Leadership Team



Sarah Vienna Berchtold

Born in Boston and raised in Northern California, I am a musician with a humanitarian focus. As a Romanian resident (not a citizen), I can proudly say this country has become my home away from home due to the beauty of the country and the apparent need to assist the widow and orphan.

In 2001 I attended a school called Youth With a Mission (YWAM), a six month training where you learn more about God and missions before going on an outreach. During this time, I was introduced to a whole new world of missions. YWAM led me to Romania, which became my boot camp to develop my relationship with Jesus Christ and to train me as a leader.

God brought mentors into my life every step of the way over the past twelve years. FFR has become like a child of mine. I could never fully leave Romania as this country has become my home, my identity, and my family. The distinction of FFR from other organizations is that we lead with love. Every child we touch becomes family, and every volunteer that joins our team we embrace no matter what religion or personality. We are leaders with passion, heart, courage, and unity.

My message that I would want to leave is that you only need Jesus Christ’s approval in your life. I want people to be inspired, encouraged, and intrigued by the unique call that Jesus has for each person. I want people to feel motivated to step out of their box to do something they thought they never could do. I want people to be left thinking that God is doing amazing things through Firm Foundations Romania. For more information follow my blog at www.sarahvienna.com


Stefanie (Steffi) Vogel

Steffi is from Germany and came to Romania in 2002. While homeschooling a German boy whose parents were missionaries in Brasov, she met Sarah who helped her get a volunteer pass to the state-run orphanage for children under the age of 3 years.

While volunteering at the orphanage, Steffi fell in love with a little girl named Roxana. She first took Roxi in placement in 2004 and began to work towards her adoption. After four long years, Steffi completed the adoption in 2008! During this time, Steffi volunteered alongside Sarah in the hospital working with the abandoned and semi-abandoned children left in their cribs.


During the years, Steffi took out two more children who had been left for months in the hospital and she is currently working on adopting both of them. “There is nothing more satisfying and touching to me than making a sad and lonely baby smile and feel loved.”



Mary Buckalo

Mary came to Romania in March 2008 to visit a friend for three weeks. During that time, she volunteered in the hospital and quickly realized that she wanted to spend more time holding and loving the babies. The beautiful city of Brasov, the friends that she had made, and the opportunity to serve God in this capacity all captured her heart. Mary extended her trip for two more months before returning to Texas to move out of her apartment.

Mary returned to Brasov in July as a long term volunteer for Firm Foundations Romania. She feels blessed to have the opportunity to serve the country of Romania and to love the children who so desperately need to be loved.



Gabi Slavitescu
Social Worker

Gabi is the social worker at the Brasov Children's Hospital and works alongside Firm Foundations Romania. Sarah and Steffi first met Gabi in the hospital back in 2006 where she was the key player in helping to start the hospital project.

"Without Gabi our projects could never have started," quoted Sarah Berchtold. "She truly is the voice for the voiceless in Romania." Gabi Slavitescu is married and has two children, one of whom she is in the process of adopting.

Presently Gabi is assisting us with our After School Program as well as working with our teen group in Prejmer. Still working full time as the hospital social worker she is a heroin of her country and is fighting tirelessly for the orphans and Roma people of Romania.


Project Leaders - All of our long term volunteers also act as Supervisors for the Hospital Project


Katie Greiner
Hospital Project Manager

Ever since I was little, I have felt God calling me to care for the orphaned and abandoned; and when I was 17, God started leading my heart towards Romania. At the time, I had no idea how it would happen, but knew that He would someday bring me here. After volunteering with FFR for 2 months in the fall of 2010, there was no doubt left in my heart that this is where God was leading me. I returned to Brasov at the end of March 2011, and am so happy and thankful to be able to serve God here in this way. To have this opportunity to love these babies, wipe away their tears and bring a smile to their faces, to hold them and make them feel safe and loved, to sing the little ones to sleep... nothing else I've experienced can ever compare to this.

I do not know all that God has planned for me, but I am thankful for every day I have here and my heart is at rest knowing that I am where He wants me at this point in my life.



Rachel Titiriga
After School Program & Internship Project Manager

I was born and raised in Southern California. I came to Romania for the first time in 1997 on a youth missions trip. I fell in love with Romania and the people here and returned many times to volunteer over the next 10 years. In 2007 the Lord opened the door for me to move to Romania for 2.5 years, one year of which I spent working with Firm Foundations. In 2010 I moved back to California, but never stopped missing Romania and the beautiful people of this country. In 2014, I returned to Romania to be the Project Coordinator of the After School Program in Budila. In 2015 the Internship Program was launched. I am very excited to head up this Program and to see what all the Lord has in store for our interns. I am so blessed to be back in this country that I love, working with such wonderful people and helping the children in the After School Program as well as volunteering at the children’s hospital.



Juliana Timofte
Teenage Project Manager

I am from Brasov, Romania and I heard about Firm Foundations Romania through the Greater Grace Church in Brasov. Since 1999 I started attending this church and fell in love with the word of God and the amazing life God has for us in Christ Jesus. I graduated the Bible Institute in Budapest, Hungary. In my last year of Bible College, God placed on my heart a desire to share His life to the people of Peru. God gives the vision and He also brings the provision. One and a half year after the graduation I stepped on Peruvian land. My plans said I would stay in Peru 11months, but God had already prepared 5 amazing years for me to receive from Him while living in Peru. I went there thinking that Peru needed me and I came back saying that I needed Peru.

I have been back in Romania since July not knowing that God had such an amazing ministry prepared for me. I am looking forward to this time in Romania.
I love God because He loved me first. He fills my heart with so much love that I wish to pour it on these precious teenagers that God had placed before me through this amazing Foundation.



Lydia Schade
Kids Club Project Manager

Lydia is from Romania, but has been living in Atlanta, Georgia for the past 15 with her husband and two children. Lydia has long had a passion for helping the underpriviliged of Romania, as her and her husband met while ministering to street children in Brasov..

Lydia has been working with FFR for the past year as both a translator and an assistant for our Mom's Program. Having a Romanian woman in the hospital to connect with the mothers there has been a huge blessing and having the perspective of a mother has helped further our project there with the young women struggling with motherhood.



Jennifer Peterkin
Social Media & Marketing Manager

Jennifer Peterkin has been working in marketing and management since opening her first business, Caramella Candy, in 2008 and has been an event planner since 2010. In 2010, Jennifer took her first trip to Romania to volunteer with Firm Foundations Romania (FFR) for two weeks; and since her first visit that October, she hasn’t been able to stay away.

Jennifer started her own nonprofit organization in 2010 called Freedom and Justice Coalition (FJC). The idea behind FJC was to educate people about modern day slavery and human trafficking while advocating for victims of these heinous crimes. While seeking to find organizations that did preventative work for those at risk of ending up in the modern day slave trade, Jen was led her to FFR. Firm Foundations Romania is not an anti modern day slavery organization in mission, but the work they do with the Roma (gypsy) children in Romania is most definitely preventative – saving these children from not only slavery but neglect, abuse, child marriage, rape and more. While the abolishment of modern day slavery is still a fierce passion of Jennifer’s, she felt God pulling her, specifically, to Romania and to FFR.



Silvana Hagiu
After School Program Teacher

My husband and I started working in the missions field in 2000 when we felt called to share God’s love with the people of Romania. At that time we were living in Italy but felt that we needed to be back in our home country to work with abandoned children in Bistrita. We started an organizaion called New Beginnings and over the years we took in seven abandoned children that Child Protection entrusted us with. In 2006 we moved again, near Cluj this time, to work in two Roma villages.

2014 brought us back to the Brasov area and in the summer of 2015 I learned about FFR. I contacted them, wanting to work in the hospital; they quickly asked me if I would be willing to teach in the After School Program and lead the Mom’s Project. I instantly fell in love with the children from the After School Program. I love all of the work I do with FFR, including the Mom’s Project, and every small progress of a child brings great joy to me!

Interns - Our Interns manage our volunteer apartment and assist with all FFR projects


Izzy Hathaway

I'm twenty-one years old from Michigan's Mitten. In August of 2014, just a year into my walk with Christ, I came to Romania on a two-week missions trip. I was instantly captivated by the country's beauty, the humility of its people and the need among the orphaned and abandoned. After I returned home I felt God tugging on my heartstrings to return and volunteer long-term. When the FFR-Internship & Discipleship Program launched, God made it clear that's where He wanted me in order to strengthen my relationship with Him, strive after a servant's heart and pour out love to everyone in my path. He truly made everything possible and helped me to return exactly one year later, in August of 2015. I feel beyond blessed to be a part of such an amazing organization and absolutely cannot wait to see what God has in store throughout this next year.



Sarah Peters

For a long time, God has given me a heart for children living in poverty, tough family circumstances or in social care. Sharing His love, grace and hope with these children has become a fierce passion of mine.

In June 2011, this passion became more focused towards the children of Romania when I volunteered on a care project for a month in Brasov before beginning university.
After completing my degree in Childhood Studies, I began my career as a Family Outreach Worker in England. Still, I felt called to Romania, this time to volunteer with Firm Foundations Romania in their Internship Program and in August 2015, I moved to Brasov for the year.
I feel incredibly blessed and humbled to be a part of the Internship program, learning more and growing in my relationship with God while serving the children, families and other volunteers involved in the projects I work with. I view this as an opportunity to pour out the blessings God has poured onto to me and to learn to fully trust in Him.

" I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand " Isaiah 41:10