All posts by Sock Robot

Amber Varner

Name: Amber Henneck Varner
Age: 45
Location: Newberg, OR
OccupationExecutive Director of Forward Stride

In bucolic Missoula, Montana, Amber Varner grew up doting on her aunt’s horses until she was gifted one of her own at age eleven. Ginger, that first horse, became her constant companion and began a stretch of horse ownership that’s gone nearly uninterrupted since then. It’s fair to say that her experience with Ginger launched her down the path to being the person she is today, in charge of Forward Stride, an organization that uses equine therapy to benefit humans and horses alike.

Amber Varner uses equine therapy to help humans and horses“I wanted to be a veterinarian until I realized they had to put animals to sleep,” Amber recalls. “I wanted to be a marine biologist until I realized I would have a hard time being at sea and owning horses. I wanted to be a pediatrician until I realized they didn’t actually have a chance to get to know the children they treated. I finally decided I wanted to be involved with therapeutic horsemanship during my final year of college. I couldn’t wait to combine my passion for horses with my passion for helping people with disabilities and I have not looked back.”

Amber Varner wows the crowd as she talks about equine therapyForward Stride began when Amber and a group of likeminded people resurrected a similar organization at its nadir. They renamed and reimagined the nonprofit, first as a volunteer group that provided riding lessons to disadvantaged children twice a week. “This passionate group set the stage for us to grow into what we are today: thirty staff members, thirty-five equines, 150 volunteers providing over 200 client service hours per week.”

Today, Forward Stride carries out its mission through seven programs that are divided into three categories: Equestrian Sports, Clinical Services, and Personal Development. By offering volunteering opportunities, equine-centered learning, equine-facilitated psychotherapy services, vocational opportunities, rehabilitation, vaulting and riding, Forward Stride approaches mind, body, and soul wellness through an interconnected series of relationships and activities.

Over time, Forward Stride has encountered many challenges, including the predictably high overhead that the majestic animals bring, moving multiple times, turnover at executive director, and general economic uncertainty.

Amber remains optimistic. “Throughout it all, we have always managed to keep seeing our clients and ensure a happy and healthy herd. Because we are an inclusive center, we encourage everyone to experience our services and also to give back. This makes for a very tight-knit, passionate community.”

Amber Varner rides a horseThere’s always something to do at Forward Stride, and when Amber isn’t working with people in the arena, you can find her training horses, attending to various projects at her desk, executing necessary administrative tasks, or meeting with coworkers and board members to keep them up to speed. In her spare time, she and her daughters enjoy riding and vaulting and spending time together at the barn.

In the future, Amber sees an expansion coming.

“I aim to ensure Forward Stride’s long-term success by growing our donor base and programming, and improving our services through staff education and innovation,” she says.

“I hope to provide my daughters with the same support I was given by my parents to follow my dreams and turn them into a stable living. Sometimes I dream of being eighty and still teaching people how to communicate and enjoy their equine partners. How many people don’t ever want to retire? I am one lucky lady.”

Amber Varner of Forward Stride works with a horseWhat advice does this equestrian expert have for young ladies as they saddle up to adulthood?

“Make your own community. Surround yourself with others who understand that we all have gifts and we all have challenges. When you are surrounded by people who all have a common goal of lifting one another up, anything is possible and you will always have a shoulder or two to lean on when you are not able to stand alone. In return, be the same support to others whenever you can. You will find more strength than you ever thought you had when you put it to use for others.”

Some excellent advice! For her work with Forward Stride and keeping horses and humans happy, healthy, and in harmony, we think Amber Varner is a very Cool Girl!

To learn more about Forward Stride, like them on Facebook or follow them on Instagram!

Wendy Smith

Name: Wendy Smith
Age: 42
Location: Washougal, WA
Occupation: Co-Founder and Director of Odd Man Inn Animal Refuge; Writer; Registered Nurse

Like many kids who love animals, Wendy Smith dreamed of one day becoming a veterinarian. But after going to school on a military scholarship, she began her career as a nurse. After thirteen years as a high-risk labor and delivery nurse, and five years as an E.R. nurse at a trauma center, Wendy decided to take on a different type of triage. She’s now the director, vice president, medical director, volunteer and adoption coordinator, head of marketing and social media, lead copywriter, funding chairperson, and so much more at the animal refuge she co-founded, Odd Man Inn.

Considering her earlier life’s dream to become a veterinarian, she didn’t end up too far off, between working both in animal rescue and human medicine. “It turns out I would have made a terrible veterinarian because my beliefs about all beings having an equal right to their lives would have been a serious job hazard,” she says.

Through her position at Odd Man Inn, Wendy is a voice for the voiceless and a champion of all creatures great and small. “After we adopted Roswell, a dog with a bite history, we bought a piece of property to help keep him safe,” Wendy remembers. “Because we had space to take in more animals in need, and because we were investing our lives into this one dog, we chose to take in species who are often abused, neglected, and discarded.”

It was Roswell’s rescue that prompted them to develop Odd Man Inn into a full-scale animal rescue nonprofit based in the small community of Washougal, Washington.

“We are a farm animal sanctuary and adoption shelter and we rehabilitate animals who need help recovering from past lives, then we find them safe homes. It feeds my soul to nurture them and watch them return to health and happiness. We’ve now adopted out 275 animals in just three years.”

Every day Wendy and her team wake up to a goat named Herbie Berbie screaming for breakfast at 5AM, then proceed to feed 35 pigs individualized meals. After a full day of collecting produce donations, answering emails, messages, and social media comments, managing a volunteer crew, and tending to their residents, they serve 35 pig dinners and start prepping for the following day.

But it’s not the everyday tasks like these that make operating an animal shelter such a challenge; it’s trying to take in as many rescue animals as possible.

“The need for animal rescue is far greater than the number of people who are willing to take animals in and care for them,” Wendy says. “We receive dozens of messages a week asking for help with animals, and we simply cannot say yes to all of them. Our mission involves helping the animals have their voices heard while they have the luxury of our online platforms and devoted fans who are listening. We share very openly about our life here with them, which comes at the sacrifice of our own privacy. I don’t mind that so much, but I do dream of a world where we don’t have to go through such extreme measures to help animals become ambassadors for saving their own kind.”

Wendy has written several children’s books about the rescue stories of animals, and aims to publish them with all of the proceeds going to benefit the residents of Odd Man Inn. She was also a speaker at this year’s Portland VegFest, and is getting ready for SaSQUASH Art Fest, the third annual fundraiser for Odd Man Inn.

What advice does this animal advocate have for young girls out there looking to lend a hand and a heart?

“I always thought that my “job” had to be something that was also my passion. That’s not always the case. Find something you’re good at, and get paid to do that work, then use your free time to pursue things you’re passionate about, whether they pay you or not. Make your superpower your work ethic and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.”

Keep track of the great work they’re doing at Odd Man Inn by following on Instagram and liking on Facebook.

Anusha Singh

Name: Anusha Singh
Age: 20 years old
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Occupation: College Student on a pre-med track/ National Campaign Co-Director for PERIOD

As an activist and educator, pre-med student Anusha Singh believes that access to healthcare is a human right. “My passion lies in helping underserved populations and people who can’t speak up for themselves,” she says. “This is exactly why I began my work in advocacy. Advocacy has given me purpose and a mission that is greater than myself, which overlaps deeply with my passion for medicine.”

Along with several other activists, Anusha testified against the “Pink Tax” in Ohio, a special tax on feminine hygiene products. Soon after, a bill to eliminate the tax was successfully passed in the Ohio House of Representatives.

“Before testifying, I remember walking into the restroom and staring at myself in the mirror feeling a bottomless pit of self-doubt in my stomach. Questions like, ‘I am just a student. How are they ever going to take me seriously?’ and ‘How do I get a room of predominantly male politicians to care about this issue?’ spun in my head. That was the very moment where I began to look outwards and realized that my very being there is setting an example to other students who were sitting behind and watching me. After giving myself a brief pep talk into the mirror, I realized that all that mattered to me was showing the students seated behind me in the House Ways and Means Committee that their voices do matter and the power of their advocacy,” she says.

As the National Campaign Co-Director for PERIOD, the largest youth-run women’s nonprofit in the world, she strives to provide menstrual products and support to all, especially those who are underserved. Anusha initially created the PERIOD chapter at Ohio State University after researching the tampon tax. She found it to be a bit of a struggle with her school’s administration at first.

“We received all types of pushback, whether it be from our school’s administration telling us that they do not have the funds available to budget for menstrual products, although they have the funds for toilet paper, or nasty comments left under our school newspaper (which featured us) claiming that we are not standing up for ‘real’ issues,” she remembers. “The more we worked with larger institutions demanding policy change, the more we realized that the majority of pushback was rooted in the lack of awareness resulting from the stigma surrounding this issue.”

From that realization, Anusha and her counterparts decided that it was necessary to educate people that menstrual products are not merely “personal items,” but crucial necessities that are vital to female students, and everyone who menstruates. Without them, education–even going to class–is impossible.

“We worked with Ohio State University to stock free menstrual products in over 150 academic buildings with a pilot program, which recently started as well!” she says. “My experiences working on the local level has enabled me to work as the Policy Coordinator at the National Level for PERIOD Non-profit and help so many other students across the country challenge their school’s administrations and partner with their state representatives for systemic policy change. Our success has drawn upon incredible support systems and believers in the movement.”

Anusha and PERIOD have chosen to push for October 19th to be declared National Period Day. It has two main rallying points of action. One: to provide provisions for free menstrual hygiene products in all schools, shelters and prisons across the country. Two: to eliminate tampon taxes in the remaining 35 states that still have them.

“October 19th is the day we hope to bring global attention to the issue of period poverty and make menstruation a much more global and mainstream issue. To get involved with the rally closest to you, be sure to check out period.org/nationalperiodday. Our goal is to hold rallies in all 50 states across the country in hopes of elevating the issue of period poverty,” Anusha says.

And what advice does this menstrual mercenary and brilliant mind have for young women who feel passionate about issues beyond their social circle?

“You are going to meet people who will make you feel inadequate and inexperienced, but I can assure you that your voice matters. Never underestimate the power of your voice.”

Samantha Radocchia

Name: Samantha Radocchia aka “Sam Rad”
Age: 31
Location: Brooklyn, NY / Digital Nomad!
Occupation: Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker

Samantha Radocchia, also known as “Sam Rad” for short, is a woman leading the way toward the future. An entrepreneur, speaker, author, tech advocate, and skydiver, she is innovating and reconstructing the way we think about technology, currency, community, and beyond.

As a kid, Sam was exposed to a ton of tech, even though she may not have realized how it was going to shape her path.

“My brothers–and by extension, me–were into gaming, learning basic coding at a young age,” she says. “My dad ran a retail business and was a systems thinker. I remember running around in warehouses and being fascinated with all of the sorting machines, automation, computer programs running off the mainframe which would direct the packages to certain areas of the warehouse and certain trucks.”

In college, she became riveted by how technology interplayed with human behavior, so she dedicated her studies to anthropology, neuroscience, and theater.

Her anthropology thesis centered on a virtual world called Second Life, where Sam ran a small digital t-shirt shop and sold the digital t-shirts to other avatars in the world using virtual currency called Linden Dollars.

“That’s probably around when I got into bitcoin and could see this entirely new world forming where people spent more and more of their time in or on computers, phones, and technology,” she recalls. “Yet, while I found technology fascinating, I always found the change to be scary, and even a bit dystopian.”

She channeled this anxiety into a theater program where she created plays that focus on technology’s effects on people, particularly the elderly. The union of creativity, tech, and humanity is where Sam found her career; today she delivers keynote speeches all across the globe, and oversees corporate trainings that ensure companies that they will keep their workforce dynamically shifting with the current of tech in the future.

Sam’s path to entrepreneurial success in technology included some predictable speedbumps.

“In my personal experience, it was difficult to be a young woman in the tech space,” she says. “When I founded my first company, there weren’t many resources at the time to support women or other diverse folks in the industry. There were a number of times I would sit in meetings and be asked where my ‘technical co-founder’ was. I can also recall numerous accounts where investors or other folks in a position of power used that power to make inappropriate comments or advances.”

In spite of this, she wasn’t discouraged. Moving into conceptual thinking and blockchain, Sam started Chronicled, a company focused on a decentralized supply chain protocol and network.

On her blog, Radical Next, Sam showcases her ideas about technology’s impact on people and society.

“The concept of ‘Radical Evolution’ is where you let go of all assumptions, unlearn what you have learned or been conditioned to believe, and experience a sort of life-changing, world-changing, society-changing growth,” Sam says. “So Radical Next describes these radically new ideas, and of course, combines some elements of living a ‘rad life’.”

The driving force behind Sam is her passion for the future, the future of work, production, governance, cities, finance, health, sustainability, and beyond. Her writing, speaking, creating, and her contagious personality has led to success; in 2017, she was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 List for Enterprise Technology. And have we mentioned that while her profile in the tech world has skyrocketed, she’s also a competitive skydiver with over 700 jumps to her name?

As she helps the world manifest a better future, Sam insists that we are all able to contribute on some level.

“We’re all taking part in building a new social operating system, the operating system of the future. A better future. A future where we restore connections with ourselves, with each other, with our environment, and with the products we consume,” she says.

Her work reminds us that we can all embrace the change by being empowered, as she was, by the global network we’re all a part of.

“My biggest support system has been, plain and simple, community.”

So what advice does Sam Rad have for young girls growing up in this age of new ideas?

“You are powerful. You are capable. You have a place as leaders in this world. Build the future that you want to live in. Speak up. Support others. Build Community. Have fun.”

For her work creating a better virtual world and reality, and for her incredible energy and dynamism, we think Sam Rad is a very, very Cool Girl!

To learn more about Sam Rad, follow her on Twitter, check out her blog Radical Next, or buy her book Bitcoin Pizza: The No-Bullshit Guide to Blockchain.

Jill Kuehler

Name: Jill Kuehler
Age: 40
Location: Portland, OR
Occupation: CEO, Freeland Spirits

Freeland Spirits is a female-founded, owned and operated craft distillery in Portland, Oregon. Part of its success comes from the childhood friendship between founder Jill Kuehler and sales manager Jesse Brantley. Some of it comes from Molly Troupe, Freeland’s Master Distiller and a lifelong chemist who earned a Master’s degree in Distillation in Scotland–the home of malted barley liquor. But maybe the real source of their mojo is the name Freeland, which comes from Jill’s meemaw (Texan for grandmother). No matter where the magic comes from, Freeland Spirits celebrates the bounty of Pacific Northwest and the friendships that are forged between women.

In 2017 Freeland began making Freeland Gin.  Born in a traditional copper pot that combines juniper and other botanicals, the small-batch spirit tastes as nuanced as the natural ingredients that comprise it. One year later, they started making Freeland Bourbon.

“It all started over a fateful night of drinking whiskey with my friend, Cory Carman,” Jill recalls. “I said, ‘Who grows this grain? What’s their story?’ She said, ‘I’ll grow the grain if you make it’ and here we are.”

That’s not to say that the journey from idea to actual alcohol wasn’t fraught with the typical struggles of a small business–let alone one with women at the helm. 

“Women receive less than 5% of small business loans and less than 2% of venture capital money,” Jill explains. “Needless to say, raising capital was a massive challenge.”

Jill wasn’t alone, at least; her family, her daughter, her co-founders, and her advisors always had her back. But there were more hurdles to clear than just finances. There was location scouting and acquiring all of the equipment–not to mention all of the legal hoops you have to jump through when you intend to start manufacturing booze. And, of course, hiring the right people.

“I heard about this mythical distiller in Bend, Oregon, who had a Master’s in Distilling from Scotland. I went out there and threw Molly over my shoulder and brought her to Portland,” Jill jokes. “And Jesse Brantley, our Director of Sales, and I grew up down the street from each other in Irving. Our first babysitting business was a failure so now we’re trying to correct past mistakes.”

Since assembling the Freeland team of genius grog goddesses, Jill and her company have taken Portland and the Pacific Northwest craft spirits scene by storm. To celebrate their first year anniversary, Freeland released their first canned cocktail. They’re still currently in the process of perfecting their future Freeland whiskeys. But she’s not stopping there.

“I want to support other women on their entrepreneurial journeys,” Jill says. “So many women have supported me and I can’t wait to pay it forward. All the lessons I’m learning I hope to share and help pave the way for more women in leadership.”

Beyond putting in the hard work, what advice does Jill Kuehler have for young women who have an idea that seems so crazy that they just can’t quit?

“Fear is not a bad thing. It often means you’re on the right track. Embrace the fear,” she says. “And build up your troop of gals around you,” Jill adds. “Support each other. Lift each other up.”

For her spirited spirits, entrepreneurial enthusiasm, and intoxicating intensity, we think Jill Kuehler and her Freeland Spirits team are very Cool Girls!

Stay in touch with Freeland Spirits by visiting their website, following on Instagram, or liking on Facebook!