New staff, grant helps INK! plan for the future

The St. Johns County Education Foundation, which operates as INK! (Investing in Kids), recently reached a pair of milestones in its mission to help local students, teachers and schools.

According to Donna Lueders, INK!’s executive director, the nonprofit has hired and promoted three staff members and received a grant of more than $95,500 from The Consortium of Florida Education Foundation (Consortium).

“We are proud to work with many educational and key influencers, plus a staff of professionals who operate an organization with teachers and students as their continuing focus,” said Lueders. “This year, INK! has established a strategy for the present, the future and a legacy to effectively reach our goals and to improve the organization with elevating key staff and funding for new professionals who have joined us.

“These efforts will better equip our organization as we grow and expand programs and services,” she said. Lueders and INK!’s board of directors work diligently to identify and develop talent while broadening its horizons to best serve teachers and students in St. Johns County.

Cathy Newman will serve in the newly created position of Community and District Relations Achievement Director and Ila “Nena” Barrett, is the new Underserved Communities Program Specialist.

Newman is renowned in St. Johns County as an economic development professional, an executive director and management team specialist. She is highly degreed in international relations, development and social change and government, among others.

Barrett is a Registered Behavior Technician and Therapist with expertise in general and special education, as well as Applied Behavior Analysis. She encourages children’s’ positive self-image, while supporting individuality, creative expression and independence. Her work will focus on engaging families and improving digital literacy, along with the use of technological tools in place throughout the St. Johns County School District.

James Wheeler, who has been the longtime program director of the Take Stock in Children (TSIC) program in St. Johns County is now working with the nonprofit’s assets and finance departments. His background in finance will provide dedicated stewardship in addressing material holdings, funding, fiscal direction and more. As Operations and Program Director,

Wheeler will also oversee the Tools 4 Schools program and continue in his role with TSIC.

Mike Michel is the newest member of the TSIC staff at INK! with a U.S. Naval Academy degree and a prestigious military career in the states and overseas. Among significant positions pertaining to INK!, he served as director of the Naval Academy’s Leadership Education and Development program, as well as a student advisor, mentor and trainer, among other roles.

Additionally, the Consortium grant came in the form of matching funds for the nonprofit’s programs and services through the School District Education Foundation Matching Grant Program.

The Consortium received legislative matching funds which provide a dollar-for-dollar incentive for local education foundations to raise private contributions for eligible projects. Since inception of the program, more than $127 million in combined private and state dollars has been provided for local projects that serve students, literacy initiatives, encourage STEM and career/technical education, increase classroom innovation, support teachers and increase graduation rates.

INK! provides innovative resources to support academic success for all St. Johns County public schools to benefit 44,000 students and approximately 2,785 teachers. The office is located at 1 Christopher St. in St. Augustine. Visit the website at