The Writing Den is a new and growing 501(c)(3) nonprofit that launched in San Diego, September 2017.
Our mission is to re-connect the homeless and those in need with
their families and loved ones
using the power of handwriting.
We assist them one-on-one with their writing, and provide all writing materials, postage, and mailing services.
We partner with homeless service and community organizations to set up our monthly dens currently located in:
Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
New York Public Library/Muhlenberg Library
New York City Relief at New York City Rescue Mission
First Presbyterian Ladle Fellowship
Alpha Project Bridge Shelter
Mary’s Place Women’s Day Center
Seattle Union Gospel Mission
See our Events page to see how we do it:
"My grandmother wrote me back
and even sent me a check!"
"My mother and I did not know our brother was alive until we received his letter,
"Thank you for helping me reconnect with my father."
"I got a job. Thank you for the prayers."
"Handwriting works, it really works!"
The Writing Den was founded in August 2017 by Jill Higson, Executive Director and Christian Michaels, Treasurer. They strongly believe handwriting has the power to transform those in need. Jill is the Chief Curator & Founder of The Art Arsenal, a contemporary artist representative boutique that launched in January 2018. Previously she worked for over 20 years as a digital sales and marketing executive in New York and Los Angeles for Thomson Reuters, Condé Nast, and Viacom.
Christian has had a long career making pictures for commercial clients, recently evolving into creating interactive video and light installations for corporate, hospitality, and retail venues.
The Writing Den was inspired by Ernestine Diesing, Christian's mother who passed away in August 2017. Tina, as she was affectionately known, was a tireless writer - one who kept a diary and wrote cards and letters to friends and family in the U.S. and her homeland Austria almost every day. Tina left behind a treasure trove of writing materials - cards, envelopes, stationary, and even postage. Tina's life began within the context of limited resources, so she developed a strong compassion for those even less fortunate then her. It is through Tina's spirit that The Writing Den was founded. Her passion for writing and collected resources make it possible for the homeless to connect with loved ones using the power of handwritten cards and letters.
Jill Higson has held senior roles in integrated media sales and marketing for over 20 years in New York City and Los Angeles. She managed content, audience, and financial growth for the digital divisions of Reuters, Condé Nast, MTV, and E!. Currently she is the Chief Curator of a boutique artist representative firm, The Art Arsenal. Jill and her partner, Christian Michaels founded The Writing Den in 2017. She is an active and long time member of arts organizations including National Arts Club, Soho House, The High Line, and Whitney Museum of American Art. She holds a BA, Communications from the University of Washington. For fun, Jill enjoys theater, global travel, a good book, and pilates.
Christian Michaels has had a productive, 30 year career making pictures for Getty Images and other commercial clients. His work has evolved into creating interactive light and video installations for commercial and institutional venues. Christian and Jill Higson founded The Writing Den in 2017. He also supports local non-profit organizations including KPBS, and Museum of Contemporary Art of San Diego, and Museum of Photographic Arts. He holds a BA in Psychology from Wake Forest University. Christian spends his spare time traveling, studying music and comedy, and getting through his latest home improvement project.
Lamar Rutherford currently works as a business broker for Exit Consulting Group, helping owners exit their businesses, and teaches entrepreneurship for the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego. Lamar has also founded, operated, and sold three businesses of her own. She did brand management marketing for Nestle, Disney, and Orient-Express, (now called Belmond) and has been on the management teams for three Internet start-ups. She earned her CPA working for Arthur Andersen & Company, did her undergraduate at the University of Washington, and MBA at the Tuck School at Dartmouth College. For fun, Lamar enjoys polo, yoga, theater, and traveling.
Marc Parilla is currently an Executive Director for JP Morgan Chase in San Francisco. He has been in leadership roles in the finance industry for 15 years, also working for Deutsche Bank and Union Bank. His volunteer experience includes the Alpine Fire Department in New Jersey where he grew up. Marc holds a BA in Public Policy Analysis from Dickinson College, and lives in San Francisco with his wife Lisa and their two children, Natasha and Roman.
Lisa Weier-Parilla has over 20 years of experience in global media sales and brand strategy. She is currently Director of Business Development for the travel media and marketing company, Skift. She has held management and senior sales roles at The Oprah Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, Forbes, The New Yorker, and Rolling Stone. Lisa consults with various nonprofit partners including leading fundraising efforts for The Cove School. She holds a BA, Communications, Journalism from Arizona State University. Lisa lives in San Francisco with her husband Marc and their two children, Natasha and Roman.
Volunteering has been a passion for Kay Stelter for the past 25 years - from taking high school kids on multiple mission trips to the slums of Tijuana, building houses for those in need, to now heading up The Writing Den at Seattle Union Gospel Mission’s Women and Children’s center and Mary's Place Shelter for Women. She has also served on the Council for the Seattle Presbytery and as Moderator there. Kay, her husband Eric, and their children Henry, Eleanor and Will have been caregivers in their home for grandmas and grandpas of both generations.
Richard Karlson is the President of Real Life Skills, a San Diego based non-profit that he co-founded with James Robins in 2014. The organization teaches proven life enhancing concepts, including the power of thinking and understanding life choices for those seeking a better life; the homeless in transition, at risk youth, and prison inmates scheduled for early release.
Richard's long time commitment to the homeless in San Diego began with active interactions with homeless on the streets. This lead to personal involvement and support at Presbyterian Urban Ministries, Ladle Steering Committee of First Presbyterian Church, and the formation of Real Life Skills.
He had a successful 40 year career as a financial professional working in Los Angles and San Diego for companies that included Steelcase, Anderson Desk, Abbey Rents, and Arthur Anderson.
Richard holds a BS from University of California, Los Angeles. He resides in downtown San Diego with his wife Susie Zlaket and enjoys golf and travels.
Lyssa Melonakos' introduction to poverty and community development work came when she served for a year in ministry in a riverside neighborhood in Honduras, Central America. Lyssa has since worked with youth in the foster care and juvenile court systems, and those in unstable housing conditions, with homeless ministry at San Diego's First Presbyterian Church Ladle Fellowship, where she developed street medicine and mentoring programs, and enabled The Writing Den to begin. Lyssa is a highly respected expert about the complexities of homelessness, which led to her current position as the Homeless Outreach Coordinator for Downtown San Diego Partnership. She holds a BA from University of California, San Diego. In her spare time, Lyssa enjoys coffee shops, reading, and jamming on guitar with friends.