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, Deputy Director
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 & partnerships Manager
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 RAMSTETTER, Communications Manager
Emily is originally from Kentucky and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a B.A. in Advocacy and Social Change. She started volunteering and then interning at GirlForward in 2015 where she fell in love with the community. Emily joined the team in 2017 as our Operations Manager before transitioning to be our Communications Manager in 2019. At GirlForward, Emily manages our marketing, communications channels, and creative projects. In her free time she is usually spending time outside, lifting weights, baking, seeing a movie, and/or listening to podcasts!
Samera Hadi, Education Program Manager (Chicago)
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!
Keemia Soheil, Mentoring Program Manager (Chicago)
Keemia graduated from the University of Michigan with degrees in Economics and English Literature, as well as a minor in Near Eastern Studies. At Michigan, she wrote an award-winning thesis titled “Táhirih, a Symbol of Progress: Reading a Nineteenth-Century Iranian Poet in the United States and England.” Keemia associate produced “Me, The ‘Other,’” a documentary that amalgamates stories of adversity in an effort to demonstrate the essential oneness of humanity. As a member of the Bahá'í Faith, Keemia strives to devote her days to lovingly serving her community. Over the past several years, Keemia has had the bounty of helping her community through the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program, a grassroots initiative that aims to channel the potentialities of adolescents towards community service. While not serving in her neighborhood or at GirlForward, Keemia can be found developing her film projects and learning about how to use media as a positive social force.
Arielle Levin, Mentoring Program Manager (Austin)
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, Education Program Manager (Austin)
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.