We are different by design. The things that set us apart are our ability to connect meaningfully with people, our belief that knowledge is power and the most vital way of attaining that is through reading and finally, we strive to leverage the most out of what we are entrusted with and sustainably reuse, recycle, and re-purpose so we can invest more in the children we serve.
We’re a team driven by the knowledge that our unsurpassed success in obtaining our mission is based on three principles: simplicity, empowerment and efficiency.
Additionally, we have a group of intelligent, curious and determined interns who share their time and talent with Bernie’s Book Bank.
Darrin Utynek, Chief Executive Officer
Darrin joined Bernie’s Book Bank as Chief Executive Officer in 2018 with more than 20 years of leadership experience in both the nonprofit and for-profit sector.
Prior to his time at Bernie’s Book Bank, Darrin served as Chief Operating Officer of the American Red Cross of Northern Illinois and was responsible for the business operations of the fourth largest region in the country. Additionally, he served with The Habitat Company, a national property management and development company where he was responsible for strategic planning and the reorganization of business operations in Atlanta, St. Louis and Chicago. Darrin also spent ten years with the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. At the YMCA, he served as Senior Director of Risk Management for seven years and was a Director of Operations for a branch for the previous three years.
Darrin is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse with a degree in sports management. He and his family reside in Wilmette.
“It is an honor to serve in a leadership role at Bernie’s Book Bank,” Darrin shared. “Working with a visionary founder, exceptional board of directors, an unsurpassed team, and a tremendous volunteer base is what makes Bernie’s Book Bank so special. Seeing our mission come to life every day is something I truly value and appreciate.”
Brian Floriani, Founder & Chief Advancement Officer
Brian is the Founder & Chief Advancement Officer of Bernie’s Book Bank. He established Bernie’s Book Bank in 2009 to empower children to read their way to a better life in memory of his father, Dr. Bernard P. Floriani.
Brian was a lead instructor for Golf Digest Schools in Lake Tahoe and West Palm Beach when he abruptly left his job to become a reading paraprofessional. The sudden death of his father, a self-made man who attributed his success to access to books, inspired him to do something different with his life.
Brian spent every day working with struggling readers. And while he was able to help each one individually, he realized that his efforts were not doing anything to prepare young readers. Brian began to envision a business that would pour children’s books into under-served homes and allow children to read their way to a better life. He began collecting children’s books in his garage and distributed them in age-appropriate bags to local children. And thus, Bernie’s Book Bank was born.
Brian served as Executive Director of Bernie’s Book Bank until 2018 when he transitioned into the role of Chief Advancement Officer. In his current role he builds Bernie’s Book Bank by cultivating strategic relationships with partners across all industries.
MEET THE TEAM
Casey Barbknecht, Director of Volunteer Services
Casey coordinates volunteers and manages the Processing Center, making sure that production needs are met, and volunteers are having a fun, meaningful experience. She especially loves working with the 50 Hour Club and being surrounded by people who are deeply committed to our mission. Casey’s favorite children’s book series is “Harry Potter” by J.K. Rowling.
Elizabeth Blasko, Communications & Partnership Manager
Elizabeth fosters relationships with books distribution partners and is the voice behind Bernie’s Book Bank social media. She loves creating compelling content to share the mission with others. Elizabeth’s favorite children’s book is “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss.
Nikki Bonamarte, Director of Development
Nikki is responsible for raising vital funds to support the Bernie’s Book Bank mission. She loves knowing the impact our efforts make in the lives of under-served children. Nikki’s favorite children’s book is “Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch.
Carol Collier, Specialist - Used Book Acquisitions
Bio coming soon!
Amber Emken, Human Resources Business Specialist
Amber helps hire, train and grow the people that make Bernie’s Book Bank an amazing place to volunteer and work. She loves going home each night knowing we added something great to this world, making some children incredibly happy by introducing them to books. Amber’s favorite book is “The Monster At The End Of This Book” by Jon Stone.
Rowena Festin, Project Manager – Data Integration
Bio coming soon!
Sarna Goldenberg, Director of Marketing & Communications
Sarna ensures that everyone knows about Bernie’s Book Bank, the incredible children we serve and our generous supporters. She loves seeing the children we serve receive our books and notes that her co-workers are pretty fun, too. Sarna’s favorite children’s books is “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst.
Sara Harty, Director of Operations
Sara works with the volunteer services, distribution and back of house teams to ensure safe and efficient day-to-day operations. She loves being surrounded by books and working alongside so many people who believe that having access to books is crucial to a child’s development. Sara’s favorite “book memory” is reading Richard Scarry’s “Best Word Book Ever” with her father.
Christina Holt, Event Manager
Christina is responsible for making sure that every event at Bernie’s Book Bank is top notch. She enjoys working with people from companies and community groups to arrange special events and meetings, knowing that all the experiences that take place at Bernie’s Book Bank support children getting books of their own. Christina’s favorite children’s book is “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein.
Gretchen Waltz, Development Manager
Gretchen plays a key role in fundraising efforts to advance Bernie’s Book Bank. She enjoys collaborating with individuals who share the same passion: literacy equality. Her favorite children’s book is “Goodnight Moon” by Clement Hurd.
Volunteer Services Team
The Volunteer Services Team is the heart and soul of volunteer sessions at Bernie’s Book Bank. They welcome volunteers into the processing center, provide thorough training for each task and ensure that everyone is having a fun, safe and impactful volunteer experience.
Fun Fact: The Volunteer Services Team shares a daily joke.
Visitor Services Team
The Visitor Services Team will be the first to greet you with a warm welcome when you walk through the doors at Bernie’s Book Bank. They assist volunteers with the check in process, manage The Vault (Bernie’s Book Bank gear shop) and support the whole team in countless ways to provide #BooksForABetterLife for under-served Chicagoland children.
Fun Fact: Approximately 40,000 people visited Bernie’s Book Bank in 2019.
The Distribution Team at Bernie’s Book Bank is the power behind getting the bags of books from our processing center in Lake Bluff, IL to the 275,000 under-served Chicagoland children we support. If you see them driving down the road in the Bernie’s Book Bank trucks be sure to wave!
Fun Fact: The Distribution team logs approximately 63,000 miles each year.
Back of House & Facility Team
The Back of House Team makes the book magic happen behind the scenes. They can be found in the racks managing the book storage, in a forklift transporting pallets of books or around the processing center ensuring that the facility is in pristine condition.
Fun Fact: There are two forklifts used in the back of the house to move the pallets of books, their names are Eleanor and Eloise.
Any time we can put books into our students’ hands it is a “win-win” situation. Bernie’s Book Bank extends our literacy work with all students.