Our Mission

Gracia’s mission is to economically empower young women in Guatemala. Economic empowerment is more than a paycheck: it means young women can earn income AND possess both the confidence and independence needed to make financial decisions.

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

We
Listen

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

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We
Train

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

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We Create
Opportunities

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

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.

Benjamin A. Johnston

Finance Director

Benjamin had been a Gracia volunteer for two years before joining the Board. A graduate of NYU Stern School of Business, Ben uses his business and financial acumen to help Gracia quantify its progress and identify opportunities for growth.  At NYU, Ben played water polo and raised funds for organizations including Relay for Life and St. Baldrick’s.

When not crunching numbers, Ben can be found snowboarding or cycling, depending on the weather, and dreaming of someday racing in Formula One.

Charles K. Harris

Board Member

Charles first became acquainted with the Casa Hogar when he was asked to produce, Gracia y Milagros, a short film about the Gracia program. With a background in communications and journalism, he was well-positioned to tell Gracia’s story.

Charles has had an enduring interest in social justice, both as an HIV/AIDS advocate and in his work with victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Charles is proud and happy to be working with the Gracia program.

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.

Marilyn Rusnak

Board Member

Marilyn first visited the Casa Hogar and became acquainted with Gracia’s program in early 2015. With a background in social work and a strong interest in women’s empowerment, the Gracia program is a natural fit for her talents.

For years, Marilyn has worked with families of different cultures leading them to a better understanding of one another’s diversity. With her expertise in understanding and managing relationships, she brings a unique perspective to Gracia’s work. She currently serves on the Visiting Committee  of School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. Marilyn enjoys travel, theater, and humor in any form.

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

The Gracia Board of Directors with Madre Claudia and the Mujeres Fuertes Jalapa, Guatemala

Gracia’s directors travel annually to the Milagros Workshop at the Casa Hogar. During their visit, the Board meets with the young women...

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Gracia Entrepreneur Training (G.E.T.) Continues

Wednesday, June 1, 2016 was the first day of the second in our series of GET modules. Donna opened by reviewing the...

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NOVICA Visits to the Milagros Workshop

This May NOVICA, the official catalog of National Geographic, sent representatives Diego Chacon and Alejandra Navichoc from the Central/South American office to...

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