Hearts of Gold Team Left to Right: Colleen (Director of Development), Kelly (Program Manager), MJ (Executive Director), and Natasha (President of the Executive Board)
Natasha Verkley announced on Thursday November 16, 2017, her resignation as Executive Director of the Hearts of Gold Foundation, and her entry into the position of President of the Executive Board. We would like to take the time to thank Natasha for her 4 years of service in Ecuador, and welcome her legacy Maria Jose Orellana, the first-ever Cuencana to serve as Director of an expat organization in Cuenca.
Vision & Impact
Natasha entered Hearts of Gold in 2013, serving 4 years as the Director of the organization, and guiding its growth from its grassroots beginnings. In her time, Natasha led the Hearts of Gold team to distribute $500,000 in funding since 2013, witness a 698% increase in annual funding since 2012, distribute $46,000 in funds for earthquake relief, manage partnerships with 12 programs and projects per year, and design the Community Assistance Program (CAP), the first program of its kind to train and support a stronger, more sustainable nonprofit community in Ecuador.
Through all of her experiences with Hearts of Gold, Natasha says her favorite project she was involved with was definitely the CAP. After working with Ecuadorian nonprofits for three years, Natasha began to develop the Community Assistance Program which would go on to collaborate with 20 nonprofits, impacting thousands of beneficiaries, in its 2017 pilot year. Natasha explains, “This type of support was very needed, and leaders weren’t finding it anywhere else. We asked our partners how we could serve and this is what came back. Now we are creating the first nonprofit network in Ecuador.” She is so excited to see how Ecuadorian and Expat programs alike have witnessed a ripple effect of this program, offering more developed and constructed programs to populations in need, whether they be youth, impoverished, animals, cancer patients, disabled children, or any at-risk community.
As Natasha moves forward into the next chapter of her life in Spain, she is touched by the Ecuadorian female leaders that are the changemakers in their communities. These women are the ones who inspired the CAP because they were isolated when it came to personal and professional support. Natasha explains, “I was inspired by how beautiful these women are, how strong they are, and sadly how alone they were in their struggles.”
Growth & Future for Hearts of Gold
As Natasha moves to the next stage of her life, newly married and moving to a new country, she takes that inspiration with her. “I came to Ecuador as a girl, and am now leaving as a woman. This experience truly changed me for the better. I am excited to take all that I have learned here and take it to my new life in Spain. As President of the Executive Board, my future will still hold Hearts of Gold, just in a new way.”
As President of the Executive Board, Natasha will be taking Hearts of Gold to the next level internationally. “There are so many challenges that exist being a nonprofit in Ecuador – whether it came to shipping, banking, reaching certain types of funding – we were limited by what we could do within our expat and local communities.” Natasha’s new role will focus in high level funding, making connections internationally, and pioneering a new project, Mirame, (to be unleash in 2018) that will focus on female empowerment and education, with funds going to provide more scholarships to female leaders in our CAP program.
Our Sincere Gratitude
We would like to thank Natasha deeply for her service and commitment to Hearts of Gold during her time in Cuenca. Her legacy undoubtedly will continue on with the evolution of the CAP program and the seeds that planted Hearts of Gold’s upcoming project, Mirame. Natasha has personally and professionally left a profound impact on the organization and the expat and local communities alike. As Natasha moves forward into her next chapter she shares with us, “In 2014 I said I’d hate to see us go away, but I’d love to see us go big. That’s exactly what we did. Now I’d say, let’s go big again.”
On behalf of the Hearts of Gold team, our nonprofit partners, and the expat community, we wish Natasha only the best as she takes her sharp talent and warm heart to impact even more individuals in need around the world.
Welcoming our Acting Executive Director, Maria Jose Orellana
It is with much joy and anticipation that we welcome Maria Jose (“MJ”) Orellana as the Acting Executive Director of the Hearts of Gold Foundation. MJ entered Hearts of Gold in 2015, first serving as the Volunteer Coordinator, then being promoted to the Director of Community Development to increase the organization’s partnerships with institutions, businesses, and organized groups. Her background in early stimulation therapies serving children with disabilities, pregnant women, and premature babies, has allowed her to bring a new level of compassion to Hearts of Gold and the needs of her hometown, Cuenca.
A Cuencana Leading an Organization Founded by Expats
MJ steps into the role of Executive Director with much gratitude for the experience that has brought her to this point. Working alongside Natasha for the last 2.5 years, MJ comments “I am so grateful for Natasha in the way she taught us to fight for what we believe in, empowering us, and building a strong team to run the organization.”
More so, MJ shares “Personally I always wanted to help others in Cuenca, but I never knew how to get involved. In Cuenca, we are more accustomed to helping our friends and family, but not a greater community in need. I think it did change my life seeing so many expats that are willing to do anything to help others. These expats have made Cuencanos part of their family. I think it is so valuable that expats have taken in Cuenca and its people as their new home, and their new family. They are the ones who have taught me what it means to give back to your community.”
Vision for Hearts of Gold
When asked where MJ sees the organization going, she presents two main goals for Hearts of Gold. “I would love to see us integrate more with the Cuencano community and build awareness of what is actually going on in these at-risk communities and how nonprofits really are the solution.” Hearts of Gold has been working on this integration for years, and we are finally at the breaking point to involve more locals in our work. MJ explains, “I am so happy to be able to share the culture of giving that expats have brought to Cuenca with Cuencanos who really want to get involved, they just have never known how.”
The second goal MJ sees in Hearts of Gold’s future is to continue to invest and strengthen our partner organizations through the CAP program. “I really look forward to building an even stronger nonprofit community by offering educational opportunities and support to nonprofit leaders in a whole new way. We are excited to welcome even more nonprofits next year, and have our nonprofit network grow to improve services that are available to vulnerable populations.”
MJ’s leadership style will take the organization forward with a team-focused environment. “Everyone’s ideas have value, and their unique talents and strengths is what makes our team special. We are a family and depend upon open communication to make our work the best it can be.”
Maintaining Expats-Based Support & Involvement
MJ shares her admiration for the expat community and the way that they began the story of Hearts of Gold in Cuenca. “The expats are the ones who have made our work a possibility in the first place, and I am so happy to be able to be a part of it. As we step into the next chapter for Hearts of Gold, this is when we need expats the most. They are the shining example of what is possible when people come together for a common cause. They are the ones that believed in us since the beginning, and they are the ones that will inspire new expat and Cuencano supporters to get involved.
When asked what newcomers to Hearts of Gold would be surprised by, MJ answers that most expats are surprised to hear that we have the first program in Ecuador supporting nonprofits in a new way. She explains that before Hearts of Gold came to the picture, nonprofits had nowhere to turn for support. “I know in other countries this idea of supporting and training nonprofit leaders is the norm, but here in Ecuador it is brand new and we are already seeing the huge impact that the CAP program is having on our partners.”
Remarks from MJ to the Community
“I am so excited and honored to step into the role as the Executive Director of the Hearts of Gold Foundation. I would like to thank Natasha for all she’s done in the last 4 years, making Cuenca her home and dedicating her life to Hearts of Gold to ensure it was the best it could possibly be. As Director I will take my inspiration from our nonprofit partners who remain strong, despite the struggles and personal and financial stress that they have gone through. I will carry the perseverance and resilience of these organizations with me as I lead the Hearts of Gold Foundation forward. I look forward to working with all of you, getting to know you, and have you involved as we support and strengthen the nonprofit community in my beautiful hometown of Cuenca, Ecuador.”
We welcome you to greet MJ at Hearts of Gold’s 6th Annual Christmas in Cuenca Gala. Tickets are now available for purchase online or by phone at (07) 405-6197 (9am – 5pm).