Our Mission

Gracia’s mission is to economically empower young women in Guatemala.
Economic Empowerment is more than a paycheck: it means young women are able to earn income, become financially literate, live independently, and stand up for themselves.

Ilma, Elida, Ana- Elida teaching
Rosaura Handing Bracelet

We Inspire Change

In Guatemala, 55% of the population live below the poverty line. Many have little to no income. They live in unsafe environments and most suffer from hunger and malnourishment. Young women are without a voice in society, they lack access to education and are subject to discrimination. Gracia provides the curriculum and leadership training to develop self-confidence, inspiring young women to change their course.

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Our Story

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Our Progress

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Gracia has grown from vocational skills training to a comprehensive empowerment program. See how we’ve grown!

Who We Are


Gracia structures its Gracia Entrepreneur Training program by listening to the needs and aspirations of the girls.

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Gracia trains a group of 20 young women to make quality handcrafted jewelry and accessories.

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We Create

Gracia is not a charity; we provide opportunities for young women to create change for themselves.

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Milagros Jewelry

Our Milagros products are completely handmade by young women in the Gracia program. The pieces reflect the extensive training and sophisticated skills our young artisans possess. All sales revenues are reinvested in Gracia’s program, funding salaries, workroom operating expenses, and creating income for Casa Hogar.

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Our People

melissa buich

Melissa Buich

Board Member

Melissa grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but now calls Chicago home. She is a licensed tax attorney advising her clients with respect to mergers, acquisitions, and restructurings. She was introduced to Gracia through UNICEF NextGen and subsequently traveled to Guatemala in early 2020 to visit the workroom and to meet (and be totally impressed by) Las Mujeres Fuertes.

Melissa is passionate about the advancement and education of women around the world and, as a former Division 1 athlete, believes in the power of sport to develop and promote self-confidence and collaboration. She’s an avid traveler and in her free time enjoys cycling and playing soccer.



Patrick Wlodkowski

Board Member

Patrick is an experienced commercial finance professional with a background in financial analysis and credit underwriting. Prior to joining the Board, Patrick served as a volunteer helping to prepare the Gracia financial statements and annual forecasts. His volunteer experience culminated in a site visit to Casa Hogar in early 2019, where he was able to witness the life-changing impact that the GET Program has had on young women in Guatemala.

In his free time, Patrick enjoys listening to podcasts and watching stand-up comedy. He is a self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur and an avid motorsports enthusiast.


Clare Johnston Kunkel

Founder, Board Member & Executive Director

Clare is committed to helping disadvantaged Guatemalan girls and women achieve economic independence and create lives defined by confidence and success. Clare oversees the US day-to-day operations of the Gracia program, as well as design and distribution of Milagros products. Clare began working at the Casa Hogar in 2007, and served as the director of Program and Development for HEAR Foundation from 2009-2012.

In 2012, Clare redefined the Milagros program and established Gracia as an independent entity. Under her direction, the original program has grown from teaching young women basic sewing skills to design development and  comprehensive business skills training. Clare is a proud, native Chicagoan. When she is not in Guatemala, she can be found running by the lake, riding her bike, or walking her dogs in Lincoln Park.

Suzi Gurry

Board Member

Suzi is an artist and experienced Non-profit Fundraiser in Chicago. Her mixed-media works have been exhibited publicly at galleries and events in Chicago and NYC and commissioned by private buyers. She's overseen fundraising events benefiting social service agencies and schools both public and private. Suzi was an active board member of Adoption-Link until its acquisition by Holt International.

Suzi is passionate about human rights, environmental causes, arts in education and protecting the world’s most vulnerable children. She's an avid Soul Cycler and enjoys live music, comedy and travel adventures with her family. Suzi’s service on the Gracia Board builds upon her decades-long support for programming that addresses root causes of extreme poverty, specifically in Haiti, Guatemala and the Englewood community of Chicago.

Meredith B. Diamond

Board Member

Meredith is an experienced merchandise analyst. As a member of the Gracia Board, Meredith blends her love of fashion with her passion for social justice. Gracia counts on her ideas and analysis as Milagros pushes to expand its distribution.

Prior to joining Gracia, Meredith spent many summers on the Lake Geneva Water Safety Patrol. During her time with the Water Safety Patrol, Meredith was recognized for her remarkable professionalism by receiving the regional Red Cross Hero of the Year Award.

Meredith is a graduate of University of Wisconsin (Madison), where she studied Retailing and St. Ignatius College Prep, in Chicago. When Meredith is not analyzing fashion trends, or saving lives, she might be snowboarding, running or traveling, but she will never be found sitting still.

Rita Rortvedt Hoke

Board Chair

Rita Hoke is a seasoned healthcare executive with experience starting up and leading teams. She held leadership positions in sales, marketing and business development.

Rita has served on the Board of Crossing Borders Music Collective and has volunteered as a pharmacist with Latin American Medical Professionals in Jalapa, Guatemala. Rita lives in Lake Forest and enjoys travel, photography and reading. She cherishes all time spent with her family.

Donna Samulowitz Larson

Program Director

Donna has acted as Program Director for Gracia since its inception. In this role, Donna assess the needs, designs the program and measures the progress of its participants. Donna’s extensive background in teaching and counseling at-risk youth have helped her to develop curriculum for the Gracia Entrepreneur Training Program (GET).

For 18 years, Donna co-owned and operated a traditional American craftwork store this giving her even more insight and appreciation for the handcrafts of the Milagros Workshops. A running enthusiast, Donna can either be found training for a race or hanging out at Burning Man.

Maria Teresa Leal Wittmer

Gracia Liaison

Maria Teresa is a Guatemalan woman who has lived half her life in Guatemala and half her life in the U.S. With this unique perspective on both cultures, Gracia depends on her to bridge any gaps in understanding between its Guatemalan and American teams. During her weekly visits to the Casa Hogar, Maria Teresa reviews Milagros production progress and acts as an interpreter for weekly Skype meetings with The States. For the girls of the Milagros Workshop, Maria Teresa is a mentor: when problems arise, the young women seek her guidance and support. Together, they find solutions that benefit both Milagros and their growth as young women.

Maria Teresa is an avid reader and traveler. Without question, her favorite destination is wherever her children and grandchildren are living.

Recent Posts

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Gracia's Work in the Dry Corridor of Guatemala
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Apprentice Carolina learns from Elida in the Milagros Workroom