Who We Are

Emily Art, Director of Operations

Prior to joining the Finger Lakes Toy Library, Emily was a teacher for Washington, DC Public Schools, working with students from pre-K through first grade. Previously, she worked at the nonprofit organization Grantmakers In Health, where she created programming on a variety of issues, including children’s mental health and healthy school food.

Emily holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education from SUNY Geneseo and a master’s degree in public health, with a focus on maternal and child health, from the George Washington University.

Emily grew up just north of Ithaca, in the small town of Genoa. She has two young children, Jonas and Luke.

“The Finger Lakes Toy Library is a great example of why I feel lucky to live in this community,” Emily shares. “It is an amazing resource for everyone who wants to provide the children in their lives with a wide assortment of engaging, fun toys. Come check out our great selection!”

Emily’s responsibilities include outreach, staffing, and day to day management of the toy library.

Debra Eileen Lewis, Founding Board President

Debra holds a BA entitled The Arts and Education from William Smith College in Geneva, NY, which has given her a foundation of knowledge that applies to issues facing toy libraries. She is a graduate of The Entrepreneurship Network in Rochester, NY, and is experienced and knowledgeable in business ownership and in the culture of startups, which helps her in planning and running the organization. She has experience teaching children creative writing. 

Debra is a stay-at-home mom of a 4 1/2 year old named Theia. Theia’s scribbles can be found all over toy library papers and notes where she has added her own two cents to the project. Debra enjoys music, dancing, gardening, yoga, and the arts, and is excited to see the toy library grow.

“I hope every child in our region will soon have access to a large variety of high-quality playthings, and that all our lives will become more playful and joyful because of it,” Debra says. “I look forward to helping the community join together to make our organization's vision a reality.”

Connect with me on LinkedIn! Just say you know me through my job at the toy library ;)

Amber Smith, Founding Board Vice President

Amber was the toy library's volunteer Executive Director for our first 15 months of operation and is now the Executive Director of the Family Reading Partnership. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Child Development from Empire State College and has 15+ years of experience as a nanny. Much of her research during her education focused on play and its benefits and international iterations. She has extensive knowledge of infant and toddler development and its relationship to their play. 

In her spare time Amber loves to hike, camp, kayak, and sit around a bonfire with friends.

"Creative, open-ended, and imaginative play are essential to early development. Play is a child's method of communication and growth, and the toy library is a fantastic way to bring children from all corners of our community together in play."

Alexandra Appel, Board Secretary

Alexandra grew up in Colorado and Illinois. She is an alum of the University of Chicago, where she received her B.A. in history and in gender studies, with a minor in Jewish studies. After graduating, she worked in a variety of administrative, fundraising, event planning, and research capacities for non-profits in Boston and Washington, D.C., before leaving the workforce to become a stay-at-home mom to her son Ira.

When she's not busy chasing her son around the house, she enjoys literature, films, hiking, and toddler art projects. 

"I believe strongly in making educational toys accessible to everyone in the community," Alexandra says. "I have a particular interest in toys geared toward building children's interest and capabilities in STEM fields and the arts and I look forward to helping to bring joy, play, and learning to the children of Ithaca!"

Kelly Sauve, Board Treasurer

Kelly holds a Masters of Arts in Teaching from Northeastern University (NU) in Boston, MA and she obtained a teaching license for grades 1-6. While living in Boston, she worked in various educational settings before landing a job at NU as an implementation coordinator for the Center for STEM Education. In that capacity, Kelly worked with the Mayor's office, non-profits and industry professionals to develop and implement programs aimed at eliminating the achievement gap in Boston Public Schools. One of the programs, the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp, eventually led to a cross country move to Houston, TX to work for The Harris Foundation in a national role as a program director. 

Kelly's experience in education has focused primarily in the STEM areas and her work has encompassed everything from grant writing to program development and implementation to staff management to data analysis and program evaluation. 

Now in Ithaca, NY as a mom to two children, Jordan and Lucy, and as a nanny, Kelly enjoys watching children learn through play and exposure to the world around them. "I love watching the world coming alive for children as they construct their own meaning. Exposure to high quality, educational toys is one way in which they can do this. The Toy Library is a great opportunity for lots of children and is also affordable and environmentally conscious. I'm excited to be a part of the organization and see how it helps our community."

Sarah Wicker, Board Member

Sarah holds a BA in French Literature from Cornell University and a MBA from Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management.  Sarah enjoyed a rewarding career at Cornell University, first as a principal gifts fundraiser and culminating as Associate Dean for Administration at the Graduate School prior to resigning in 2014 with the birth of her twin girls.  In addition to the Finger Lakes Toy Library, Sarah is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Community Arts Partnership.

You frequently can find Sarah digging in her garden with Laurel and Bridget or quilting with their help.  Sarah also enjoys running, yoga, reading, and travel.

As a mom, Sarah delights in seeing her children engage in creative active play and is thrilled to be part of the Finger Lakes Toy Library with its mission to bring these opportunities to all children in our community while supporting an ethic of reuse and sustainability.   “I love the concept of the toy library,” she says.  “Children learn so much through active play.  The Finger Lakes Toy Library provides a place for parents and children to meet, to discover new toys and engage in new play, and to help our environment. It’s a win for everyone.”

Maheshwari Allishe (Mahi), Board Member

Mahi holds a BE in computer science and technology from Dange College, India. She came to the United States from India in 2010 and since then she lived in three different states. Mahi has been actively involved in the various events associated with not-for-profit organizations including fund raising, social outreach and event management. 

Mahi’s three and half year-old daughter Aarya keeps her busy. In her free time, Mahi enjoys being on water, gardening, hiking, yoga and traveling. 

"Sharing high-quality toys is an amazing concept," she says. "It gives access to a variety of toys which are essential for a child’s development. For relocating families, Finger Lakes Toy Library will be an important resource. The toy library is a great place for kids to play, especially during winter, and to discover new toys." 

Erika Mudrak, Board Member

Erika Mudrak grew up in Ithaca.  After she attended college at the University of Rochester (earning degrees in Mathematics and Biology), she spent 10 years living in Virginia, Wisconsin, and Iowa while pursuing degrees and training in Ecology and Statistics. In 2013 she moved back to Ithaca to accept a job as a statistical consultant at Cornell.   

Erika has a 3.5 year old daughter and was an enthusiastic member of the Toy Library for 18 months before joining the board. 

“We love the toy library because we are able try out a new toy without investing money in it and I can keep up with a variety of age-appropriate toys as my daughter grows. I love that there are also a variety of board games, building sets, and puzzles that appeal to adults as well.  I also love supporting an organization that provides all these things to families across our community.”

Linda Wingerter - Toy Repair Volunteer

Linda inherited a love for sculpture, mechanics and performance while growing up in her grandparents' puppet theater. After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design she worked for a decade as a children's book illustrator before returning to puppetry. She revived her family company, The Stringpullers, with Luna's Sea, an aquatic full stage puppet production for the Mystic Aquarium and the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. Linda teaches puppetry arts in universities, libraries, and schools. She now builds puppets, makes kinetic art, and teaches workshops in her studio at Artist Alley at South Hill. Our toys are in good hands!

Nikolay Ryan, Past Intern Fall 2018

Ithaca College, Class of 2020

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film, Photography, and Visual Arts

Check out this short interview with our newest intern, Nikolay Ryan, and watch for some great photos taken by Nikolay on this page soon!

What are you studying, and how did you become interested in this topic?

I am a junior Film, Photography, and Visual Arts Major at Ithaca College in the Parks School of Communications. My love for film started as early as 6th grade. I distinctly remember always wanting to go to the movie theatre to see a movie every weekend, no matter how bad it looked. As I grew older, I started to appreciate the art of how the films I was seeing were being made and wanted to start making them myself.

Tell us about one of your favorite classes at Ithaca College!

While film is my passion, my favorite class at Ithaca College so far has to be Intermediate Photography, which I took last year as a sophomore. Shooting on actual film and developing my own photos was challenging and time consuming, yet extremely satisfying. Also, the professor was very critical of my work, but it made my work moving forward so much better.

What brought you to the toy library?

I was drawn to the toy library because I am always looking to get involved with my local community. The simple act of giving back to a community that has given me so many opportunities is the least I can do and puts the biggest smile on my face.   

Lila Kwederis, Past Intern Sept. 2017 - May 2018

Hometown: Oakland, NJ

Major: Communications and English

Siblings: One little brother who's off to college, so he isn't so little anymore.

Pets: I have a sweet old dog named Max waiting for me back home.

Prior volunteer work: I used to volunteer at my local library as a library assistant and at community theatre as a peer mentor.

What was your favorite toy growing up: My favorite toy growing up was this stuffed seal that I called Softy. He was white, fluffy, and the best tea party guest. Softy is looking a little more grey these days, but he still holds a special place in my heart.

What drew you to the toy library internship: I think it was the sense of community that drew me to this internship. To me the toy library felt like a chance to give back to the Ithaca that I know and love

We'd like to acknowledge our Former Secretary, Sarah Smith, who served on the board for 8 months. Thank you Sarah for all of your help making the toy library a reality.

Sarah holds a bachelors degree in Human Development from Cornell University and a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Lesley University. She feels fortunate that her work and passion, young children and play, happen to be the same thing. In her job as a Pre-K teacher she works to create meaningful experiences for young children to learn, and provide opportunities for them to engage in real play- that is self-directed, timeless, and fun. She brought knowledge of play and of early childhood development to the board of the Toy Library.

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If you are interested in volunteering as a board member, please contact us to discuss the possibility.