Tristan McKinney envisions a future for Sofi Exploration that encompasses relentless growth and adaptability.
CEO, Horizon Empowers
CEO, Horizon Empowers
Constrained as they are by inheritance laws, limited educational opportunities, and a patriarchal culture, women have been under-represented as givers of wealth for the benefit of society, i.e. in philanthropy. Fortunately, this is changing: women play an increasing role in using wealth, owned or otherwise, for social impact. In line with global trends, women are spearheading and playing critical roles in deploying philanthropic capital towards uplifting the underprivileged. Gretchen Villegas is one such prime example who has dedicated her life to helping communities realize their potential against the odds of poverty and reaching a dignified life.
As the CEO of Horizon Empowers, Gretchen Villegas works relentlessly to identify and cater to the unique needs of each individual child within their care, guiding them through the rescue-restore-empower framework. Support doesn’t end during adolescence, either; young adults over 18 can receive coaching, mentorship and financial support for trade school, university or to launch a business. Horizon also provides employment for local families to lift economic stability through social enterprises, which also generates revenue to offset operational costs.
Over the course of her 23-year career, Gretchen has progressively led significant leadership roles in international development focused on economic growth and dignified income for vulnerable families. “I learned that most families, if empowered to earn more income, make good decisions with the additional resources”, she shared. “This is different from a subsidy, which is a short-term fix for a lingering economic crisis that affects health, education, and perpetuates the cycle of poverty, rather than being a long-term sustainable solution. It’s these kinds of sustainable, long-term solutions we’re seeking at Horizon Empowers”.
Gretchen and her team aim to disrupt the systemic cycle of poverty for orphaned children, vulnerable children and at-risk youth by rescuing them from abuse and neglect into the safety of temporary housing in their Micro Communities. Not only does Horizon restore the holistic health of children and their families where possible, it also works to empower young adults through the Legacy Youth program by providing mentorship and funding for youth pursuing trade school, college education, or entrepreneurial ventures. Besides having temporary housing on-site, as well as social workers and psychologists who work closely with the house parents who care for the children, Horizon has a Christian, bi-lingual, private school on-site that serves as the anchor for the holistic model. “Horizon Empowers believes that education breaks the cycle of poverty for the children we serve, and they give back to their communities at 10X the return on investment”, Ms. Villegas said.
Horizon works in close partnership with national governments and their respective departments who receive orphaned children, vulnerable children and at-risk youth who have been removed from abusive or dangerous situations and need a safe place to call home. Due to these relationships, Horizon Empowers is a go-to partner for governments to place children in need.
Gretchen leads the Executive Team that mobilizes the resources necessary to receive and support children and staff in-country. This position requires her to travel frequently and spend productive time in the Micro Communities with children as well as staff members and colleagues, training and guiding them on how to support children’s welfare and programs to support their empowerment.
After the pandemic phase, Gretchen witnessed effective management at Micro Communities where children were kept safe and provided for, living within families. They continued daily activities as a family unit, cooking together, doing school work virtually, playing games and spending time together. Schools, which were previously all in-person, had to pivot to virtual school days. Internet and computer access is sparse in areas where Horizon operates, leading many children to use cell phones and seek out neighbors or teachers close to their homes for internet access. “I’m in awe of how the communities came together and teachers went above and beyond to support Horizon children in this time that could have been very isolating”, Ms. Villegas said. “I had not joined Horizon Empowers until schools opened once again, so I learned from the stories that staff and students shared with me”.
Life beyond Horizon Empowers
A very curious individual since her early days, Gretchen grew up in the American Midwest. Her fascination around diverse populations and cultures led her to join the US Peace Corps as a volunteer in Suriname, South America, where she served for 2 years. While in the Peace Corps, the children were her guiding stars. They taught her the local language, the traditions, and opened her ears to hear what the community knew they needed. The children filled the village with life, but they also suffered from poverty. Watching children suffer from losing parents or other relatives, or even children dying or becoming hindered due to illnesses, moved Gretchen considerably. This was a major point in her life which eventually led her to spend her career working to empower vulnerable populations.
A firm believer in God and His miracles, one of her favorite quotes which pushes her everyday to go out and help those in unfortunate situations is “God is not looking for dreamers; He is looking for dream-makers”. Ms. Villegas believes we should all be equally supported with our dreams and empowered to make them happen. She works intentionally to extend this opportunity to others less fortunate to achieve what they want out of their lives, for their own children, and families. “God gives us gifts to be dream-makers, not to merely dream without action”, she said.
Chief Executive Officer
We’re a global village of passionate people, innovatively leading the way down a path of radical transformation that rescues, restores and empowers orphaned and vulnerable children and at-risk youth toward a life of self-sustainability. We do this by strengthening families, building community resiliency, and creating sustainable social enterprises in Guatemala, Honduras, and Kenya.