Who We Are

Copy of Block Club

Block Club Chicago is a nonprofit, nonpartisan neighborhood news site that delivers exclusive stories about Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods. With neighborhood-specific newsletters and reporters embedded across the city, Block Club covers Chicago from the ground up.

Shamus Toomey, Editor-in-Chief and co-founder. Shamus previously served as Managing Editor of DNAinfo Chicago, the award-winning news site that covered Chicago’s neighborhoods. Before that, he was Metro Editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, where he supervised the team that won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting. Shamus started at the Sun-Times as a general assignment reporter. He previously worked at the Daily Herald and the City News Bureau of Chicago. He graduated from Syracuse University and Evanston Township High School.

Jen Sabella, Director of Strategy and co-founder. Jen was Deputy Editor and Director of Social Media at DNAinfo Chicago, a site she helped launch in 2012. Before joining DNA, Jen was HuffPost’s Chicago Editor and a breaking news reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times.  Jen also co-hosts The Girl Talk, a monthly conversation series and podcast featuring influential Chicago women. Jen grew up in Chicago, attending Columbia College Chicago and Mother McAuley High School.

Stephanie Lulay, Managing Editor and co-founder. Stephanie previously served as Senior Editor and reporter at DNAinfo Chicago, where she covered the West Loop and Pilsen neighborhoods for the award-winning site. Before joining DNA, Stephanie spent four years at the daily Aurora Beacon-News, covering City Hall, education and housing issues in the state’s second largest city. Stephanie was born in Milwaukee, Wis., raised in Quincy, Ill. and now lives in Beverly on the city’s South Side. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2008 and completed her Masters degree at the university in 2009. While at U of I, she served as managing editor of The Daily Illini.

Copy of BrightHive

BrightHive helps organizations, networks and communities securely and responsibly link their data to enhance their impact, empower individual and collective decision making, and increase equity of opportunity.

Thomas Plagge, Head of Platform and Co-Founder. Tom leads the product and engineering team at BrightHive, a technology company which provides infrastructure for data sharing in the social sector. Previously, he served as a data scientist and consultant for Impact Lab and Open Energy Efficiency, and as a co-organizer of the Data Science for Social Good fellowship at the University of Chicago. He received his Ph.D. in Physics from UC Berkeley in 2009.

Copy of The Center for Technology and Civic Life

The Center for Tech and Civic Life connects Americans with the information they need to become and remain civically engaged, and ensures that our elections are more professional, inclusive, and secure.

About our work: https://www.techandciviclife.org/

Donny Bridges is Co-founder and Director of Civic Data at the Center for Tech and Civic Life. Prior to joining CTCL, Donny was the Election Administration Research Director at the New Organizing Institute, where he developed his obsession with local government and its data. Donny holds BAs in Political Science and Philosophy from Stanford University. When he's not tracking down wayward pieces of civic information, you can find Donny running marathons, climbing mountains, and lying in his "about me" sections.

Tiana Epps-Johnson is the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Tech and Civic Life. Prior to CTCL, she was the New Organizing Institute's Election Administration Director. She and her team provide resources and training to support local election administrators in modernizing the ways they communicate with voters. They also publish free, open-source civic datasets that have been accessed over 200 million times through some of the most powerful tools that drive civic participation. In 2015 Tiana joined the inaugural class of Technology and Democracy Fellow at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School. And in 2018 Tiana was selected to join the inaugural class of Obama Foundation Fellows.

Whitney May is Co-founder and Director of Government Services at the Center for Tech and Civic Life. At CTCL she leads a team that’s building the best professional development network for election officials who want to learn about new ways to engage the public and keep up with changing technology. Before joining CTCL in Chicago, Whitney worked on the Voting Information Project in Washington, D.C. and served the Durham County Board of Elections in North Carolina.

Copy of Chalkbeat

Chalkbeat Chicago is a nonprofit news organization telling the story of public education in American cities. To date, we report from and about seven locations: Chicago, Colorado, Detroit, Indiana, Newark, New York, and Tennessee.

Cassie Walker Burke is Chalkbeat’s founding Chicago bureau chief. She joined Chalkbeat from Crain’s Chicago Business, where she was assistant managing editor. She’s the former executive editor of Chicago magazine, and her writing has appeared in Politico, the Chicago Tribune, and O, the Oprah Magazine. An award-winning journalist, she has a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She has taught magazine writing and editing at both Medill and DePaul University.


CHANGE Illinois is a coalition leading the charge for more ethical and efficient governments in Illinois. CHANGE (the Coalition for Honest and New Government Ethics) includes a diverse group of civic, business, labor, professional, non-profit, and philanthropic organizations committed to a better future for Illinois. We educate and engage residents in joining us to advocate for a state with fair maps and vibrant elections and governments.

Madeleine Doubek, Executive Director, long has been passionate about improving Illinois government and politics. The former vice president of policy at the Better Government Association, Doubek pushed for and won passage of a law that limits golden parachutes for public executives and helped advocate for automatic voter registration. She also blocked efforts to limit government transparency and championed laws that boost government efficiency. Prior to her direct policy work, Madeleine was an award-winning journalist for more than three decades and spent much of that time tracking local and state government and politics.


DataMade is a data and web consultancy for civil society. We support our partners in working toward democracy, justice, and equity. We understand that data can be easy to come by, but difficult to make sense of. At DataMade we transform complex data into clear, appealing, and actionable websites.

Tell your story through data. Browse our work and services.

Derek Eder, Partner and Founder is an entrepreneur, developer and a leader of the civic technology community in Chicago. He uses data, builds tools, and organizes people in Chicago to democratize power.

He is Founder and Partner at DataMade, a company that tells stories and builds tools with data, Co-Founder of Dedupe.io, a machine learning service that de-duplicates and find matches in spreadsheets and databases, and Co-Founder and Board President for Chi Hack Night, Chicago’s premier weekly event for building civic technology.

He has built and collaborated on dozens of civic and data applications including ClearStreets, 2nd City Zoning, Chicago Lobbyists, Chicago's Million Dollar Blocks, Councilmatic and Dedupe.io.

Forest Gregg, Partner is trying to find ways that information and information technology can help the people of Chicago recognize, understand, and address our shared challenges and opportunities. As a partner at DataMade, he works with clients, helps staff grow, and looks for ways for our company be better for our clients and for ourselves. He has been trained as a sociologist – particularly in quantitative methods and urban sociology. The statistics and machine learning training is useful on projects like dedupe and usaddress; the urban sociology training is useful for projects like Chicago’s Million Dollar Blocks and Where to Buy. From a spell as professional juggler, Forest is pretty good at games of accurate, under-handed tossing.


Hearken means listen. We help institutions better listen and respond to those they serve through training, techniques and technology. We work with newsrooms, schools, museums and more across nearly 20 countries and as many languages.

Our Services »

Jennifer Brandel is CEO and Co-founder of Hearken, a consultancy + tech company that helps organizations better listen and respond to those they serve. She’s also co-founder of Zebras Unite - a global network of entrepreneurs, funders, investors and allies creating a more ethical, inclusive and collaborative ecosystem for mission-based startups. Brandel was named Media Change-maker of the year in 2016, one of 30 World-Changing Women in Conscious Business in 2016, a Columbia Sulzberger Fellow in 2018, and an RSA Fellow in 2019.

Hearken awards and honors: SXSW Startup Accelerator: Best Bootstrap Company, 2016, News Media Alliance Accelerator Winner, 2017


mRelief is the first-ever, end-to-end enrollment platform for SNAP benefits in the US. We have built an easy-to-use tool on web, text, and voice for people to sign up for SNAP and keep it. The collective work of mRelief has connected more than 469,000 people to social services and unlocked more than $100 million SNAP benefits across the US. Our Services »

Rose Afriyie is Executive Director & Cofounder. She grew up in the Bronx, where she saw the importance of food stamps, earned a master’s in public policy at University of Michigan. She got into technology because she believes writing software is a superpower that people of color and women should have exposure to and mRelief's tech unlocks food benefits for families so they can spend less money on food and more money on realizing other economic opportunity. She is continuing the tradition of Johnnie Tillmon and other Welfare Warriors advocating for families to access food with dignity.

Genevieve Nielsen is CTO and Cofounder. She’s a web developer who writes code that creates web and text messaging tools to modernize public assistance in America. She saw the breakdown of government support systems in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and that informed her perspective on the need for better mechanisms to enable accessibility to assistance programs for those who were previously unable to get them. Her work at mRelief was recognized on the Forbes 30 under 30 in 2017.