Blair Brettschneider didn’t experience war or genocide as a young girl in suburban Michigan. She has never received a death threat, and she has never seen a family member murdered, but the teenagers she helps every week have. Brettschneider runs GirlForward, a nonprofit that provides support to young female refugees who have been resettled in the U.S. Founded in 2011 in Chicago, GirlForward provides adolescent refugee girls from war-torn places such as Iraq, Ivory Coast and Myanmar, with individual mentorship, educational programs, and leadership opportunities, creating a community of support that serves as a resource and empowers girls to be strong, confident and independent.
All of the girls in the program are in the country legally, having arrived with their families through the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a government agency that offers assistance to refugees of special humanitarian concern. Many of the families have fled religious or ethnic persecution, sometimes even torture.
In 2015, GirlForward ran a pilot program in Austin, Texas. Following the success of that pilot, they launched Camp GirlForward, an innovative summer education program that concentrates on empowerment and the development of language and confidence during the summer.