Our Team

Jennifer Chauhan

Co-Founder, Executive Director & Writing Instructor
Jennifer fell in love with the workshop style of teaching writing at Teachers College. Amazed by what kids could produce with a notebook, freedom, and supportive peers, she’s used this method while teaching writing to children in New York City’s foster care system, as a public high school English and creative writing teacher in Rumson, N.J, and during her creative writing workshops at her private studio in Fair Haven. Jennifer’s passion is showing students that what they think and believe matters and that they can use their words to impact others. Her belief is that by writing and sharing our stories we open up pathways to understand one another a little better, generating empathy. In addition to her teaching experience, Jennifer has more than 20 years as a professional writer. She began as the managing editor of Teacher Magazine and currently writes for businesses, organizations, and various publications. She lives in River Vale, N.J., with her three children and her new husband.

MA, English Education, Teachers College, Columbia University
BA, English and French, Villanova University

Allison Tevald

Co-Founder, Program Director & Writing Instructor
With a background in book publishing and newspaper copy editing and reporting, Allison has a passion for precision and clarity in writing. She also has great interest in what the process of writing can bring about in terms of creativity, therapy, problem solving, and surprise breakthroughs. Allison believes everyone can benefit from deep play, either by working with words or by doodling, coloring, and sketching. By using the meditative space between paper and pen, one can create not just a piece of work but can also produce new ideas, come to realizations, or settle into decisions. She also believes that everyone has a unique and compelling story within, and she’s excited to work with Project Write Now and pursue the power of the written word. Allison is also a staff editor at Clockhouse literary magazine.

MFA, Creative Writing, Goddard College
BA, Sociology and Business, University of San Diego


J. Greg Phelan

Co-Founder, Board Chair & Writing Instructor
After selling his Internet company, ePresence, in 2000, Greg dedicated himself to pursuing his vocation as a writer while also helping nonprofits further their missions. He has combined his two passions with Project Write Now, where he is leading the effort to grow the organization while also teaching and mentoring students. His articles and essays have been published in The New York Times, The Star Ledger, The Millions, and America. From 1993 to 1996, he also had a weekly technology column in the Asbury Park Press and other N.J. papers. When he’s not at the PWN studio, he’s in his home office writing or out for a run or walk with his black lab, Luna. He lives in Fair Haven with his wife and two boys. See: www.jgregphelan.com

MFA, Creative Writing and Literature, Bennington College
MS, Computer Science, Columbia University
BA, English and Economics, University of Delaware


Samantha Strauss

Co-Founder & Writing Instructor
Samantha is a third grade teacher at Point Road Elementary School in Little Silver, where her passion is instilling the love of writing while developing writing identities for her students. Her own writing identity was found in none other than Jennifer Chauhan’s high school creative writing course, where she learned that writing was not about fitting into boxes and bullets but an exercise in finding yourself. (And also extremely fun!) She is thrilled to be a part of Project Write Now. She believes that teaching children to write well gives them power and helps them find their place in the world. To her, there is nothing better than finding and sharing innovative ways to do this, and nothing more fulfilling than seeing it come to fruition!

MA, Education, Teachers College, Columbia University
BA, English, University of South Carolina

Lisa Hartsgrove

Program Coordinator & Writing Instructor
Lisa has been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, starting her first journal at age 7 (which she still has). She is currently working on a young adult novel, among other projects (because a writer can never focus on just one thing). She has been previously published in the Pitkin Review, the Atlantic Highlands Herald, and Collage, Brookdale’s literary magazine. You can read her work on her website, lisahartsgrove.com. Her goal in teaching is to encourage new writers to be confident in their work and to believe that writing can be fun. Lisa loves being a part of the Project Write Now team. When she’s not writing or teaching, Lisa enjoys going to the beach, drawing, crafting, and spending time with her cat.

MFA, Creative Writing, Goddard College
BA, English, Montclair State University

Colleen Doogan

Education Director & Writing Instructor
Colleen started her education career as a first grade teacher in Fair Haven and after eight years realized her passion for teaching reading and writing could take her beyond her classroom walls. Colleen left her job to pursue an opportunity as a reading specialist in Berkeley Heights, N.J., and then as a staff developer and literacy consultant at the Teachers College Reading & Writing Project with Lucy Calkins and her staff. While there Colleen not only helped others grow as writers, but she also rediscovered her own voice. She then worked in schools around the world teaching teachers about the reading and writing workshop as well as teaching at the TCRWP summer institutes in New York City and leading numerous coaching groups and institutes for those teachers who were becoming literacy coaches. Colleen’s love of writing goes back to when she used to write short stories sitting on the red shaggy rug in her childhood bedroom and keeping thousands of diaries and journals growing up. Now she records her daily thoughts as a mom of three children. She continues to have a passion for teaching and facilitating conversation about best practices for reading and writing.

MA, Education with a Reading Specialist Certification, Georgian Court College
BS, Elementary Education, Elizabethtown College

Elizabeth Jannuzzi

Community Manager, Writers Institute
As a child when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Elizabeth always answered, “a writer.” After graduating college in 1995, Elizabeth worked as an editorial clerk writing obituaries and police blotters at a local daily newspaper. In 1997, Elizabeth moved from print to the digital publishing industry, working as a senior editor developing content and tools for the newly launched collegeboard.com. In 2003, she took a break from the workforce to have children. Elizabeth returned to work ten years ago as a part-time assistant to a prominent arbitrator. Unfortunately, at some point along her career path, Elizabeth’s goal of being a writer fizzled away. That is, until three years ago when she enrolled in a Memoir class at Project Write Now taught by Jennifer Chauhan. Jennifer’s enthusiasm for writing and inspirational stories re-ignited Elizabeth’s long-dormant writing aspirations. With Jennifer’s skillful nudging and the support of her classmates, she started writing again—and hasn’t stopped. She is currently working on a memoir in Greg Phelan’s Advanced Creative Writing Workshop. Elizabeth is proud to note that her personal essay “St. Francis” was a finalist in the 2016 International Literary Penelope Niven Creative Nonfiction Awards. Elizabeth is excited to help Project Write Now develop the Writers Institute, a membership organization dedicated to supporting writers like her.

BA, Religious Studies, St. Michael’s College


Jena Aitala

Writing Instructor
Jena Aitala is a second grade teacher at Asher Holmes Elementary school in Marlboro, where her passion is being a catalyst of creativity for her young learners. She currently teaches in a resource room setting for students with disabilities, as well as co-teaches in a general education classroom. Her energy, warmth, and encouragement provide students with opportunities to take chances and embrace challenges. Jena’s goal as a teacher of young writers is to allow them to use their imaginations and recognize themselves as writers. A lifelong learner, she is currently working toward obtaining her Reading Specialist Certification. When she is not in the classroom, she can be found on the beach with a good book.

MA, Elementary & Special Education, The College of New Jersey
BS, English, The College of New Jersey

Kristin Brons

Writing Instructor
Kristin is an English teacher with eight years of middle school experience. An additional year was spent teaching English to first graders in China. Also, she is a Nationally Certified Counselor with a School Counseling degree. Kristin creates a safe environment where students are able to fully express themselves where they feel heard, valued, and supported. She encourages students to use writing as an expressive tool for emotions and experiences. Kristin believes writing enables students to learn resilience, empathy, and tolerance. She encourages creativity through writing as well as through incorporating writing with art. One of her favorite moments is to see where creativity takes her students once a story is finished. She is excited to be part of Project Write Now and be able to utilize her love of writing along with her love of counseling.

MA, School Counseling, Rutgers University
BA, English & Secondary Education, Rowan University

Ray Brunt

Writing Instructor
Ray was inspired to begin writing after reading A Perfect Day For Banana Fish, by J.D. Salinger, in high school. Amazed by the emotional and empathetic impact of that story, he wrote poetry and short stories throughout college and was published in college student literary journals. He took a hiatus from writing until he once again decided to take it seriously and went back to school and earned an MFA in fiction in 2017. Ray believes that creative writing changes and redirects people emotionally in a positive way that everyone can experience. Ray is currently working on a manuscript of linked short stories titled The Dying Dreams of a Steely Dan Fan. A long-time advocate of theater, education, and the arts, he is currently on the board of trustees for The Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre in NYC and serves on The Deans Advisory Board at Monmouth University’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences. He has previously served as board president of The Algonquin Arts Theatre in NJ and is currently a board member of Project Write Now. Ray lives in Wall with his wife and his two adult children.

MFA, Fiction, Sierra Nevada College
MBA, Monmouth University
BA, Political Science, Monmouth University

Mimi Cross

Writing Instructor
Mimi Cross is an author, singer, and songwriter, as well as the creator of “Body of Writing,” a practice that adds an additional dimension to the traditional body/mind/spirit discipline of yoga: story. Her debut novel, Before Goodbye, was published in January 2016. Her second novel, Shining Sea, was published several months later. Before becoming an author, Mimi taught music in the public schools, including two years at Forrestdale in Rumson. She loves helping children and adults discover and deepen their creative process. She’s thrilled to be part of Project Write Now. Mimi lives with her young son in Monmouth Beach. Her songs can be found on iTunes.

MA, Music Education/Vocal Jazz, New York University
BM, Music Education/Classical Guitar, Ithaca College
200-hour teacher certification, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health

Gay Norton Edelman

Writing Instructor
Gay Norton Edelman is a writing coach, editor, and author of The Hungry Ghost: How I Ditched 100 Pounds and Came Fully Alive. She has more than 25 years’ experience in mass market magazines, most recently as senior editor at Family Circle. Previously, she held editorial positions at Rosie, McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and Women’s Faith & Spirit. Gay also has written scores of articles for major markets and blogs at gayedelman.com. As a writing consultant, she works with individuals, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits to generate and hone their written materials. Personal website: coachgay.com

BA, English, SUNY New Paltz

Jennifer Gaites

Writing Instructor
Jennifer taught high school English before going for her Masters of Education in Counseling. She believes the study of writing is the intersection of these educational pursuits, both as a form of creative expression and as a powerful, often cathartic, tool for processing the world around us. After taking classes at Project Write Now, she has experienced firsthand the transformative impact of writing regularly. She loves hearing people’s stories and is inspired by the courage of those who are willing to share their work. She is excited to be a part of Project Write Now’s mission to create a welcoming space for writers to create, grow, and develop their voice. Jennifer lives in Fair Haven with her husband and three children, works with her husband at their family-owned business, and writes the blog “Loaves and Laundry.”

MEd, Counseling and Personnel Services, Fordham University
BA, English/Secondary Education, Providence College

Jill Gindi

Writing Instructor
Jill Gindi is a first grade teacher at Shrewsbury Borough School, where her passion is creating fun, engaging, and meaningful lessons to encourage her students to tap into their creative sides and use their imaginations. Jill is enthusiastic, caring, and makes each one of her students feel valued. Her writing lessons are always filled with positive support, feedback, and real-world examples. One of her greatest accomplishments as an elementary teacher has been publishing a hardcover book through Studentreasures Publishing with her students. Jill was awarded Shrewsbury Teacher of the Year in 2017. She is currently working toward a masters degree in literacy, Reading Specialist Certification, and Wilson Reading Certification. When she is not in class or teaching, she enjoys going to the beach with a good book.

BA, Education and Special Education, Monmouth University

Jason Kady

Jason Kady

Writing Instructor
Jason’s life-long passion for writing was fully developed at Temple University, where, while playing baseball, he triple-majored in journalism, public relations, and advertising, with a minor in history. Upon graduation and after publishing a short story in a national academic journal, Jason earned a job as a music critic in Philadelphia. While working as a journalist, and later as an advertising executive, Jason experienced a life-changing event that urged him toward a path as a teacher, where he could mentor and share his passion for creativity. Jason teaches 7th and 8th grade English at Von E. Mauger Middle School in Middlesex, NJ. He has developed a nurturing work environment, where mutual respect is key and creative thinking is celebrated. Jason believes that developing and honing descriptive, figurative, and creative language skills is integral to the success of any writer. He is thrilled to be part of the Project Write Now movement, where he can share his love of writing and creativity with aspiring writers of any age.

MEd, Special Education, Kean University
BA, Journalism, Public Relations, and Advertising, Temple University

Jim McConville

Writing Instructor
Jim McConville is a 7th grade English teacher at Shrewsbury Borough School, where his passion is to encourage students to think deeply—outside of the box and for themselves. His love for writing developed as a young child, when he would walk around the house, pen and notepad in hand, jotting down random tidbits about the world around him. His passion continued to develop after taking a creative writing class as a freshman in high school, and then in college where he won an award for a short story he wrote about fictionalized Muslim experiences during the Crusades. In his free time, he serves as a freelance writer at The Two River Times. He is thrilled to join the team at Project Write Now. When he is not writing, he enjoys napping, eating, and trying to think about what he enjoys doing when not writing.

BS, Health & PE, Monmouth University
Middle School English Certification, Monmouth University & Brookdale Community College

Laura McCullough

Writing Instructor
Laura McCullough is poet, essayist, memoirist, teacher, and scholar. A two-time New Jersey State Arts Council fellowship in writing recipient, her most recent book is The Wild Night Dress, selected by Billy Collins in the Miller Williams Poetry Prize Series, published by University of Arkansas Press, 2017. Her other books of poetry include Jersey Mercy, Rigger Death & Hoist Another, Panic (winner of the Kinereth Genseler Award, Alice James Books), Speech Acts, What Men Want, and The Dancing Bear. Laura curated two anthologies of essays on poetry, A Sense of Regard: Essays on Poetry and Race, and The Room and the World: Essays on the Poet Stephen Dunn. Laura also writes memoir and essays, and her prose and poetry have appeared widely in places such as Michigan Quarterly Review, The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, The American Poetry Review, Guernica, Pank, Gulf Coast, The Writer’s Chronicle, Best American Poetry, and others. She has had fellowships or scholarships from Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Sewanee Writers Conference, the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, the Virginia Center for the Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, and Marble House, among others. She teaches full time at Brookdale Community College, where she founded the Creative Writing Program and the Visiting Writers Series, and she is now on the faculty of the Sierra Nevada low-res MFA. Laura lives locally and is part of the vital and growing literary scene on the Jersey Shore.

MFA, Literature & Writing, Goddard College
BA, Writing & Aesthetics, Stockton University

Lisa McLaughlin

Writing Instructor
Lisa practices an interdisciplinary way of working and thinking, encouraging experimentation and collaboration with other artists. Through her work she explores the nature of writing, the impossibility of writing, and the experiences that defy writing. Her approach is to present her students with the widest possible spectrum of aesthetic and formal choices, along with a context within which to consider those choices. Lisa has taught writing at Brookdale Community College and writing and literature at Georgian Court University. Most recently, she has been the writing specialist for the Horizons Program at Rumson Country Day School, a summer enrichment program for at-risk students primarily from the Red Bank community. She lives in Red Bank with her two children and is working on a novel. Lisa is absolutely electrified to be part of the Project Write Now tribe.

MFA, Writing, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
BA, Political Science and French, Boston College

Leah Mermelstein

Writing Instructor
Leah Mermelstein is an internationally recognized literacy consultant who specializes in K-5 reading and writing workshops. She started her work as a literacy consultant first at The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University with Lucy Calkins before establishing her own consultancy, Read-Write-Connect, Inc. As president and CEO, Leah works with schools, districts, educational organizations, and universities to help teachers, literacy coaches, and principals grow in their understanding of how to teach reading and writing to elementary students. She utilizes many methods of staff development when working with educational institutions, including classroom demonstrations, coaching, study groups, and workshops. Leah Mermelstein is also the author of four books and a DVD that supplement her consulting assignments.

MA, Cultural Diversity and Curriculum Reform
BA, Elementary Education

Joy Newcomb

Writing Instructor
Joy Newcomb is a fifth grade teacher at Navesink Elementary School, where her passion is instilling a love of reading and writing in young people. She has always loved to write, and recalls from a young age the pride and sheer enjoyment obtained from writing and illustrating her own stories. Like an unfinished draft, her writing instruction as a teacher is constantly evolving and improving through collaboration with peers, and professional training in the workshop model. One of her greatest joys as an elementary school teacher is showing children that words, and more specifically their own writing, can change a reader, change themselves, and even change the world!

MA, Education, Georgian Court University
BA, Sociology, University of Delaware

Michele Prestininzi

Writing Instructor
Michele is an enthusiastic writer and educator with a specialization in children’s literature. She provides editorial reviews for a literary agency, runs a critique group for middle grade writers, and mentors students in the creative writing process. She’s published in Hopscotch for Girls Magazine and won the Candlewick Press Scholarship Award for Picture Books. Michele fell in love with children’s literature when her kids were young and hasn’t stopped reading and writing since. She is currently writing picture books and middle grade stories full of magic and mischievous characters. The transformative power of stories has always inspired her, and she’s thrilled to share her passion for storytelling with others at PWN. She lives in Shrewsbury with her husband and three children.

MFA, Writing for Children and Young Adults, Vermont College of Fine Arts
MA, Education, Hofstra University
BS, Finance, Siena College

Michael Sarin

Teaching Artist
Over the last twenty-five years, drummer Michael Sarin has been at the center of New York City’s genre-bending jazz and improvisation community. His versatility and musical wit helped forge long associations with forward-looking artists. Sarin performs all over the world–-in major and minor festivals; concert halls famous and infamous, big and small. He can be heard on recent recordings of Frank Carlberg, Mark Dresser, Joe Fiedler, Erik Friedlander, David Krakauer, and Leslie Pintchik. He can also be seen and heard in the newly released documentary, Thomas Chapin, Night Bird Song.

Jennifer Shields, LPC, NBCC, DCC

Writing Instructor & Counselor
A licensed professional counselor, Jennifer has been listening to other people’s sacred stories for more than 25 years. She has developed a keen sense of the power of vulnerability and the efficacy of verbal unloading. In her private practice in Red Bank, she co-­creates stories of trauma and grief into stories of triumph and perseverance. Her philosophy is simple: connection. Connection is the key to unlocking the shame and isolation that mental illness and trauma often impart. With connection there is knowledge; with knowledge there is understanding; with understanding there is empowerment; and with empowerment there is hope. Writing is an essential tool along the road to recovery, and she is honored to be connected with this great institute of healing and discovery that is Project Write Now.

MEd, Psych Counseling, UMass Boston
BA, Sociology and Political Science, Salem State University

Christa Teter

Christa Teter

Writing Instructor
Christa is a middle school language arts teacher in Ocean and has a background in social work, publishing, performing arts, and education. Before becoming a teacher, Christa wrote grants for a nonprofit housing agency in St. Louis, assisted the president of The New Yorker, and produced jazz concerts at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Upon leaving New York City, she decided teaching was a natural way to further integrate her passions for social justice, writing, the arts, and educating. Believing anyone can improve his/her writing skills, Christa enjoys guiding young writers to use their creativity, passion, and voice in order to convey their messages. She is thrilled to be a part of Project Write Now’s mission to propel the enjoyment of writing. Christa lives in Little Silver with her husband and three children.

MA, Education with Teacher of Students with Disabilities Endorsement, Georgian Court University
BA, English, St. Anselm College

Tara Tomaino

Writing Instructor
Tara fondly recalls the influence words had early on in her life as a third grader, when she would skip recess to search through her school’s printed and meticulously organized card catalog. As time ravaged on, her love of reading transformed into an obsession with writing. In her classes,Tara creates safe environments for learners looking for that same escape she discovered words provide. By accepting herself as a professional learner rather than a teacher, Tara surrounds her students with an equal level of empathy and humbleness, two attributes that strengthen bonds not only with literature and writing but also with our shared human experiences. When not teaching classes at the college, high school, or middle school level, Tara is a professional writer and editor who champions workshop writing and feedback. She is currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at several NJ community colleges and is the literacy teacher at Voyagers’ Community School in Eatontown, NJ. Tara is also the managing editor of Tilde, an independent literary journal out of Philadelphia. Her main form of expression is through poetry, although she is currently blurring the lines between personal memoir, graphic novel, and rhythm. Tara is also studying the Japanese language and hopes to one day translate/localize for Western audiences. When not grading essays, Tara is essentially a proud nerd, as she can be found cosplaying, hiking, or playing her favorite RPG. She lives in Asbury Park with her two cats and an ocean swell that sometimes sneaks through her window panes.

MFA, Creative Writing, Poetry Concentration, Sierra Nevada College
BA, English, Linguistics, Montclair State University

Eileen Whitener

Writing Instructor
Eileen is a technical writer for a local software company with a background in fiction and English instruction. She’s been a member of numerous writers’ groups and workshops, beginning as a teen participant at Alpha, the Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Workshop for Young Writers. She believes in the power of storytelling to be generative, restorative, and exploratory; she also enjoys watching authors uncover themes and threads as they prepare work for a larger audience. Having worked with writers who write in many different genres and for many audiences, she focuses on cultivating a workshop environment where writers feel encouraged to tell the stories they want to tell. She collects postcards and dabbles in songwriting as an occasional lyricist for her musician husband.

MAT, English and Education, Bard College
BA, Literature and the Written Arts, Bard College