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MEET THE
TEAM

REACH engages a solid pool of talented board members, staff, adult volunteers, and partner institutions in carrying out our mission. Our Peer Mentor Advisory Corps helps guide our vision through practical first-hand knowledge of their communities' needs and assets. This growing community has become a diverse social network of support for all REACH participants. 

REACH BOARD.

Shana Wills

Founder / Board President

Shana has more than 25 years’ experience researching and addressing systemic policies that impact displacement across the globe. She first started studying experiential learning theory while implementing projects based on the Danish Folk School pedagogy in war-torn Africa. She has conducted field research and established projects affecting vulnerable populations, including child soldiers, displaced children, landmine victims, warehoused refugees, and marginalized communities in Angola, Colombia, Eritrea, Haiti, Mozambique, Kenya, South Africa, & Tanzania.  READ MORE >

Founder / Board President

Shana Wills

Shana has more than 25 years’ experience researching and addressing systemic policies that impact displacement across the globe. She first started studying experiential learning theory while implementing projects based on the Danish Folk School pedagogy in war-torn Africa. She has conducted field research and established projects affecting vulnerable populations, including child soldiers, displaced children, landmine victims, warehoused refugees, and marginalized communities in Angola, Colombia, Eritrea, Haiti, Mozambique, Kenya, South Africa, & Tanzania.  Shana has worked with refugee communities in Chicago since 1991. As director of Heartland Alliance’s refugee & immigrant community services and later as director of Chicago Public School’s international newcomer center, she focused on improving systems and empowering refugee youth and families in ways that could benefit all. Recognizing a systemic disconnect between American public school culture and refugee families, and a growing need to engage newcomer adolescents in a meaningful way, Shana launched REACH. Shana is also a faculty member at DePaul University and an independent consultant for grassroots refugee organizations. As an avid hiker, cyclist, paddler, and lifelong learner, Shana aspires to share her love for the human and non-human elements of the life-world with REACH participants.

Kristen Huffman-Gottschling

Board Vice President

Kristen has been a licensed social worker for 20+ years. She is also a Professor at UIC's Jane Addams College of Social Work, specializing in the integration of refugee youth ... READ MORE >

Kristen Huffman-Gottschling

Board Vice President

Kristen has been a licensed social worker for 20+ years. She is also a Professor at UIC's Jane Addams College of Social Work, specializing in the integration of refugee youth in high schools. Kristen is the former Director of Horizons Clinic-World Relief-Chicago, which provided mental health services to refugee families in Albany Park. She currently serves as the Executive Director of PACTT Learning Center.

Steve Key

Board

Secretary

Steve is an active REACH volunteer whose professional background is in the arts. He formerly served as the artistic director of Shattered Globe  Theatre and he is presently an ensemble member of American Blues Theatre ... READ MORE >

Steve Key

Board Secretary

Steve is an active REACH volunteer whose professional background is in the arts. He formerly served as the artistic director of Shattered Globe Theatre and he is presently an ensemble member of American Blues Theatre. As an actor, Steve recently performed in Tracy Lett’s BUG at Steppenwolf Theatre, and in Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning SWEAT, both on Broadway and on its National Tour. Steve is an outdoor adventure enthusiast who has had a lifelong commitment to service.

Stephanie Thomas

Board

Treasurer

Stephanie is a mom who, with Shana, founded and coordinated a Refugee Welcome Project at Whittier Elementary School in Oak Park, raising ... READ MORE >

Stephanie Thomas

Board Treasurer

Stephanie is a mom who, with Shana, founded and coordinated a Refugee Welcome Project at Whittier Elementary School in Oak Park, raising money and awareness among the school community to address issues facing new refugee families in Chicago. She and her son first joined REACH as volunteers. She is now thrilled to be serving as a board member.

Rasha Al

Hasnawi

Board

Member

Rasha is a REACH parent who also volunteers at many adventure camp sessions and overnight trips. She and her family arrived as refugees from Iraq ... READ MORE >

Rasha Al Hasnawi

Board Member

Rasha is a REACH parent who also volunteers at many adventure camp sessions and overnight trips. She and her family arrived as refugees from Iraq in 2015. Rasha has a background in early childhood education and currently works full-time in her field. She is fondly referred to as "REACH den mom" by many youth participants.

Imran

Mohammad

Board

Member

Imran is a writer and human rights activist who has written extensively about his experiences as a stateless Rohingya refugee. While pursuing his college studies, he's been ... READ MORE >

Imran Mohammad

Board Member

Imran is a writer and human rights activist who has written extensively about his experiences as a stateless Rohingya refugee. While pursuing his college studies, he's been deeply involved in creating awareness of refugees' lives here and in other places where people are suffering in silence. Imran is eager to connect more young refugees to REACH.

Jason

Brashares

Board

Member

Jason is an Art Director and Eco-Retreat Leader who has assisted REACH with branding, marketing, and volunteering since 2016. He has a wide range of outdoors guiding ... READ MORE >

Jason Brashares

Board Member

Jason is an Art Director and Eco-Retreat Leader who has assisted REACH with branding, marketing, and volunteering since 2016. He has a wide range of outdoors guiding experience from camping and backpacking trips in the US to large international retreat groups. Jason looks forward to doing all he can to advance the REACH mission.

Sajjad Lafta

Board

Member

Sajjad is a former REACH Peer Mentor who arrived as a refugee from Iraq in 2013 when he was 11 years old.  He is currently enrolled in college and studying to be a nurse. As a ... READ MORE >

Sajjad Lafta

Board Member

Sajjad is a former REACH Peer Mentor who arrived as a refugee from Iraq in 2013 when he was 11 years old.  He is currently enrolled in college and studying to be a nurse. As a proud graduate of REACH programs, Sajjad understands the positive impact they can have on young people and he looks forward to furthering REACH's vision and scope. 

Your Name Here?

Board

Member

Would you like to join the REACH Board?

 

READ MORE >

Are You Interested in Joining the REACH Board?

We'd love to talk! Click below to get started.

PEER MENTOR ADVISORY CORPS.

My name is Abdulhafez. I'm 17 years old, and from Syria. My mother, siblings, and I left just before the Syrian civil war in 2011. We lived in Jordan for five years and struggled. My father died in Kuwait. My family and I came to the U.S. through the resettlement process in 2016.  We were allocated to Chicago. After a 36-hour flight, we arrived at 7:00 in the morning. It was snowing and I loved it! I've been with REACH for almost five years and I'm a Peer Mentor now. I've developed leadership skills, which will be an enrichment for the rest of my life.  REACH restored my faith in humanity and provided me with hope. I realized that I could be something. I made my first friend and gained knowledge about the American culture here. Attending REACH programs helped me to improve my English. I learned about kayaking, camping outdoors, ice skating, and nature and sports adventures. I'm finishing high school and very excited to be starting college soon. I will take the skills, support, and positivity that I obtained from REACH, and I would like to share them with the world.

Abdulhafez

Joined 2017

Abdulhafez

Joined 2017

My name is Abdulhafez. I'm 18 years old, and from Syria. My mother, siblings, and I left just before the Syrian civil war in 2011. We lived in Jordan for five years and faced a lot of struggles.. . . READ MORE >

My name is Abdulrahman. I’m almost 17 and originally from Malaysia. My family is Rohingya and we arrived in Chicago in 2016. I joined REACH in 2017.  There are so many activities you can do with REACH, and it’s a lot of fun. I was nervous on the first kayaking trip I went on because I didn’t know anyone and didn’t know a lot of English yet, but I made friends and had fun. It was my first time in the lake and it was great to have everyone around helping. I am proud that I have learned all about swimming and kayaking, which I didn’t know before. I am now a leader and can help younger kids and show them the way. REACH is important because it lets you do something that you would never do otherwise. Someday you might be in a situation where you have to try something new, and REACH has made me more comfortable doing new things. Instead of doing nothing, try doing something new!

Abdulrahman

Joined 2017

Abdulrahman

Joined 2017

My name is Abdulrahman. I’m almost 17 and originally from Malaysia. My family is Rohingya and we arrived in Chicago in 2016. I joined REACH in 2017. . .  READ MORE >

My name is Lina. I am 14 years old and originally from Iraq. I arrived in Chicago when I was 8 years old. I started with REACH in 2018. I was one of the first girls to join REACH. One of my favorite memories with REACH was our girls’ camping trip. It was just the girls having fun and learning a lot of things. I played volleyball and I learned how to make dreamcatchers using materials from nature. We cooked together. We took a night hike where each person was challenged to walk a path by themselves.  REACH is fun and teaches you a lot of things about different cultures. You meet new people and find out more about them than in normal friendships. There are a lot of adventures, like kayaking, hiking, camping, and you learn to build your own tents and cook meals over the fire. REACH requires a lot of team work. I want to communicate with more people when I get out with REACH in the future. As a Peer Mentor, I want to learn to be more patient and be a better leader and try to listen to what the younger kids have to say. Be brave, get out of your comfort zone!

Lina

Joined 2018

Lina

Joined 2018

My name is Lina. I am 14 years old and originally from Iraq. I arrived in Chicago when I was 8 years old. I started with REACH in 2018. I was one of the first girls to join REACH ... READ MORE >

I’m Muntadher. I’m 16, and I'm from Iraq. I came to the U.S. in 2015.  I joined REACH when I was 13 years old, thinking at first that it was just a “summer camp.” I soon discovered that REACH would give me the opportunity to experience the outdoors in a way that was totally new to me. My first activity with REACH was kayaking at Montrose Beach. It was my first time in a kayak, and I loved this new challenge. My favorite experience with REACH was a 4-day camping trip where I got to test my kayaking skills, sleep in a tent, take hikes, and more. I loved the evenings gathered around the campfire, meeting new people, and sharing experiences. REACH allowed me to go places and do things I never would have otherwise done. Now that I’m in high school and the second oldest Peer Mentor, I hope to encourage younger members to try new things. Every day is a lesson, don’t be scared to fail!

Mutadher

Joined 2017

Muntadher

Joined 2017

I'm Muntadher. I'm 16, and from Iraq. I  came to the U.S. in 2015. I joined REACH when I was 13 years old, thinking at first it was just a "summer camp." I soon discovered that ... READ MORE >

I'm Maryam and I’m 17 years old.  I’m from Afghanistan, but I was born in Iran and lived in Turkey before coming to Chicago in late 2015. My first memory with REACH was going into the forest, cutting the trees, and catching fish. Cutting trees was a normal thing because in Turkey we had to cut the trees to burn and boil water. But catching fish was tough. One of my most fun experiences with REACH was ziplining.  I was afraid that I was going to fall, but eventually it just became part of my body and I said I can do this. Now it has become my favorite thing. It is more interesting to see places from up high. When I first joined REACH, I knew only one person here. As time passed, everyone got to know each other better, to be more friendly with each other, and help each other. We became a community. Being a Peer Mentor means having responsibility for many kids of different ages, helping them to learn how to do things, telling them what is good for them or bad for them, and helping them to be inspired.

Maryam

Joined 2018

Maryam

Joined 2018

I'm Maryam and I'm 17 years old. I'm from Afghanistan, but I was born in Iran and lived in Turkey before coming to Chicago in late 2015. My first experience with REACH ... READ MORE >

My name is Sami and I am 17. I'm originally from Iran. I arrived in the U.S. in March 2016 and I joined REACH three months later. My favorite memories of REACH are all of our camping trips. When I first started with REACH, I got along with everyone and I was pretty social. Then when REACH started the Peer Mentor program, I was a little more mature and I was ready to have a leadership position. I enjoy the meetings that the Peer Mentors have where we take private lessons on kayaking and are tested on these skills and we get to learn a lot. Developing the skills, meeting the standards, and getting my certification was a challenge. It took a lot of practice and events on the water to get as good as I am now, and that was fun. The concept of REACH has made me think a lot differently about the way people think about others in this country. We are cared for. REACH is a place where you discover that everyone can connect with each other, no matter where you come from or what language you speak.

Sami

Joined 2016

Sami

Joined 2016

My name is Sami and I am 18 years old. I'm originally from Iran. I arrived in the U.S. in March 2016 and I joined REACH three months later. My favorite memories of REACH are all of our ... READ MORE >

PARTNERS.

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First Ascent Uptown logo_gray.jpg
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Illinois Refugee Social Service Consortium
International Capoeira Angola Foundation
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MIRA Logo_gray.jpg
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REACH BOARD.

Shana Wills

Founder / Board President

Shana first became involved with Chicago's refugee community in 1991 as a volunteer tutor in preparation for her work with displaced young people in war-torn Africa. After several years developing accelerated academic curricula and vocational training for Angola’s war orphans and researching the demobilization and reintegration of former child soldiers in places like Mozambique and Eritrea, Shana returned to her work with refugees here in the U.S. As director of Heartland Alliance’s refugee & immigrant community services and later as director of Chicago Public School’s international newcomer center, she focused on improving systems and empowering refugee youth and families in ways that could benefit all. Recognizing a systemic disconnect between American public school culture and refugee families, and a growing need to engage newcomer adolescents in a meaningful way, Shana launched REACH. Shana is also a faculty member at DePaul University and an independent consultant for grassroots refugee organizations. As an avid hiker, cyclist, paddler, and lifelong learner, Shana aspires to share her love for the human and non-human elements of the life-world with REACH participants.

Kristen Huffman-Gottschling

Board Vice President

Kristen has been a licensed social worker for 20+ years. She is also a Professor at UIC's Jane Addams College of Social Work, specializing in the integration of refugee youth in high schools. Kristen is the former Director of Horizons Clinic-World Relief-Chicago, which provided mental health services to refugee families in Albany Park. She currently serves as the Executive Director of PACTT Learning Center.

Steve Key

Board Secretary

Steve is an active REACH volunteer whose professional background is in the arts. He formerly served as the artistic director of Shattered Globe Theatre and he is presently an ensemble member of American Blues Theatre. As an actor, Steve recently performed in Tracy Lett’s BUG at Steppenwolf Theatre, and in Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning SWEAT, both on Broadway and on its National Tour. Steve is an outdoor adventure enthusiast who has had a lifelong commitment to service.

Stephanie Thomas

Board Treasurer

Stephanie is a mom who, with Shana, founded and coordinated a Refugee Welcome Project at Whittier Elementary School in Oak Park, raising money and awareness among the school community to address issues facing new refugee families in Chicago. She and her son first joined REACH as volunteers. She is now thrilled to be serving as a board member.

Rasha Al Hasnawi

Board Member

Rasha is a REACH parent who also volunteers at many adventure camp sessions and overnight trips. She and her family arrived as refugees from Iraq in 2015. Rasha has a background in early childhood education and currently works full-time in her field. She is fondly referred to as "REACH den mom" by many youth participants.

Imran Mohammad

Board Member

Imran is a writer and human rights activist who has written extensively about his experiences as a stateless Rohingya refugee. While pursuing his college studies, he's been deeply involved in creating awareness of refugees' lives here and in other places where people are suffering in silence. Imran is eager to connect more young refugees to REACH.

Jason Brashares

Board Member

Jason is an Art Director and Eco-Retreat Leader who has assisted REACH with branding, marketing, and volunteering since 2016. He has a wide range of outdoors guiding experience from camping and backpacking trips in the US to large international retreat groups. Jason looks forward to doing all he can to advance the REACH mission.

Sajjad Lafta

Board Member

Sajjad is a former REACH Peer Mentor who arrived as a refugee from Iraq in 2013 when he was 11 years old.  He is currently enrolled in college and studying to be a nurse. As a proud graduate of REACH programs, Sajjad understands the positive impact they can have on young people and he looks forward to furthering REACH's vision and scope. 

Your Name Here?

Are you interested in joining  the REACH Board?

We'd love to talk! Click below to get started.

PEER MENTOR ADVISORY CORPS.

Abdulhafez

Joined 2017

My name is Abdulhafez. I'm 17 years old, and from Syria. My mother, siblings, and I left just before the Syrian civil war in 2011. We lived in Jordan for five years and struggled. My father died in Kuwait. My family and I came to the U.S. through the resettlement process in 2016.  We were allocated to Chicago. After a 36-hour flight, we arrived at 7:00 in the morning. It was snowing and I loved it! I've been with REACH for almost five years and I'm a Peer Mentor now. I've developed leadership skills, which will be an enrichment for the rest of my life.  REACH restored my faith in humanity and provided me with hope. I realized that I could be something. I made my first friend and gained knowledge about the American culture here. Attending REACH programs helped me to improve my English. I learned about kayaking, camping outdoors, ice skating, and nature and sports adventures. I'm finishing high school and very excited to be starting college soon. I will take the skills, support, and positivity that I obtained from REACH, and I would like to share them with the world.

Abdulrahman

Joined 2017

My name is Abdulrahman. I’m almost 17 and originally from Malaysia. My family is Rohingya and we arrived in Chicago in 2016. I joined REACH in 2017.  There are so many activities you can do with REACH, and it’s a lot of fun. I was nervous on the first kayaking trip I went on because I didn’t know anyone and didn’t know a lot of English yet, but I made friends and had fun. It was my first time in the lake and it was great to have everyone around helping. I am proud that I have learned all about swimming and kayaking, which I didn’t know before.  I am now a leader and can help younger kids and show them the way. REACH is important because it lets you do something that you would never do otherwise. Someday you might be in a situation where you have to try something new, and REACH has made me more comfortable doing new things. Instead of doing nothing, try doing something new!

Lina

Joined 2018

My name is Lina. I am 14 years old and originally from Iraq. I arrived in Chicago when I was 8 years old. I started with REACH in 2018. I was one of the first girls to join REACH. One of my favorite memories with REACH was our girls’ camping trip. It was just the girls having fun and learning a lot of things. I played volleyball and I learned how to make dreamcatchers using materials from nature. We cooked together. We took a night hike where each person was challenged to walk a path by themselves.  REACH is fun and teaches you a lot of things about different cultures. You meet new people and find out more about them than in normal friendships. There are a lot of adventures, like kayaking, hiking, camping, and you learn to build your own tents and cook meals over the fire. REACH requires a lot of team work. I want to communicate with more people when I get out with REACH in the future. As a Peer Mentor, I want to learn to be more patient and be a better leader and try to listen to what the younger kids have to say. Be brave, get out of your comfort zone!

Muntadher

Joined 2017

I’m Muntadher. I’m 16, and I'm from Iraq. I came to the U.S. in 2015.  I joined REACH when I was 13 years old, thinking at first that it was just a “summer camp.” I soon discovered that REACH would give me the opportunity to experience the outdoors in a way that was totally new to me. My first activity with REACH was kayaking at Montrose Beach. It was my first time in a kayak, and I loved this new challenge. My favorite experience with REACH was a 4-day camping trip where I got to test my kayaking skills, sleep in a tent, take hikes, and shoot a BB-rifle. I loved the evenings gathered around the campfire, meeting new people, and sharing experiences. REACH allowed me to go places and do things I never would have otherwise done. Now that I’m in high school and the second oldest Peer Mentor, I hope to encourage younger members to try new things. Every day is a lesson, don’t be scared to fail!

Maryam

Joined 2018

I'm Maryam and I’m 17 years old.  I’m from Afghanistan, but I was born in Iran and lived in Turkey before coming to Chicago in late 2015. My first memory with REACH was going into the forest, cutting the trees, and catching fish. Cutting trees was a normal thing because in Turkey we had to cut the trees to burn and boil water. But catching fish was tough. One of my most fun experiences with REACH was ziplining.  I was afraid that I was going to fall, but eventually it just became part of my body and I said I can do this. Now it has become my favorite thing. It is more interesting to see places from up high. When I first joined REACH, I knew only one person here. As time passed, everyone got to know each other better, to be more friendly with each other, and help each other. We became a community. Being a Peer Mentor means having responsibility for many kids of different ages, helping them to learn how to do things, telling them what is good for them or bad for them, and helping them to be inspired.

Sami

Joined 2016

My name is Sami and I am 17. I'm originally from Iran. I arrived in the U.S. in March 2016 and I joined REACH three months later. My favorite memories of REACH are all of our camping trips. When I first started with REACH, I got along with everyone and I was pretty social. Then when REACH started the Peer Mentor program, I was a little more mature and I was ready to have a leadership position. I enjoy the meetings that the Peer Mentors have where we take private lessons on kayaking and are tested on these skills and we get to learn a lot. Developing the skills, meeting the standards, and getting my certification was a challenge. It took a lot of practice and events on the water to get as good as I am now, and that was fun. The concept of REACH has made me think a lot differently about the way people think about others in this country. We are cared for. REACH is a place where you discover that everyone can connect with each other, no matter where you come from or what language you speak.