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 RAMSTETTER, OPERATIONS MANAGER & Chief of staff
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!
Samera Hadi, Camp GirlForward 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!
JAYLAN ABD ELRAHMAN, Safe Spaces Program Manager (Chicago)
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.
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 & Safe Spaces 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, Camp GirlForward & Safe Spaces 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.
Shannon Elder, Development Coordinator
Shannon attended Columbia College Chicago where she studied Cultural Studies and Creative Nonfiction Writing. She studied abroad in Iceland and Cuba. Her undergraduate thesis, “Cameras as Weapons of Resistance: Refugees Disrupting the Colonial Narrative Through Photography,” examined photography as an artistic method for refugees to challenge mainstream narratives by documenting their experiences. She believes in the power of people telling their own stories. In her free time she works as a freelance writer and editor. Shannon loves poetry, documentaries, and traveling abroad - especially through Latin America.