Blair Brettschneider, founder & Executive director
In 2010, Blair moved to Chicago. Soon after starting a position in development at a refugee resettlement agency, Blair began tutoring a girl whose story, challenges, and determination inspired what would become GirlForward. Blair has a B.S. in Communication from the University of Miami and a Professional Certificate in Nonprofit Management from North Park University’s Axelson Center. Blair has been featured on CNN Heroes, named as one of Forbes' 30 Under 30 in Education and Crain's Chicago Business 20 in their 20s, and honored by the Chicago Foundation for Women Impact Awards and YWomen Leadership Awards. When Blair is not at GirlForward HQ, she can be found at the spin class with the loudest music, in the park with her dog, or checking out Chicago's newest food offerings.
Ashley Marine, Director of Programs
Ashley received her undergraduate degree from Xavier University, where she concentrated on social work and peace studies, before receiving her master’s degree in social service administration from the University of Chicago. During her undergraduate studies, Ashley studied abroad in Ghana, where she collaboratively provided street education with girls engaged in migrant labor work. Ashley’s work and studies have primarily been focused on inequalities based on gender and sexuality, empowering women and girls and advocating for their rights. In her free time, Ashley enjoys singing show tunes, dancing, and exploring all that Chicago has to offer.
PARNIAN SHIRAZ, DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
Parni is originally from Gothenburg, Sweden and moved to the suburbs of Milwaukee with her family in 2005. She received her B.A. in Political Science with a concentration in International Affairs and a Certificate in European Studies from the University of Wisconsin - Madison (go Badgers!). In college, she was admitted to the Center for Academic Excellence where she experienced first-hand how invaluable enriching programming and an inclusive community can be for strengthening a person's future. Throughout this experience, Parni discovered that identity is an intersection of many things: She is Iranian, but also Swedish and American. She is Muslim, and a woman. She does not cover herself, but she still has faith. Her passion for empowering vulnerable groups comes from her background of being a first-generation immigrant and as the daughter of a refugee and immigrants. She loves hot yoga, watching corny TV shows, eating cheese curds, and spending time with her family and friends.
Emily Kane, Education Advisor
Emily holds an undergraduate degree from Drake University where she studied English and Secondary Education, and a master's degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Concordia University. After her undergraduate studies, Emily taught middle school with Des Moines Public Schools. To continue work in educational equity, Emily joined Teach for America Milwaukee. In Milwaukee, she taught for two years at the Hmong American Peace Academy where she developed a love for teaching English language learners. The resiliency of her ELL students has inspired her to continue work within refugee communities. Emily’s other passions include running, traveling, hiking, ice cream, and her rescue dog, Oakley.
EMILY RAMSTETTER, OPERATIONS MANAGER
Emily is originally from Kentucky and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in Advocacy and Social Change. She started volunteering at GirlForward in 2015 and fell in love with the community. In Emily's free time she is always practicing her latte art, baking, and listening to podcasts!
SANJANA KANTAYYA, Program Manager - Mentoring Program
Sanj completed her undergraduate degree at Loyola University Chicago. She grew up traveling with her family as part of a missions organization and developed a passion for learning culture and language deeply. Sanj first joined GirlForward as an intern in 2015. Sanj lives to break barriers so mis-served women and men have the space to love and serve. She loves new instruments, multi-cultural communities, hiking/biking, and a good cup of coffee.
Samera Hadi, Program Manager - Camp GirlForward
Originally from San Jose, CA, Samera moved to Chicago after getting married. Interested in being active in her new city, she sought out volunteer opportunities at GirlForward, discovered the available position, and the rest is history! Samera received her B.A. in Ethnic Studies with a Minor in Education from the University of California, Berkeley. She worked for three years in higher education, specifically in student services departments assisting students from a variety of backgrounds. Samera is passionate about supporting underrepresented individuals and communities, and helping them access educational resources and programs that will help them succeed. She loves hanging out with her family and friends, laughing and traveling. You can also catch her exploring all the awesome restaurants and neighborhoods in the Windy City!
JAYLAN ABD ELRAHMAN, Program Manager - Safe Spaces Program
Jaylan completed her B.A. in Psychology from Wellesley College, where she began her journey exploring the intersections of positive youth identity formation, civic engagement and educational attainment. She continued her studies and received her M.Ed in Psychology and Child Advocacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her own experiences negotiating identity and politics as an Arab-Muslim-American woman fuels her passion for driving positive social change through education. Outside of work, you can find Jaylan dancing, rooting on the magic of youth spoken word around town and writing her own series of books which she hopes she can motivate herself to publish one day.
Arielle Levin, Program Manager - Mentoring Program & Safe Spaces Program
Arielle attended the University of Texas-Austin where she studied film and Arabic language. Through a federal scholarship with the Language Flagship, Arielle had the opportunity to study abroad in Morocco and Egypt, and served for two years as the first Arabic language teacher in two high schools in the Greater Austin area while volunteering in the Austin refugee community. Prior to joining GirlForward full-time, she volunteered with GirlForward as a mentor. Arielle enjoys dance, awesome fiction, and learning from a wide range of humanity through travel and adventure.
Elie Wu, Program Manager - Camp GirlForward & Safe Spaces Program
Elie graduated from the University of Texas-Austin with a B.A. in Rhetoric & Writing and Portuguese. A passionate and devoted teacher, she has taught English to children in China and Brazil, and to refugee families in Austin. Having also worked with at-risk youth, Elie has dedicated her life to serving underprivileged communities and finds great inspiration in their resiliency. She loves writing, painting, traveling, and trying new food from around the world.
Shannon Elder, Development & COMMUNICATIONS assOciate (AMERICORPS VISTA)
Originally from Colorado, Shannon received her BA in Cultural Studies and Creative Non-Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago. She studied abroad in Iceland and Cuba. Before becoming part of the team in Austin she spent an academic year interning for GirlForward in Chicago. Shannon is an avid traveler who loves live music, spending time in nature and cooking delicious meals from scratch.