Leadership Team

 

Sarah Berchtold
President

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 me blog at www.sarahvienna.com

Stefanie (Steffi) Vogel
Vice-President

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.”

http://www.dornstetten-evangelisch.de/cms/startseite/missionsprojekte/stefanie-vogel/

Mary Buckalo
Secretary

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.

 

Jon Gibson
Board Director

Jon Gibson, president of the Jon Gibson Company, is a real estate developer in California who has developed residential and business properties in eight cities over the last 34 years. His favorite real estate development project was the relocation of Focus on the Family from Southern California to a new campus in Colorado Springs.

Serving on the board for "Family Talk", Jon possesses the heart of a philanthropist and a passion to preserve the traditional family. Because of his dedication to seeing lives changed and his confidence in what we are doing, we asked Jon Gibson to be one of our advisors for Firm Foundations Romania. He was instrumental in helping us start our 501c3 in the United States and we are thankful for all of his support, advice, and encouragement.

http://www.jongibsoncompany.com

 

Ron Kubek
Advisor

We first met Ron Kubek in Romania in 2006 when he traveled with his church when they came to do a home makeover and volunteer with us at the hospital. Since then Ron has traveled to Romania twice a year to volunteer with us and see the progress of our association. We have asked Ron to be an advisor and Mentor for Firm Foundations Romania since one of his skills is helping individuals and businesses as a motivator and coach to grow and reach their potential. Since working with us in this role, Ron has helped us form a strong team with great systems and has helped to hold us accountable to all our goals and plans. Ron has also helped us form many great connections to people that he knows to further assist in funding. His heart is with the children and people of Romania and whenever we have an issue or project and we get stuck, we like to turn to Ron for his guidance, wisdom and fundraising abilities. He can really see the benefits to what we are doing here.

Ron is also involved in other volunteer works including Habitat for Humanity and has worked in Comanesti Romania many times with the local affiliate.

Check out some of his projects and thoughts at www.ronkubek.com/blog

 

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 have never 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

Alisha Sidebottom
Hospital Project Coordinator

I first came to Romania in 2008 as a short term volunteer. After spending three weeks here I knew I wanted to come back long term. I did not know how this could happen but I knew that my heart was pulling in the direction of helping the children of Romania. After much prayer and preparation, exactly one year later I returned to Brasov. God has been so faithful to provide for me to stay in this country.

It is amazing to watch these children grow and develop in ways that once seemed impossible. I have worked with children for many years, and working with these babies that are in high risk situations has changed me in ways that I never could imagine. Being a part of these children's lives and watching them develop and grow has been a great joy. As I continue to serve in this country God continues to open up doors to work with the people of Romania. Working with FFR has shown me that "With God all things are possible.”

 

Rachel Titiriga
After School Program Coordinator

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 the people and the country and returned many times volunteering across the country for 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, and every day for 4 years I missed Romania and the beautiful people of this country. In 2014, Sarah asked me to return to Romania to be the Project Coordinator of the After School Program in Budila, and the Lord opened the door wide open for me to return. 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 Coordinator

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 Shade
Kids Club Coordinator

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 Bucharest.

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.

 

Lauren Manu
Baby Closet/MOMS Project Coordinator

The first time I came to Romania was in 2006. From that moment I fell in love with the deep rich history, beautiful mountains and people of Romania. I felt a calling to move to Romania in 2011 but my husband, our sons and I finally made the move from Chicago to Brasov in 2012.

I am blessed to be able to run the moms project in the Brasov Children's hospital. I enjoy sharing my knowledge of babies and young children with the mothers of Brasov. I have the ability to get to know and understand each mother individually. Whether the mother has one child or multiple children, it is important that she feels accepted, supported and loved by her peers and by God. Each week the project provides a lesson, encouraging words and fun craft and/or game. The project has now extended to two support groups, that I lead, that meet once a month in the FFR support center to further help and guide the lovely mothers of Brasov.

 

Katie Greiner
Donations Coordinator

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.

 

Raelene Schmalz
Administrator

Coming from my home in British Columbia, I traveled to Romania at the beginning of 2010 after talking to a friend who had volunteered with FFR. Feeling led to volunteer I came to Brasov and spent three months working at the children’s hospital. It did not take long for me to fall in love with the precious children and with the team of remarkable people serving here. After much thoughtful prayer I am very happy that God led me back to Brasov in January 2011.

In my life, no other experience has impacted me as deeply or blessed me as richly. It is such a priviledge to be called here to serve and show the love of Christ to these people. If you are considering becoming involved with this organization, be encouraged that all that is needed are willing hands and a loving heart.

"Oh, that every true Christian would recollect that he is set as a lighthouse in the midst of a dark world, and would labor so to live that every part of him may reflect light, and no side be dim!" J.C. Ryle

 

Jason Schade
Soccer Project Coordinator

Jason first came to Romania as a 19 year old missionary in 1996. He spent a year in Brasov working with abandoned street children through local churches. That's also when he met his wife Lidia who was also working for the same street children outreach. After living in the US for 15 years, Jason and Lidia and their two children moved back to Romania long term praying for opportunities to get involved with local missions again. Such an opportunity arose for Jason with the FFR soccer program. Jason jumped at the chance to once again get involved in an outreach to children. With a focus on teaching respect, teamwork and leadership through soccer, weekly soccer matches

attract 20-30 kids.

 

 

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