Stories of Gutsy Leaders
Home | Gutsy Leaders | Stories of Gutsy Leaders
Stories of Gutsy Leaders
CEO SOcial LEadership Awards

Association for the Improvement of Women's Status in Lakia

Lakia is one of the Bedouin townships in Israel that is officially recognized by the Israeli government. In 1992, a team of four women founded the Association for the Improvement of Women's Status in Lakia to help the women of the township and the surrounding area improve their lot.

Gail Snowden

For the past 30 years, Freedom House has focused on educational issues and reform—with huge impact on Boston's high-risk communities. As Gail Snowden, Executive Director, puts it, "Our programs are structured to help young people with the skills, navigational strategies, and support networks necessary to complete both high school and college."

Minh Tu

In 1987, Minh Tu, a Buddhist nun in Vietnam, found a baby on her doorstep. She responded by founding the Minh Tu Orphanage at Duc Son Pagoda to offer those who would create a brighter future (such as the abandoned infant on her doorstep) the building blocks of food, shelter, education, and—most importantly—love.

Edgar Augusto Palacios

Twenty years ago, Edgar Augusto Palacio, founder of the Sinamune Disabled Children's Orchestra in Quito, Ecuador, was training and managing orchestras in his native Ecuador, many of whom went on to play nationally and even internationally. But that was before he found his true life's calling: changing the lives of the disabled through music.

Greg Johnson

Growing up in Connecticut, Greg Johnson always understood the value of education. What he didn't know then was that it would become his life's mission to help disadvantaged students get into college—and stay there through graduation. But that is exactly what he does through Bottom Line.

Naomi & Mark Hughes

Ever since their first OAT safari to Tanzania, professional pet groomer Naomi Hughes and her husband Mark have worked like dogs to provide primary schoolchildren in the village of Karatu with one simple item that can change their lives forever…

Sandra Vaughan

From providing bicycles to Maasai children to building chicken coops at a Tanzanian school, Grand Circle associate Sandra Vaughan has helped to change people's lives through travel in many ways. But her journey to a fulfilling career had some detours she didn't expect.

Catherine D'Amato

In 17 years at the helm of the largest hunger-relief organization in New England, Catherine D'Amato has served healthy food to hundreds of millions of people at risk of hunger. This April, the Foundation honored her with the organization's highest honor: the Lewis Changing People's Lives Award.

Mike Guerrera

Throughout his 13 years at Grand Circle Corporation, Mike Guerrera has seized every opportunity he could to make a difference in his Boston community. He has big plans for 2012 as coordinator of the Foundation's Up & Out program, starting with helping twelve veterans move from a homeless shelter into their own apartments.

Jon Feinman

Jon Feinman founded InnerCity Weightlifting in January 2010, in the neighborhood of East Boston. Not surprisingly, given the nature of his organization, Jon's career was determined by athletics. Just 5'2" and 118 pounds in high school, "I was an undersized athlete my whole life," he shares. Yet his goal extends far beyond the realm of athletics, offering mentorship, academic support, and career opportunities to young people in Boston's inner city—with the overall goal of reducing youth violence.

Kazimierz Smolen

If someone's passing can be said to be poetic, then it is that of Kazimierz Smolen. A survivor of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, he passed away in the town that gave its name to that notorious complex of Nazi concentration camps (now known by its Polish name, Oswiecim) on January 27 of this year—the 67th anniversary of the camp's liberation by Soviet forces. With his passing, Grand Circle Foundation lost, not only a member of its Board of Honorary Directors, but also a mentor and friend.

Roger Clulow

If anyone's life story proves that chance can shift the course of his or her future, it is Roger Clulow's. A South African of British descent, he grew up in the goldfields region of South Africa, about an hour's drive from Johannesburg. Except for sports—a lifelong passion—he was unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. "Tourism was the only thing that remotely appealed to me," he says. "Thankfully, in hindsight, it proved to be the right choice for me. Some 20 years later, I am still in the tourism industry."

Meg Campbell

To Meg Campbell, a school isn't just a school. It's a "lever for community transformation." And, as co-founder and Executive Director of the Codman Academy Charter Public School in Boston, she has implemented many innovative ideas for bringing her passion for her community and her passion for education into alignment.

Chris Pedersen

Chris Pedersen has renovated almost every room in his house, and not just the visible surfaces, but what's underneath them, too: the plumbing and electrical systems. While Chris often focuses on essential, behind-the-scenes work, his good deeds haven't gone unnoticed—as Chris learned when he was honored with the "Patriots Difference Maker of the Week" award. 

Will Austin

It's a rare student who stumbles on the realization—while still in college—of where he'd like to spend his career. Will Austin is one of those rare individuals. "I realized middle school is where I wanted to spend my time," he reveals. "A place where I could be of value. Where I could do something meaningful." Today, his passion for working with inner-city middle schoolers is changing lives in Boston.

Andrew Dreyfus

You might say that a passion for making a difference in the world is imprinted in Andrew Dreyfus' DNA. Andrew recalls going door-to-door collecting for the United Way with his father at an early age, and from his mother he learned the compassion that inspired him to become a founder of the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare, in honor of a friend who had died of cancer. These are just a harbinger of a lifetime of social justice activities that earned Andrew the 2011 CEO Social Leadership award, presented by Boston Business Journal and Grand Circle Foundation.

Arthur Pearson

For Arthur Pearson, spending time outdoors has always been a big part of his life. And a focus on the great outdoors is a big part of why he chose Dartmouth College as his alma mater. And it's also a big part of why he now finds himself serving as President of Boston's Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center (TIOBEC).

Lech Walesa

If extraordinary times require extraordinary measures, as Ben Bernanke once said, they also call for extraordinary people. And no one fits that description better than Nobel Laureate and former President of Poland, Lech Walesa—father of the Solidarity movement that is credited as being the catalyst for the collapse of the Soviet empire. Today, he continues to inspire others by his example.

Mark Culliton

Grand Circle Foundation Co-Chair Harriet Lewis often speaks movingly about the importance of travel in bringing people together. One person who has lived that vision is Mark Culliton, whose early childhood in India "changed my sense of difference," as he puts it. It's an understanding that serves him well as Chief Executive Officer of College Bound Dorchester.

Lady June Hillary

When you're climbing a mountain, it's usually best not to look back. That's the approach Lady June Hillary has taken toward the uphill journey of life. Now 80, she prefers not to dwell on the past, but rather to look forward, toward the adventures and activities that still lie ahead. But what a life she has led!

Janice Lathen

Growing up, Janice Lathen probably never imagined that her destiny would ultimately lead her to give her heart to the Tanzanian village of Karatu. But an OAT African safari revealed to her how she could use her computer expertise to change the lives of children in the local schools.

Naomi & Mark Hughes

When Naomi and Mark visited Tanzania for the first time with OAT, they saw firsthand how a child's life could be changed by a reliable mode of transportation (beyond walking). And they were inspired to do something about it. "We knew that bicycles would give these children the mobility they need to get to secondary school," says Mark.

Casey Recupero

It's a long way from Africa to Boston, but there came a point in his life when Casey Recupero had to make a decision: which location did he want to settle down in? The answer has made a big difference to a lot of at-risk young people looking for a chance at a successful future.

Eulin Chacon

If anyone can prove by example that education is a great equalizer, it is Eulin Chacon. Growing up in San Carlos, Costa Rica, she had always enjoyed school. She liked to study and pursued her education through high school, dreaming of continuing on to college.

Nicole Braley & Jim Cummings

At Grand Circle Foundation, we believe that engaging in community service is a gift from the heart. And no one is more generous with their time than associates Nicole Braley and Jim Cummings, for whom the Foundation's marquee annual service event amounts to a full-time job—on top of their regular job—for several months of the year.

Deborah Re

Like Boston-based Grand Circle Foundation, which helps support communities and schools throughout the world (including Boston), the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston serves as a valuable resource to its constituents—young women who call this area home. That's why, at Grand Circle Foundation's annual dinner, held on April 6, Grand Circle Foundation Chair Harriet Lewis was thrilled to recognize Deborah Re—CEO of the Big Sister Association—with the foundation's highest award: the Lewis Changing People's Lives Award for 2010.

Julie Kremer

Have you ever thrown a pizza party for 300 people, in the middle of a blizzard, with one hour's notice? Arranged the flights, transfers, lodgings, meals, and apparel for 120 international guests from 30 countries? These are some of the feats Julie Kremer accomplishes during the normal course of her job as Grand Circle Corporation's Director of Worldwide Communication & Culture—a role whose job description might best be summed up as "go above and beyond, every day."

Dr. Linnea J. Smith, M.D.

It all started with houseplants. For several years before starting her medical practice, Dr. Linnea J. Smith, M.D., had a store that sold them. And she wanted to see for herself where they grew. So, in 1990, she packed her bags and headed off on a two-week vacation to Peru. She spent the first week at the Explorama Lodge on the banks of the Amazon—and by the time she left there for Cuzco and Machu Picchu, she had fallen in love with the rainforest.

Bob Giannino-Racine

As a child, Bob Giannino-Racine just didn't see college as a possibility for him. After all, no one else in his family had ever attended college. Neither his father, who drove a forklift, nor his mother, who was a Head Start school bus monitor, had even graduated high school, and as the youngest of six children, Bob had always thought that, as he puts it, "The issue of paying for it made college seem not to be a possibility." As he made his way through the public school system of Somerville, Massachusetts, however, Bob discovered that he enjoyed learning—and was good at it.

Robert Lewis, Jr.

If there is such a thing as destiny, then you might say that Robert Lewis, Jr., was destined for a life of public service. After all, he grew up as what he calls a "public kid." "I was born in a public hospital, grew up in public housing, attended public schools, took public transportation to get to school—and my family received public assistance," he says. "All of these factors, which could have led to failure, instead spelled success for me, because I never knew this thing called 'poverty.'

Greg Johnson

Clearly, getting into college is only one of the challenges confronting disadvantaged youths. A bigger one is staying there through graduation. That is the mission of Bottom Line, a Boston-based nonprofit organization with a satellite office in Worcester, Mass., and a second scheduled to open this summer in New York City. It is also the mission of its Executive Director, Greg Johnson.

Roy Parsons

It was a day that made history at Costa Rica's Sonafluca School: an OAT traveler offered to personally match all gifts to Sonafluca, up to a total of $5000—a gesture that triggered a chain reaction of giving that ultimately raised $16,275. At the time, the benefactor asked to remain anonymous … but he has since realized that sharing his story might encourage others to give back, too. His name is Roy Parsons, a three-time OAT traveler from Newport Coast, California. And for he and his late wife, Katie, giving back has always been a way of life.

Erica Brown

Each of us has defining moments that change the course of our lives. For Erica Brown, one such moment occurred when she was nine years old, and her family was driving past the junior high school in her Malden, Mass., neighborhood, on the outskirts of Boston. Standing outside the building was a group of eleven- and twelve-year-old students, smoking. Her parents decided on the spot that they would not send their daughter to that school. The ramifications of that decision have reverberated through Erica's life ever since.

Priscilla O'Reilly

As a company that prides itself on building a culture of leaders, it's only natural that Grand Circle employs many associates who go above and beyond in terms of moral character. It takes a special character, however, to have an energy and passion that is so steadfast, so resolute, it has become synonymous with company culture. At Grand Circle's Boston headquarters, one such character is Priscilla O'Reilly, Director of Public Relations.

Debbie Krause

Growing up in Saginaw, Michigan, in a tightly knit family dedicated to education, Debbie Krause always knew she wanted to spend her life serving others—especially low-income kids. She found exactly the place to do just that: at the helm of Summer Search Boston.

Magdalena Zoroza

Being a leader often means learning some tough lessons—and coming out stronger on the other side. Since joining Grand Circle and OAT just seven years ago, Magda has grown tremendously both personally and professionally ... and still finds the time to be a passionate supporter of the La Concepcion School, a Grand Circle Foundation site in her native Argentina.

Justine Basso

Tanzania suffers from a shortage of teachers, so a teacher who is gifted and also passionate about his job is a real find. One such teacher is Justine Basso, who managed to break the cycle of limited education in his home village to become first a teacher, and then a headmaster. Today, he serves as principal at the Foundation-supported Bashay School, where he has made incredible changes. 

Catherine D'Amato

From her earliest memories of visiting her grandparents' farm in Colorado to her current role as President & CEO of The Greater Boston Food Bank, Catherine D'Amato has always found her life to be centered around feeding the hungry—beginning with her parents' Italian restaurant, where no one hungry was ever turned away. It was a lesson in giving she'd never forget.

Bill & Martha Dowd

Long attracted to the lifestyle and culture of South and Central America, Martha and Bill Dowd visited Peru, Chile, and Ecuador on OAT adventures, in addition to a trip to the Balkans. When the now 5-time travelers journeyed to Costa Rica with OAT in 2006, however, they had no idea how profoundly it would change their lives. 

Samantha Johnson

It wasn't easy growing up in South Africa under apartheid. Especially if you were the child of a mixed-race marriage. That was exactly the case for Samantha Johnson, whose white South African mother had married a black man from Mozambique. "It was very difficult, having to deal with so much negativity in life," Samantha recalls. "But it made me a positive person."

Kevin McCall

Kevin McCall's nonprofit, Building Impact, facilitates community service for more than 500 companies and 18,000 individuals in the buildings owned by Paradigm Properties, with 100% of proceeds channeled to its Nonprofit Partner Network. At this year's Boston Business Journal Corporate Citizenship Summit, Alan Lewis presented McCall with the Grand Circle Foundation CEO Social Leadership Award in honor of his role in spurring greater community involvement in Boston.

Barbara Washburn

Barbara Washburn had never so much as gone camping when she took a job with a man she assumed was "crazy" in a museum she had always considered "stuffy." Yet in 1947, as the mother of three young children, she stood at the top of Mt. McKinley and felt as though she was "looking out the windows of heaven."

Deborah Re

Growing up in Boston with loving parents and five older brothers, Deborah Re knew she was fortunate. Yet, even as a child, she longed for the companionship of an older woman who was not an authority figure like a parent or a teacher. "I would have benefited from the support and guidance of a mentor," she says. "Someone who would simply allow me to be who I am." In other words, a Big Sister.

Nancy Fogarty

As a child, Nancy Fogarty had two big dreams: to travel the world, and to help make it a better place. Now a 21-year Grand Circle associate, Nancy has made both travel and philanthropy integral parts of her life—along with leadership and mentoring skills that have helped her become an inspiration to her peers.

Greg Zaff

Few inner-city kids have even heard of squash—a sport typically reserved for members of elite private clubs. Greg Zaff, Executive Director of National Urban Squash and Education Association (NUSEA), is doing something about that. But more than that, he is making squash a springboard for achievement and opportunity for youth who might otherwise have neither.

Rung Chatchaloemwut

From guiding travelers on OAT's Discover Thailand adventure to becoming the Regional General Manager of our Southeast Asia offices, Rung Chatchaloemwut has worn many hats at OAT. "Since I joined the company in 1999," says Rung, "my life has changed from that of a quiet woman to a leader, from a young Trip Leader new to the American market to a high-ranking performer in the company."

Rebecca Haag

In looking at Rebecca's early career, you might not expect that it would take a turn toward the fight against HIV and AIDS. An Economics major in college and holder of an MBA, she worked as an executive and senior manager in a variety of corporate and government settings. "I loved the discipline of business," Rebecca explains, "but I needed more."


Kristina Tester

As a child, Kristina Tester dreamed of living in Africa one day. So when her grandparents offered her the chance to join her on Overseas Adventure Travel's Ultimate Africa: Botswana, Namibia & Zimbabwe Safari, along with her parents and twin sister, Kristina jumped at it.

It was a decision—and a trip—that would change her life.

Angeles Arrien

What do cultural diversity and ecological diversity have in common? Plenty, if you ask Angeles Arrien—including the risk of extinction. Find out how her "perennial wisdoms" tie us to the earth itself.

Tom Whearty

He's a busy guy with a big job and five young children at home. But Tom Whearty always finds the time to roll up his sleeves and give back. Find out why we honored him with this year's Excellence in Community Service award.

Andrea Howard

From girlhood boycotts of grapes and iceberg lettuce to saving a beloved Boston institution from financial ruin, Andrea Howard has always been passionate about social justice. This year, her passion earned her the Lewis Changing People's Lives award.

Susan Rickert

Susan Rickert

Growing up in a remote village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia gave 11-time OAT traveler Susan Rickert an appreciation for village life that has always stayed with her—and that has helped her change the lives of others around the world.

Lucio Levi

Lucio Levi

In the eyes of a Grand Circle traveler, the success of a trip depends not on the beauty of the scenery, the richness of the history, or the warmth of the sunshine. Instead, above all, a truly memorable trip depends on the Program Director who leads it. A great guide can elevate travel from a simple vacation to a life-changing experience—and we've met none greater than Lucio Levi, a longtime Grand Circle Program Director in Italy.

Susan Rodgerson

By helping young people find their creative voice - and teaching them to share that voice with the world - Susan gives underprivileged Boston youths the skills and confidence they need for success. We've been proud to support Susan from the very beginning, and we're thrilled about what she's accomplished.

Dr. Rodrigo Carazo

Rodrigo Carazo served as President of Costa Rica from 1978-1982, and later founded the International University for Peace. We were honored to have him serve as one of Grand Circle Foundation's founding Honorary Directors.

Sir Edmund Hillary

One of the Foundation's most inspirational leaders, greatest heroes, and dearest friends, Sir Edmund Hillary was the first person to summit Mount Everest along with his Sherpa guide and friend, Tenzing Norgay. But it wasn't his mountaineering accomplishment that mattered most to him. Rather, it was his work on behalf of the Sherpa people of Nepal, including the founding of the Himalayan Trust.

Ree Sheck

Writer and conservationist Ree Sheck moved from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Costa Rica in 1990 in order to work full time in rain forest conservation. She then wrote Costa Rica, a Natural Destination, the first book to introduce the concept of nature travel in Costa Ricaand as the concept popularized, she worked fervently to protect the delicate beauty of the nation she sought to promote. She served as information director for the Monteverde Conservation League, an internationally recognized grassroots organization, and started a foundation that has supported schools in 15 communities.

Willy Chambulu


Willy Chambulo

As the owner and managing director of Tanzania's successful Kibo Safaris, Willy Chambulo has never forgotten his humble beginningsand his beloved country reaps the benefits of his success. On the grounds of his safari lodges, he plants bountiful farmlands; he staffs his operations with local community members whenever possible to help stimulate the economy; and he is a strong advocate for the village of Karatu, which is also supported by Grand Circle Foundation. An unforgettable character with a passion for his homeland and Maasai heritage, Willy is a shining example of an entrepreneur who chose generosity over greedand he is a treasured friend of Grand Circle Foundation.