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Instructor Bios

Instructor Bios

At the Park District, we pride ourselves on providing our residents with high-quality programs taught by competent and enthusiastic instructors, many of whom are Oak Parkers themselves! Click on a name to learn more about that instructor.

Sara Barrick 

Sara Barrick is a WERQ instructor.  She is born and raised in Oak Park and has been teaching WERQ in Oak Park since 2013. She is certified in both group fitness and in WERQ and has been teaching WERQ at the Park District of Oak Park since 2016.  She grew up dancing and loves fitness so WERQ is a perfect blend of both these things.  She loves teaching WERQ as well as taking WERQ and if you love taking WERQ please come WERQ with her!  

Sara teaches Werq Dance Fitness

Mary Susan Chen

Since 1998 Mary Susan has been dedicated to educating and enlivening people through non-traditional movement practices. She is a licensed Physical Therapist (1985) and certified Feldenkrais teacher (2000), and sees her work for the Park District as providing a bridge between traditional health care and exercise and an individual’s personal growth. Studying body-based learning methods has been an evolution for Mary Susan, and she continues to grow along with her students. She has also studied and taught Tai Chi, meditation, and QiGong. A lifelong learner herself, Mary Susan Chen is committed to helping people live healthier lives by experiencing themselves as whole living beings.

Mary Susan teaches Posture Alive. Register here

Betsy Grimm

Betsy Grimm loves exploring the deeper mines of life and self. She's been a student of yoga for 20 years and loves bringing it to students of all levels. She received her 200 hr teacher training from Yogaview Chicago. Moved by the power yoga has to manage mood, she trained with Amy Weintraub's renowned Life Force Yoga to affect anxiety, depression and grief. She is also trained in Kia Miller's Radiant Body Yoga Kriya and is drawn to its exceptional transformational potential. Additionally, Betsy is heavily influenced by the deep practices of Forrest Yoga. She has been graced by gifted teachers, including Kia Miller, Amy Weintraub, Talya Ring, Claire Mark, Shala Worsley and Kate Wester. She is a committed collector of practical coping, mindfulness and transformational tools. Betsy is an art director, encaustic artist and mother of two. 

Betsy Power Vinyasa and Yoga + Meditation.

Tiffany Courtois

Tiffany tried yoga on a whim, and wasn't quite sure during that first class that she actually liked it. She felt great afterward, though, so she went back and was soon practicing regularly. Her practice shifted her perceptions of herself and her purpose and, in 2007, she said goodbye to her corporate job to enroll in teacher training. As both a student and teacher, Tiffany has been captivated by yoga's power to affect positive change in body, mind and spirit. She's pursued hundreds of hours of training in the therapeutic application of yoga. In group or private settings, Tiffany creates a safe, nurturing environment for exploration and discovery, weaving therapeutic principles into whatever she's teaching to improve her students' self-awareness and maximize their functionality and well-being. 

Tiffany teaches SomaYoga and Winedown Yoga.

Toccara Daniel

Toccara Daniel is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, Exercise Physiologist, and AFAA Certified Group Exercise Instructor who is also licensed to teach Zumba, Zumba Gold, Zumba Step, Zumbini, and Senior Chair Fitness. Toccara's goal for the Park District is to help people see that exercise can be fun and alleviate stress. Her degree in Psychology has allowed her to study, measure, and correlate the relationship between mental health and physical activity.

Toccara teaches Zumba.


Beatrice DeFranco

Beatrice has been on the path of Tai Chi and QiGong since 1992 when she was rehabilitating after a serious spinal injury. In 1998 she went on to teach these techniques to others. She has studied with several Tai Chi masters such as Ida and Wilson Lawrence, Ken Cohen, Waysun Liao, Frank & Luke Chan, Yang Jwing Ming and others specializing in breathing and energy techniques as vehicles of transformation and health.

In 2004, she received certification as a Medicinal Herbalist from the Chicago College of Healing Arts. In 2009 she became a Diplomate of Asian Bodywork/ Structural Therapy and is certified by the NCCAOM. As a QiGong therapist, Tai Chi, and yoga instructor she has established a variety of user-friendly classes throughout the western suburbs.

Merging the energy body with the physical has been a motivating force in further development of therapeutic movement classes which address a variety of populations. She enjoys working with all levels of interested students. The Park District of Oak Park has been very supportive in bringing these novel classes to the community.

Beatrice teaches Tai Chi and QiGong classes. Register here

Grace Doi

gracebio.jpgGrace Doi began her journey into fitness almost 10 years ago, when she moved to the Northern California area from Chicago.  Although the weather was nicer, nothing in her area compared to running along the lakefront.  In order to keep her adrenaline going and heart rate up, she became addicted to group cycle classes.  After a few months of attending every class she possibly could, an instructor approached her to see if she wanted to become an group fitness instructor and the rest, they say, is history.  Knowing that there is more to a workout than cardio, her pursuit for a more balanced fitness program led her to Les Mills BODYPUMP in 2010.  She loves Les Mills' focus on proper technique, motivation through music, and a workout experience that is truly addictive!  She recently moved back to the Midwest and is excited to continue her group fitness journey in this new setting.

Grace teaches BodyPump, Cycle, Dynamic Stretching & Foam Rolling, and Core & Foam Rolling

Andrea Edwards

Andrea has been practicing Nia since 2004 and has been a certified instructor since 2009. She has a background in Iyengar yoga and dance, but came to Nia after the birth of her first son. She was captivated by Nia’s unique fusion of dance arts, healing arts, and martial arts.

“In my first Nia class, I was fascinated by the combination of dynamic kicks and punches with fluid, graceful motion. I felt completely immersed in the class, detached from stress, all while getting a powerful, but fun, workout,” she recalls. Five years later, she received her first belt in Nia. Her students have said Nia class makes them feel both energized and calm, has improved their body image, and is the only aerobic workout that makes them smile. “Each Nia class brings out that same joy in me - and I love sharing that joy with others” she says. She lives in Oak Park with her husband and two sons.

Andrea teaches Nia.

Teresa Heit-Murray

Teresa began practicing yoga in 1999 with Rosalia Holt, who was in her late 70's at the time. Teresa is a Registered Yoga Teacher having completed her 200 hour Pure Yoga training in 2010. She has been taking yoga classes for over 12 years in Chicago and Oak Park. Teresa teaches Restorative, Intro to Yoga, Yang, Yin, Hatha and Vinyasa Flow styles of yoga. Her classes focus on a body/mind awareness in a way that helps individual students find what works for their unique anatomy.

She also has special training in healthy back solutions with Gabriel Halpern and Elise Miller (scoliosis specialist) as well as Yin Yoga from Paul and Susan Grilley. Teresa teaches in a way that helps individual students find what works for their unique anatomy, in order to achieve the health benefits of each pose. Teresa has found that if practiced regularly, yoga can help with posture, skeletal alignment, muscular strength, pain reduction, and joint mobility.

Teresa's classes focus on core strength, posture, balance, lengthening of muscles and tissue. Teresa is a dancer and designer who brings much creativity to her sequences and a desire to be a good guide for exploring new poses in her classes. Teresa's goal as a teacher is to help yoga students of all ages and conditions experience the many health benefits of yoga... and to have fun doing it.

Teresa teaches Beginning/Continuing Yoga.

Savannah Hill


Savannah is a Michigan native who moved to Oak Park in 2014. She has been involved in Fitness since she decided to get healthy in college. Her journey started with Zumba Fitness, and made it's way into a full lifestyle change when she decided to get certified through AFAA. Savannah also holds other certifications in WERQ Dance Fitness, KettleWorx, and Cycle. In her spare time, Savannah is an Obstacle Course Racer, volleyball junkie, as well as an avid road runner as she trains for the 2017 Chicago Marathon. Savannah also works full time as a Human Resources Coordinator for IGS Energy, where she manages recruitment and retention for the Chicagoland region. She loves both of her jobs and affecting people in a positive way each day! You can expect to find Savannah around Oak Park either running, grabbing food with friends, or attending any of the summer outdoor events! 

Savannah teaches Cardio HIIT, Cycle Fusion and Cycle.

Mara Leonard

Mara has been a fitness instructor at the Park District for the past five years and is certified through AFAA.

Mara is a professional musician and teacher in the western suburbs. She has performed with numerous symphonies and with chamber ensembles. Her interest in fitness came two-fold: musicians lead sedentary lives, and she was searching for a way to keep fit. The Park District classes were a wonderful opportunity to get fit. She also had a strong dance background when younger, and the cardio fitness classes helped her regain the strength needed to continue to dance. Now she enjoys instructing others in ways to keep active and build strength in group classes.

Mara teaches Basic Fitness and Strong & Long.

M.E. Kennedy

Kennedy_fitness_20photoM.E. Kennedy has been teaching fitness at PDOP since January 2015. With a background in performing arts, her intense and entertaining style pushes participants hard but makes every workout a great time. M.E. is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and holds certifications in Les Mills BODYPUMP™, Barre Above®, and Beachbody's Core De Force™‎ LIVE!.

M.E. teaches BodyPump, and Core De Force.


Brighid O'Shaughnessy 

One of Brighid O'Shaughnessy's passions is to use the body as a gateway to health and healing.  She has made Nia, a body/mind movement practice, part of her life since 2005 and received her White Belt to teach in 2007. She went on to receive her Nia Blue Belt, a special certification in the Nia 5 Stages of Healing as well as completed their Moving to Heal training.   She has run her own private classes and taught at the YMCA Lakeview and Evanston Athletic Club.  In addition to her Monday night Nia class at PDOP, Brighid will be teaching at Chaturanga Fitness in Hyde Park as of October 1.   Her classes focus on creating a positive, fun "full permission" space for pleasure, joy, and body acceptance.   In addition to her Nia work, Brighid has created theater based on social issues for the last 25 years.  She founded and ran Erasing the Distance, a Chicago based non-profit using documentary theater to shed light on mental health issues, for over 10 years.  Her most recent projects cover topics ranging from the impacts of segregation, adoption from the lens of birth mothers, and a 4 part storytelling series on women's health in 2020.  She is currently getting her 2nd Masters degree from the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration, with a focus on somatic and relational approaches to trauma healing.

Brighid teaches Nia

Rebecca Qualiato

Rebecca began her wellness journey in 2010 when she decided to start running and trained for various Chicago-area races as a way to relieve stress and enjoy nature while keeping up her competitive spirit. At the same time, she also began creating healthy meals as a way to feel energized and have control over her nutrition. It wasn’t until she moved to Oak Park and began taking Park District of Oak Park fitness classes in early 2014 that she found her love for group exercise. She was an early adopter of the Les Mills BODYPUMP™ format at PDOP, and quickly found herself wanting to share her passion with others! Rebecca is currently certified as an AFAA Group Exercise Instructor and Les Mills BODYPUMP™ Instructor. She is taking classes in fitness, nutrition and wellness to further her enthusiasm for well living, with a goal of becoming a coach. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and works full-time as a marketing Account Manager.

Rebecca teaches BodyPump, Cardio HIIT & Core, and Fit Mom. 

Al Tischina 

Al has been teaching fitness for the past 30 years. Al has taught at the YMCA of Oak Park, the Wright College Fitness Center and the Westlake Hospital Fitness Center. He joined the Park District family back in 2003 and has enjoyed motivating participants to achieve their fitness goals. Al is a certified group instructor as well as a personal trainer. Some of his classes at the Park District have included High Impact & Low Impact Aerobics, Plyometrics, Step Aerobics (Single, Double & Triple), Box Aerobics and Tae-Bo, Body Sculpting, Pilates, Stretching, Abdominal Precision and more. Al is also certified to teach ZUMBA, ZUMBA GOLD, and ZUMBA for wheelchair-bound persons. Al has a special interest in facial aerobics for "keeping your face," and is also interested in home-made facial remedies. He is currently pursuing certification in sports nutrition as well. "My goal in life is to encourage every member to make fitness a part of their life and infuse a positive approach as to how they view life no matter what age they find themselves."

Al teaches Body Sculpt and Fit Fun for Everyone

Noele Sutherland

Noele has been a practitioner of yoga for over a quarter century. She has practiced many styles of yoga from the Bikram and Ashtanga to Hatha and Power Flow. Noele was certified as an instructor in 2011 in Colorado with Core Power Yoga. She has and continues to add certifications to her credentials. Her latest certification was with Om Shanti Yoga and Wellness School in Belize Central America. She has been working as a Yoga Alliance certified instructor full time both in San Pedro Belize and Oak Park Illinois. She founded Go-Yoga in Belize and has been expanding the collective of yoga instructors across Central America, US and Canada.

Noele teaches Gentle Yoga, Power Vinyasa, and Barre

Vicky Connors 

Born and raised in Chicago and living a block away from a local park, you’d always find Vicky involved in some type of activity …ice skating, basketball, tennis, softball and even football. Her love for the outdoors and being active, have carried throughout adult hood. At 19, she was given a gym membership and fell in love with Group Exercise. In 1998, with the encouragement of her favorite instructor she decided to get certified.

Vicky has always enjoyed working with others with a wide variety of fitness levels to help them reach their fitness goals in a fun but challenging experience. She loves to see the smile (or grimaces) of accomplishment on the faces after a challenging workout.  Vicky has led a wide variety of fitness classes. She firmly believes music drives the soul and can make a challenging workout fun!

Vicky is an avid hiker and when not in the gym, you’ll find her out on a hiking trail. Vicky is currently certified as an AFAA Group Exercise Instructor.

Vicky teaches BodyPump.

Nathalie Deutsch 

Nathalie has enjoyed being active by playing sports, such as softball, at an early age. However, while in high school, she despised running with a passion. Now she frequently runs in many races and fun runs in the Chicago-area as well as running around Oak Park in her neighborhood.   She began taking TRX classes as her first group exercise format at GRC and loved it!  She then found herself in a Les Mills BODYPUMP™ class in July 2014 and overcame her fears and decided to make the jump to become certified.  She has been a certified Les Mills BODYPUMP™ Instructor since May 2016 and continues to learn and grow while sharing her love and passion for this workout format.  When she is not teaching classes, Nathalie works full-time as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst developing in-home ABA programs for children with autism.  At the same time, she loves to spend time with her family and watch her daughter dance in recitals and performances for ballet, but has yet to become a full on Dance Mom.  

Nathalie teaches BodyPump



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