A 2009 graduate of the School of Communication is being considered for a 2013 CNN Heroes Award for her work helping refugee girls adjust to their new lives in the United States.
Blair Brettschneider, 24, was nominated as the founder and executive director of GirlForward. The nonprofit organization serves girls ages 12 to 21 who have been resettled in Chicago from war-torn countries around the world. Its aim is to help them build new lives for themselves and their families.
“The idea for GirlForward came to be when I moved to Chicago,” said Brettschneider, a print journalism major and former managing editor of Distraction magazine. “I got a job working at a refugee resettlement agency,” which helped provide housing, job placement and basic English classes to refugee families.
She said the organization’s name fits its mission: “For the name, I was just trying to think of something straightforward, easy to remember for the girls, and catchy. Plus, the girls are moving forward in their lives here in the U.S.”
Brettschneider has long had an interest in helping others. She was a member of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority and a volunteer at America Reads.
Now 2 years old, GirlForward serves more than 50 refugee girls with individual mentorship, educational programs and leadership opportunities.
“All of the girls in the program are in the country legally,” Brettschneider said. “Most arrived with their families through the Office of Refugee Resettlement.”
She also has a vision of expanding the organization in a few years to states like California, Texas and Florida, where there are large refugee populations.
Nominated by her mother, Julie Goddard, Brettschneider was thrilled when she recently received a call from CNN about her selection as one of the 25 semifinalists for the award, which is dedicated to “everyday people changing the world.” The Top 10 Heroes will be announced on Oct. 10, and they will also take part in a televised award ceremony in November.
One of Brettschneider’s UM mentors and Distraction’s adviser, Randy Stano, takes pride in her accomplishments since graduating.
“This is a great recognition for someone who does a lot of hard work and shows how determined graduates are to help others,” he said. “I congratulate her and hope she moves on to the finals.”