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.

Learn More

Our Story

Watch Video

Our Progress

Watch Video

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

Who We Are

We
Listen

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

Learn More

We
Train

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

Learn More

We Create
Opportunities

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

Learn More

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.

Learn More

Our People

Bob LoBue

Bob LoBue

Board Member

Bob has been a professor of Reutlingen University, Germany since March of 1999, where he has led accredited international business programs in partnership with universities from across the globe. He has also had a 25-year business career, where he was an executive and board member in leading high-tech companies.  Throughout Bob’s academic and professional careers, he has served as supporter, volunteer, advisor, and board member to non-profit institutions and charitable organizations and initiatives.  He is a Research Partner at the International Center for Corporate Governance and Swiss Institute of Directors in St. Gallen, Switzerland.

He grew up in Park Ridge, Illinois where he became friends with Clare and her brother in high school. Bob enjoys free-time cultural activities and vacations with his wife and extended family members. He’s an avid soccer and tennis player.  Bob has traveled to Latin America in the past to establish and develop ties to businesses and universities, and is committed now to the vision of Gracia, Inc. to sustainably equip young women and girls with knowledge, skills, and experience to help them to become economically self-sufficient for the betterment of themselves and their families.

Chris Ryan

Chris Ryan

Board Member

Chris is a finance and analytics professional who has spent the duration of his career at Allstate where he now serves as a Director of Finance. He is passionate about building teams and relationships and working toward end-goals that drive personal and professional growth. Chris was first introduced to La Casa Hogar in 2009, when he spent back-to-back years serving as the team translator in what is now the Milagros Workroom.

Chris is an avid traveler and is energized by exploring new parts of the world and interacting with new people. Lincoln Park is home when he’s not on the road!

Enrique Barillas

Enrique Barillas

Board Member

Enrique, an attorney, is the Executive Director of Amigos de los Niños, Mi Casa, in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Amigos de los Niños, Mi Casa, is an orphanage providing free education, medical and dental care to orphaned and abandoned children in need. Enrique’s initial involvement with Gracia was as an attorney when he assisted with legal and business matters for Milagros. Given is legal acumen and experience with at-risk youth,  it quickly became clear that he would be a valuable addition to the Gracia Board. He is often called upon for matters of cultural context during Board meetings.

Enrique is completely fluent in English, and has an avid interest in reading, baseball, tennis and fútbol. When not in Guatemala, you might find Enrique traveling to the States or other countries in Central America.

Kevin Stevens

Kevin Stevens

Board Member

Kevin Stevens grew up on the West Side of the city of Chicago with his 11 siblings, his father a Chicago police officer, and his mother, a Chicago public school teacher. He now lives in Highland Park, Illinois.  He has been in academia for over 30 years as a director of a large School of Accountancy and Management Information Systems, as an associate dean for international initiatives, and for the past six years as dean of the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago.

He learned about Gracia though Clare Kunkel’s brother, and, of course, Clare. He is drawn to serve on the board of directors of Gracia because he believes that addressing systemic poverty and empowering women of color to be two of the most compelling social issues of our times. In his leisure time, he is a avid reader, a serious walker, and is aspiring to be  a mediocre guitar player. He, his wife Marietta, and their two sons Patrick and Kevin are enthusiastic travelers.

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.

 

Rachel Mikula

Rachel Mikula

Board Member

Rachel Mikula grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin but has lived in the Chicago area for 22 years. As Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Rachel’s practice has included work with immigrant and refugee groups from Central and South America and survivors of domestic violence and abuse. Presently,  her private practice focuses mental health therapy for children, adolescents, and families who struggle with issues such as depression, anxiety, trauma, grief, ADHD and life transitions.

Rachel was introduced to Gracia by a former board member who invited her to travel to Guatemala.  Rachel was impressed and in awe of Las Mujeres Fuertes, the Workroom, the GET Program, and the unwavering dedication of Gracia’s BOD to achieving its mission.  As a mother of 4 daughters, Rachel finds herself committed to women’s rights and their access to equal opportunities.  In her spare time Rachel loves spending time with her family, friends and her Chocolate Lab, Ruby.  She enjoys running, yoga, travel and getaways into the beautiful outdoors in her home state of Wisconsin.

 

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 Chair

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.

Rita Rortvedt Hoke

Board Member

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.

Emili Fabian

¡Adelante! Program Director

Emili is a Guatemalan woman who began as an Apprentice in the GET program, and continued on as a Mujer Fuerte in the Milagros Workroom. During her time in the Workroom, Emili held various leadership positions, including acting as COO during the challenges of the Pandemic.

Emili is a talented athlete whose favorite sport is fútbol/soccer. Every weekend, you can find Emili on the pitch, playing on one of the few organized teams for women.

As a Guatemalan woman, Emili understands well the challenges for women in Guatemala.

This combined with her innate leadership capability and talent for fútbol make Emili a natural choice to head the ¡Adelante! Program.

When Emili isn’t leading fútbol drills for the Chicas Valientes or in the Milagros Workroom, you might find her knitting, taking care of her two cats, or even kicking a “balón de fútbol” around with some of her team mates.

Recent Posts

Gracia Trivia Night

2024 Gracia Trivia Night Wednesday, April 24, 2024 6:30 PM LP’s TAP House 2551 N. Lincoln Avenue Chicago, IL 60614 $30 Suggested...

Read More

Join Us for Gracia’s Fourth Annual Fund-Racer

  Gracia’s Fund-Racer is a fundraiser that challenges you to complete a virtual “marathon” of exercise, spread over 2 weeks, to support...

Read More

Who is Josselin Carolina?

In the Milagros Workroom we refer to her as “Empleada Número Uno,” our Number One Employee. Josselin came to the Casa Hogar...

Read More