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 teen refugee 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 and honored by the Chicago Foundation for Women Impact Awards and YWomen Leadership Awards. Blair was named as one of Forbes' 30 Under 30 in Education for 2017. When Blair is not at GirlForward HQ, she can be found at the spin class with the loudest music or at her neighborhood taco truck.
Ashley Marine, Director of girl engagement
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.
Temitope Famodu, Director of Communications
Temi is originally from Minnesota and received her undergraduate degree from DePaul University in International Studies. She spent the majority of her senior year in Budapest, Hungary and has enjoyed various other international travel since then. When she’s not at GirlForward, or eating at a yummy restaurant nearby, you can find her chatting with her friends about identity development or planning an adventure. Next destinations on her list include Cuba, and Nigeria to visit her extended family, and learn how to make her dad’s famous Egusi stew!
Emily Kane, Director of Education
Emily received her undergraduate degree at Drake University where she studied English and Secondary Education. After graduation, she 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 is currently completing a master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Concordia University. Emily’s other passions include running, traveling, hiking, ice-cream, and her rescue dog, Oakley.
SANJANA KANTAYYA, GIRL ENGAGEMENT SPECIALIST
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.
Arielle Levin, Girl Engagement Specialist
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.
Karyssa Zavala, Development coordinator (Americorps VIsta)
Karyssa received her undergraduate degree in Agricultural Communications and Journalism from Texas A&M University. After graduation, she served 11 months with an intensive English program at Texas A&M, and it was her engagement with international students that motivated Karyssa to pursue her graduate degree in International Agricultural Development. She has formerly served with the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. Karyssa recently assisted the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service with capacity building efforts involving specialty crop growers, of whom most were women, in 10 countries in Latin America. Her ambition is to serve as a Foreign Service Officer of the USDA, and her hope is to empower women and girls through compassionate and sensible policymaking.