Who We Are

Debra Eileen Lewis, 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 and working as a childcare professional. 

Debra is a stay-at-home mom of a 2 year old named Theia, and works on the toy library during naps and after her daughter goes to sleep! 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, Vice President, Executive Director

Amber 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, 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!"

Melissa Thompson, Treasurer

Melissa brings over 15 years of management experience in business and the arts to the toy library.   When not managing a bustling Finger Lakes restaurant, she fills her time organizing weddings, visiting with her niece and nephew, renovating her 200 year old home, and enjoying the bounty of her Finger Lakes community.  

“My work in the theatre taught me how vitally important it is that we all, as individuals and as a society, have access to spaces where people can come together to explore, exchange, and connect through creativity," Melissa says. "It also taught me that those spaces don’t exist in a vacuum- they need to be cultivated, curated, nurtured, and supported by the community that surrounds them. I am excited to be a part of the toy library's role in creating such a space for children, parents and caregivers in our region.”

Lila Kwederis, Intern

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.