy received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications at Queens College, NY. She is a transplanted New Yorker living in western Kansas where she helps her husband on their farm and raises their daughter. She writes a blog for Kansas Agland. E-mail her at Micheleaboy[email protected].

Jennie Bradstreet is a freelance writer and homemaker. Married to Erik for twenty-two years, they have two adult children — Audra and Parker — and this past year completed their family by adopting their son Isaiah. This family has had its share of craziness over the years, giving Jennie a plethora of stories to share.

John P. Buentello has published short stories, essays, poetry and non-fiction. He is the author of the novel Reproduction Rights and the short story collections Binary Tales and Night Rose of the Mountain. E-mail him at [email protected].

Leslie Calderoni has just finished her first young adult novel. She has four children and more than a few rescue animals. She loves to cook, read, and nap whenever possible. She enjoys writing in various coffee shops on the central coast of California.

Debby Carroll is a former teacher, educational publisher, and author. Her latest work is a memoir, Tales From The Family Crypt, a compelling story of extreme family dysfunction told with humor and insight to help others with difficult siblings. Wife, mother, grandmother, and runner are her most important titles.

Belinda Cohen is a freelance writer who has published over 100 articles and short stories, either in print or online. Her previous short stories can be found in Not Your Mother’s Book: On Working Stiffs and Not Your Mother’s Book: On Sex.

Phyllis Coletta has led a joyful, adventurous life that includes careers in litigation, teaching, and healthcare. She has worked on ski mountains, as a wilderness guide, as an EMT, and as a Zen Buddhist chaplain. She is a speaker, coach, and writer living in Ocean City, NJ. Learn more at

James Colmenares received his B.S. degree in Finance and Economics from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a catalyst for technologies that make our world a better place. He lives in New York with his son Marco Philip and his muse Katie.

Tracy Crump enjoys storytelling (the good kind) and has published fourteen stories in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. She encourages others through her Write Life Workshops and webinars and edits a popular writers newsletter, The Write Life. But her most important job is Grandma to little Nellie. Visit Tracy at

Judy Davidson received her Bachelors of Science degree in Education from Temple University and received her certification as a professional fundraiser from Wharton. She credits her husband and daughter for reawakening the writer that resides in her. She is happy to share her stories because she has known wonderful people on her life’s journey.

MaryLou Driedger lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She is a newspaper columnist, blogger and freelance writer currently working on an education curriculum project and the manuscript for a children’s book about art. She loves to write stories for her grandson.

Paul Driscoll is a Board Member of Wigan and Leigh Housing in the north of England. He holds a master’s degree in Theology from Oxford University. He is the proud and busy father of six children. Paul writes both fiction and nonfiction pieces across a wide range of subjects, from cult TV to theology and social issues.

Terri Elders, LCSW, served as a Peace Corps volunteer four times, and as an Americorps VISTA, all after the age of fifty. Her stories appear in over a hundred anthologies, including multiple Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

Jane Allen Farmer is employed teaching people how to understand and enjoy the wonderful natural and cultural resources of our country. In her free time, she makes visits with her two therapy dogs, plays with her two non-therapy dogs and three cats, and enjoys riding her horses. She also paints and draws.

John Farnam supports the Morgridge Family Foundation through his public relations firm. In this role he works to advance the mission of the organization through discovery of innovative approaches to education and aligning resources for the organization behind a common goal. John is a graduate of the University of Wyoming.

Jean Ferratier writes to inspire and honor others who face life challenges. She is a retired teacher who promotes self-development through her Clarity of Now Coaching Practice. Jean is the author of Reading Symbolic Signs: How to Connect the Dots of Your Spiritual Life. Visit her website at

Malinda Dunlap Fillingim is a recent widow who is volunteering at Jubilee Partners in Comer, GA.

June Rogers Flahie is an editor and writer for a variety of Canadian news, travel, health and women’s publications. She loves playing the ukulele, dancing the samba and writing poetry.

Lisa Fowler lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina with her goofy American Bulldog, Hazel, and her loyal Pit Bull, Abby. Her writing interests are concentrated on middle-grade novels and early chapter books. When not penning stories, Lisa enjoys playing trumpet, reading, and flower gardening.

Office grunt by day, mad word-slinger by night, A. K. Francis lives in Tulsa with her husband, their assorted children, and three fuzzy roommates of the canine and feline persuasions. When not tending her weedy garden, mothering, working, or PTSA presidenting, she tells her tales via keyboard and moonlight.

Sally Friedman is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Her personal essays have appeared in The New York Times, Family Circle, Ladies’ Home Journal and The Huffington Post. Her family provides ample material for musings about how we live our lives. E-mail her at [email protected].

James A. Gemmell is a married father of two grown children. Most summers he can be found walking one of the Caminos de Santiago in Spain or France. His other hobbies are writing, playing guitar, drawing and painting, and collecting art.

Christine Cosse Gray received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1976. She has only recently decided to try to write for publication. She lives in Berthoud, CO with her son and three dogs.

Robin Hakanson-Grunder is a freelance journalist, speaker and photographer, but most of her time is spent answering to the name of “Mom.” Robin and her husband live in the Midwest with their blended family of seven children, two dogs and one cat. It’s kind of like The Brady Bunch, except with more kids, more animals and no maid.

Christian Harch served twenty years in the U.S. Navy Reserves, including three years of active duty. He is a member of his town’s Veterans Commission and a member of the American Legion. Christian is retired and enjoys surf fishing with his grandchildren. He also enjoys metal sculpting. He has been happily married for fifty-one years.

Stephen Hayes is a Northwest humorist and creator of Chubby Chatterbox, a blog focused on humor, culture and travel. Hayes is an artist, traveler and world-class screw-up. His writing is an unabashedly sentimental exploration of growing up in the 1950s, 1960s and beyond. His work can be found at

Paul Heitzenrater lives with his partner John and their three puppies in Denver, CO. He is a therapist at National Jewish Health in the Rehabilitation Department. Paul and John have a garden and they donate their produce to a food pantry. They like to travel, ski, hike, bike and entertain their family and friends.

Maggie Hofstaedter is a freelance writer who tries to find inspiration in everyday life and express it with her writing. She works from her home in Lansdale, PA, where she lives with her husband Dan, their kids Molly and Zach, and their dog Casey.

Kathryn M. Hearst received her Master of Education degree from Saint Joseph’s College. She is a Navy mom and full-time writer living near Orlando, FL. Kathryn enjoys reading and movies and spending time with family, including her three rescue dogs.

Julie Hornok’s stories have appeared in several publications and websites. This is her third story in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. When she is not busy driving her three kids all around the DFW Metroplex, she loves to support families living with autism. Contact her at

Jeanie Jacobson is on the leadership team of Wordsowers Christian Writers in Omaha, NE. She’s published in six Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and is writing a Christian-slanted young adult fantasy series. Jeanie loves visiting family and friends, reading, hiking, praise dancing, and gardening. Connect with her at

Kelly Kittel is a fish biologist turned author who lives in Rhode Island. She is still married to Andy and they have five living children. She has been published in magazines and anthologies and her first book, Breathe: A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict was published in May 2014. Learn more at

Alice Klies has contributed to two other Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She is published in eight other anthology books, as well as Angels on Earth and The Wordsmith’s Journal. Alice is currently writing a memoir. She is president of Northern Arizona Word Weavers. E-mail her at [email protected].

Cathi LaMarche is a novelist, essayist, and poet. Her work has appeared in over two-dozen anthologies. In addition to owning Top College Essays, a college essay coaching service, she teaches composition and literature. She resides in Missouri with her husband, two children, and two rescue dogs.

Dr. JC Lau was a philosophy professor before becoming a writer. Her publications range from academic journal articles to video game news.She is a staff writer for “GeekGirlCon” and likes blogging, cooking and roller derby. An Australian transplant, JC lives in Seattle, WA with her husband and foster ferrets, Ben and Jerry.

Jody Lebel’s short stories have sold to Woman’s World, Pages of Stories, Cosmo UK, and dozens of others. Her romantic/suspense novel, Playing Dead, was released by The Wild Rose Press in 2012 to excellent reviews. Jody lives in South Florida with her two cats.

Austin Lees is an active fourth grader. He enjoys soccer, street hockey, snowboarding, and volunteering. He is active in his church and loves Jesus. He lives with his mom, dad, and two dogs, Cooper and Winston.

Andi Lehman has volunteered in support of wild and domestic animals since 1988, serving two wildlife groups and the Germantown Animal Control Commission as past chairman. She lives in Mississippi with her husband, mother and two children, plus myriad beloved critters. Andi holds a B.A., with honors, from the University of Memphis.

Jacob Lief is Co-Founder and CEO of Ubuntu Education Fund, a non-profit organization that takes vulnerable children in Port Elizabeth, South Africa from cradle to career. Jacob’s book, I Am Because You Are, was published in May 2015. He splits his time between Brooklyn, NY, where he lives with his wife and two sons, and South Africa.

Linda Lohman retired after forty years in the accounting profession to write slice-of-life short stories. Knowing that truth is always better than fiction, she has over 150 Chicken Soup for the Soul books in her collection. She loves Chicken Soup — the books and her mom’s soup! E-mail her at [email protected].

Corrie Lopez has been a teacher for over twenty years. She and her husband, Mark, work alongside her parents in their quest for affordable Christian education for local students. Besides teaching, she loves leading music at her church and spending time with her beautiful children, Mercy and Creed.

Linda Lowen is a radio producer/co-host, writing instructor, parenting magazine columnist and freelance writer. She’s won regional and national awards for her online, broadcast and print work covering women’s issues, politics, health, wellness and motherhood. Her two daughters keep her young — her husband keeps her solvent.

Susan Lugli is a Christian speaker and author. Her stories have been published in many Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She is an advocate for burn survivors and speaks on their behalf. E-mail her at [email protected].

Kathie Mitchell earned a B.S. degree from Liberty University and has been writing since she was a child. She and her husband have two married children and four grandsons. She plays cornet in several community bands and enjoys gardening, backpacking, writing, and spending time with her grandsons.

Originally editor of an in-house magazine, Marsha Warren Mittman recently returned to writing. Many of her poems and short stories have been published in anthologies, as well as a chapbook for use in meditation programs. A second chapbook, Patriarchal Chronicles, was just completed. She is the recipient of six writing awards.

Scott Newport is married and has three children. He started to write when his son, Evan, was born. Scott’s passion is to make sense out of Evan’s short life through helping other families with sick kids. He is working with C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital to start a program incorporating woodworking and writing as outlets for families in the ICUs.

Dee Dee Parker draws on her uniquely Southern experience as a minister’s wife in her career as an author and speaker. Dee Dee’s children’s book, Josie Jo’s Got to Know, was written to fund research of breast cancer in younger women. Married to Jim, they live in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina.

Stuart M. Perkins enjoys relating observations of everyday life and sharing recollections of growing up in a large Southern family. He believes that layers of ordinary reality can be peeled back to reveal humorous or poignant themes. Stuart blogs his observations at

Yvonne Pesquera is a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers. She writes feature articles about art, history, and the type of travel most people call “roughing it.”

Linda Peters has volunteered at the local community kitchen and the NICU of Children’s Hospital. She lives in North Georgia with her indulgent husband, a son, two dogs and a wayward cat. She also has a daughter and four grandchildren who live nearby.

Elizabeth Peterson currently lives in rural Kentucky, waiting patiently for her husband to finish his graduate degree. She has three young children and loves to paint, write, and rack up incredible fines at her local library. She blogs annually and hopes to write more when her kids go to college.

Connie Pombo is a freelance writer, speaker, author of two books and a regular contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. When she’s not writing or speaking, she enjoys traveling and volunteering for various organizations around the world. For more information visit:

Claudia Porter has her B.A. degree in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Arizona, with postgraduate work in Music. She is the Founder/U.S. Director of Aggie’s Baby Home for abandoned babies in Uganda. She teaches music, is a motivational speaker, singer and pastor. Married, she has three children and a grandson.

Kori Reed is Vice President, Cause and Foundation, at ConAgra Foods. She is responsible for integrating the company’s cause of fighting child hunger across the company, from philanthropy and employee engagement to product donations and cause-branding platforms. Kori and her husband Mike are the parents of four active teenage children. They reside in Omaha, NE.

Linda Rettstatt is an award-winning author of more than twenty-five women’s fiction and contemporary romance novels. Her first published writing appeared in her hometown newspaper in the form of theater reviews and the occasional human-interest story. A native of Pennsylvania, she now resides in NW Mississippi.

Diane Rima lives on the Central Coast of California with her husband and Chester, their lovable Golden Retriever. She is a wife, mom, Gigi, and teacher. Diane enjoys her family, the sea, writing, working with children, and bringing joy and tail wags to young and old through pet therapy.

Lenore Rogers is a co-founder and the Board President of the all-volunteer non-profit Amy’s Treat. She works as a regional sales manager for a New England food distribution company. Also a writer, Lenore enjoys traveling, most outdoor activities, and just about anyone and anything that will make her laugh.

Alicia Rosen possesses an MFA degree in Fiction from The New School. Her stories have appeared in numerous journals and magazines published in North America. She is a voracious reader, and a sketcher of family focused cartoons. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, her dog Nosh, and hundreds of books.

Sioux Roslawski is a wife, mother, grammy, teacher and dog rescuer for Love a Golden. In her spare time she blogs, reads voraciously, toils sporadically on a novel and freelances. Read her blog at

Beth Ford Roth is a broadcast and digital journalist whose work has appeared in outlets like NPR, BBC, CNN, Mental Floss, and xoJane. She lives in California with her husband, three dogs, and one very old cat. Beth is working on her first historical true crime book. E-mail her at [email protected].

Carolyn Roy-Bornstein is the author of Crash: A Mother, A Son, and the Journey from Grief to Gratitude (Globe Pequot Press) and co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries. Her essays have appeared in the The Boston Globe, JAMA, and The Writer. Read more at

Stephen Rusiniak is a former police detective who specialized in juvenile/family matters. Today he shares his thoughts through his writing, including stories in several Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Contact him via Facebook, on Twitter @StephenRusiniak or by e-mail at [email protected].

Jeremy Dean Russell almost died in a car accident eighteen years ago. Ironically, the accident set his life in a new direction that ended up saving his life. He found his destiny was to honor veterans by carving a 100-ton sculpture of an eagle inside a 13,000-foot mountain.

KoAnn Rutter received her master’s degree in Education and taught for the Elmwood School District for thirty-five years. She has two children and two grandchildren. She and her husband divide their retirement time with their family, traveling to Florida in winter, and to their vacation property in Michigan. E-mail her at [email protected].

Daria Schaffnit is a writer and the founder of Dragonfly Joy Spiritual Coaching. She lives in Michigan with her wife, Jeannene. When she’s not working, she loves to play in the kitchen, noodle around with art, hang with the Wild Mango Queens, indulge in mermaid practice, or dive into a great book.

Jane Self is a freelance writer and copywriter living in Durham, NC. She retired as Features Editor from The Tuscaloosa News in 2007 after eight years and was previously Assistant Features Editor for the Macon Telegraph for twelve years. E-mail her at [email protected].

Tanya Shearer lives in Alabama with her husband, Clay. Their family includes two wonderful grown children, and their spouses, and granddaughter Zoey Clayre. Tanya enjoys writing children’s stories and devotions. This is her third story published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. E-mail her at [email protected].

Deborah Shouse is a writer, speaker, editor, and creativity catalyst. Deborah’s book, Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey, raised more than $80,000 for Alzheimer’s causes. Visit her blog at

Cassie Silva has her social work degree and works with youth and children near Vancouver, British Columbia. She has been volunteering with Make-A-Wish British Columbia and Yukon since December 2008. She was previously published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cancer Book (2009). E-mail her at [email protected].

Dominique Smith currently resides in Fort Worth, TX. In addition to his volunteer work with refugees, Smith also helps a local food pantry. Smith is involved with many local non-profits and uses his experience with homelessness to help others.

Toni Somers lives in Springfield, MO with her husband of sixty years and two Miniature Schnauzers. Somers’ poetry, fiction, and memoir have won local and national awards and been published in Today’s Woman magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and in four anthologies. E-mail her at [email protected].

Sumer Sorensen-Bain is the mother of two amazing children and raises them with her partner in Westminster, CO. These beautiful kids have taught her so much about life, love, and how to enjoy each and every moment. Kylan and Nikia are her “Difference Makers.”

James Strickland moved to NYC after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with degrees in sociology and psychology. James worked as a case manager in the homeless shelter system until 2004 and has volunteered at God’s Love We Deliver since 1987. James also participates in his church and spends time with his Yorkie, Zeke.

L.A. Strucke is a writer and songwriter from New Jersey. A graduate of Rowan University, she is a frequent contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Her four children have inspired many of her stories. She loves playing the piano and spending time with Hermione and Jadzia. Read more at

Sharon Struth enjoys a mid-life career change writing women’s romantic fiction. Her books about life, love and a little bit more include the A Blue Moon Lake Romance series (Kensington Publishing) and The Hourglass (Etopia Press). She’s honored to share this story with Chicken Soup for the Soul readers. Learn more about Sharon at

Thomas Sullivan is the author of the humor essay collection So Much Time, So Little Change. He also writes for the website Thomas lives in Seattle, WA. Learn more at

Lynn Sunday is an artist, writer, and animal advocate who lives near San Francisco with her husband and senior rescue dog. Six of her stories appear in five other Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and numerous other publications. E-mail her at [email protected].

W. Bradford Swift has written several true-life stories for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. He and his wife co-founded Life On Purpose Institute in 1996 ( He also writes speculative fiction under the pen name of Orrin Jason Bradford. Learn more at

Mary Vigliante Szydlowski has published six novels, one novella, and three children’s books under various pseudonyms. A fourth children’s book is due out soon. Her articles, essays, short stories, poetry, and kids’ stories appear in anthologies, magazines, newspapers, and on the Internet. She lives in Albany, NY.

B.J. Taylor admires the challenged children who conquer their fears and ride. She is an award-winning author whose work has appeared in Guideposts, many Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and numerous magazines and newspapers. You can reach B.J. at and check out her dog blog at

Edward Tooley is a Social Studies teacher at Heritage Christian School in Northridge, CA. He is also a freelance writer who has a passion for writing stories that motivate and encourage the soul. He is currently writing a children’s book entitled Rounding Third and Headed for Home. E-mail him at [email protected].

Joanna Montagna Torreano is a retired teacher who enjoys writing and taking long walks with her husband Paul and their dog Sky. She’s a behind-the-scenes volunteer for her son Jason’s non-profit organization, Inkululeko. She also enjoys volunteering for Literacy Volunteers and Camp Hope. Learn more at

Lynne Turner received a Journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto and spent the next nearly forty years as a reporter, editor and manager at the Mount Forest Confederate newspaper in Ontario. She enjoys writing, reading, walking and spending time with her family. Her mother is an inspiration to all who know her.

Ann Van Hine started her own small business and met her future husband Bruce all on the very same day. Ann has recently retired and now divides her time between writing, speaking and volunteering at the 9/11 Tribute Center and at her local church. She has two daughters and one grandson. She enjoys traveling and reading.

Janice VanHorne-Lane lives with her husband and two daughters in Ohio. She enjoys reading, writing and crafting and works as a church secretary. When not spending time with her family or working, she volunteers for many local charities and societies. Her other works include local histories.

Jen Ward is an intuitive gifted healer and innovator of cutting-edge practices to empower individuals to be their own healers. She works passionately to mainstream modalities of healing that would otherwise seem foreign to the average person in search of assistance beyond conventional means. Learn more at

K. Michael Ware is a retired Air Force and commercial pilot. Born in West Virginia, he has a BSEE from WVU and an MPA from Troy State. Besides volunteering, he loves to write, play golf, and spend time with family — especially chasing grandchildren. He is a published author of short stories, devotionals and prayers.

Nicole Webster has been interested in writing since the age of eight. She has self-published a children’s book with her sister, titled Sleepingcinderpunzlewhite, available on Her other interests include reading, scrapbooking and cooking. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and four children.

Kathy Whirity is a syndicated newspaper columnist who shares her sentimental musings on family life. She is the author of Life is a Kaleidoscope, a compilation of her most popular columns. Kathy is also a regular contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. E-mail her at [email protected].

Kate White is a thirty-one-year-old author who lives just outside Detroit, MI with her spouse and their son, Jace. She has previously been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness and Chicken Soup for the Soul: From Lemons to Lemonade, as well as in The Floating Bridge Review and The Linor Project.

Amanda Yancey recently graduated from Portland State University with a B.S. degree in Psychology. She co-founded and runs The Be Ok Blog at You can find her fun travel vlogs on YouTube. She’d like to further her education and is seeking a career in neuroscience. Amanda also loves volunteering!

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