Susan Njemanze

About Our Founder, Dr. Susan Njemanze

Dr. Susan Njemanze grew up in rural Kenya, Africa. During her last year in high school, Susan’s life was turned upside down when her father, the sole breadwinner for the family, suffered a brain aneurysm and died, leaving behind two wives and 17 children. As the second oldest of these children, Susan suddenly found herself with the burden of having to help support her huge family, which had been plunged into dire poverty.

Shortly after that, through events Susan describes only as “purely the grace of God,” she immigrated to the United States in 1978 and was welcomed into the Orange County home of the family of a young Peace Corps volunteer that she met while they taught together at a school in Kenya. Susan was fortunate to be sponsored by this friend's family to continue her educational journey in California.

Susan earned a bachelor’s degree in child development from California State University, Fullerton, a MS in social work from California State University, Long Beach, and an Ed.D. in counseling psychology from Argosy University. Susan’s compassion for people in need inspired her to become a social worker.

In May 2018, Susan was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Concordia University in Irvine, California, in recognition of her many years of service to children and families in need, both locally and internationally.

Susan is the author of an autobiographical book, Blessed for a Purpose, from Africa to America. It describes her life’s journey from her childhood in Africa to her life in America, including her work with families in crisis.

Susan currently resides in California with her husband Richard. They have four adult children and several grandchildren.

About Our Founder, Dr. Susan Njemanze

Susan Njemanze

Dr. Susan Njemanze grew up in rural Kenya, Africa. During her last year in high school, Susan’s life was turned upside down when her father, the sole breadwinner for the family, suffered a brain aneurysm and died, leaving behind two wives and 17 children. As the second oldest of these children, Susan suddenly found herself with the burden of having to help support her huge family, which had been plunged into dire poverty.

Shortly after that, through events Susan describes only as “purely the grace of God,” she immigrated to the United States in 1978 and was welcomed into the Orange County home of the family of a young Peace Corps volunteer that she met while they taught together at a school in Kenya. Susan was fortunate to be sponsored by this friend's family to continue her educational journey in California.

Susan earned a bachelor’s degree in child development from California State University, Fullerton, a MS in social work from California State University, Long Beach, and an Ed.D. in counseling psychology from Argosy University. Susan’s compassion for people in need inspired her to become a social worker.

In May 2018, Susan was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Concordia University in Irvine, California, in recognition of her many years of service to children and families in need, both locally and internationally.

Susan is the author of an autobiographical book, Blessed for a Purpose, from Africa to America. It describes her life’s journey from her childhood in Africa to her life in America, including her work with families in crisis.

Susan currently resides in California with her husband Richard. They have four adult children and several grandchildren.


Sharon Portman

Sharon Portman

Volunteering is in Sharon Portman’s blood. At a young age, Sharon started volunteering at church functions, then into young adulthood and on with mission outreach, political work, and college functions. When marriage and children came along, her volunteer focus still included church activities, school functions, Scouts, building homes in Tijuana, Habitat builds, Second Harvest, teaching ESL, AYSO, and more. Undoubtedly, the most memorable and life-changing volunteer event for Sharon started with an inquiry at a Peace Corps recruiting table while attending California State University, Long Beach.

A few months later, Sharon found herself teaching at a boarding high school for girls in a very rural area of Kenya. That was in 1975. Soon after her arrival, a young woman joined the teaching staff; her name was Susan Ndwiga. Sharon and Susan soon became fast friends having in common a love of laughter and adventure (ask Susan about learning to ride a motorcycle), a love of education and a heart to serve others.

In 1978, Sharon’s time in Kenya was coming to an end. It was bittersweet. She was going home to a fiancé, but she had grown to love Kenya, her students, and the many friends she had made. But Sharon wasn’t really done with her work in Kenya. Susan and Sharon discussed the possibility of Susan studying in the United States. Sharon went home hoping for the best. There were huge bureaucratic snags and communication challenges (no cell phones, no landlines, no email in those days). However, in the fall of 1978, the passionate determination of two young women and a now devoted husband saw the arrival of Susan in Southern California.

No surprise to Sharon, Susan excelled as a student from the very beginning. Sharon was delighted by Susan’s success hoping it would somehow circle back to Kenya sooner than later. Then “life happened” to them both. Along came marriages and children and all the duties and responsibilities with challenges, celebrations, careers, and ups and downs, all twisting through their families near and far with little time for much socializing let alone dreaming until 2007.

“Of course! What can I do to help?,” Sharon responded to Susan’s call to action. Lifelong experiences and a thirty year plus friendship were coming full-circle with the beginning of Graceworks. And, Sharon is (still) not done.

Sharon Portman

Sharon Portman

Volunteering is in Sharon Portman’s blood. At a young age, Sharon started volunteering at church functions, then into young adulthood and on with mission outreach, political work, and college functions. When marriage and children came along, her volunteer focus still included church activities, school functions, Scouts, building homes in Tijuana, Habitat builds, Second Harvest, teaching ESL, AYSO, and more. Undoubtedly, the most memorable and life-changing volunteer event for Sharon started with an inquiry at a Peace Corps recruiting table while attending California State University, Long Beach.

A few months later, Sharon found herself teaching at a boarding high school for girls in a very rural area of Kenya. That was in 1975. Soon after her arrival, a young woman joined the teaching staff; her name was Susan Ndwiga. Sharon and Susan soon became fast friends having in common a love of laughter and adventure (ask Susan about learning to ride a motorcycle), a love of education and a heart to serve others.

In 1978, Sharon’s time in Kenya was coming to an end. It was bittersweet. She was going home to a fiancé, but she had grown to love Kenya, her students, and the many friends she had made. But Sharon wasn’t really done with her work in Kenya. Susan and Sharon discussed the possibility of Susan studying in the United States. Sharon went home hoping for the best. There were huge bureaucratic snags and communication challenges (no cell phones, no landlines, no email in those days). However, in the fall of 1978, the passionate determination of two young women and a now devoted husband saw the arrival of Susan in Southern California.

No surprise to Sharon, Susan excelled as a student from the very beginning. Sharon was delighted by Susan’s success hoping it would somehow circle back to Kenya sooner than later. Then “life happened” to them both. Along came marriages and children and all the duties and responsibilities with challenges, celebrations, careers, and ups and downs, all twisting through their families near and far with little time for much socializing let alone dreaming until 2007.

“Of course! What can I do to help?,” Sharon responded to Susan’s call to action. Lifelong experiences and a thirty year plus friendship were coming full-circle with the beginning of Graceworks. And, Sharon is (still) not done.


Darrell Dudley

Darrell Dudley

Dr. Darrell Dudley, M.D. is a retired physician who has been a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church for over 40 years. In his medical practice, he was always committed to serving others locally having practiced at Kaiser Permanente in Bellflower and in Anaheim. Through his involvement at St. John’s church, Darrell met Susan Njemanze who gave him the opportunity to make his dream of helping impoverished children who lived outside of the United States a reality.

In 2007, Darrell joined Susan and other Graceworks volunteers in Rwika, Kenya to witness the impact that the program was having on children and families. Darrell credits Susan with giving him an opportunity to build personal connections with those in need in Kenya.

“To be able to visit Kenya with Susan, who is someone I know and respect and who came from one of these communities in a far off land and who had made so much of her own life, this personal connection gave me clarity and a specific means of helping children and their families who had been impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.” - Darrell Dudley

Locally, Darrell has been supporting Graceworks’ fundraising efforts.

Darrell Dudley

Darrell Dudley

Dr. Darrell Dudley, M.D. is a retired physician who has been a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church for over 40 years. In his medical practice, he was always committed to serving others locally having practiced at Kaiser Permanente in Bellflower and in Anaheim. Through his involvement at St. John’s church, Darrell met Susan Njemanze who gave him the opportunity to make his dream of helping impoverished children who lived outside of the United States a reality.

In 2007, Darrell joined Susan and other Graceworks volunteers in Rwika, Kenya to witness the impact that the program was having on children and families. Darrell credits Susan with giving him an opportunity to build personal connections with those in need in Kenya.

“To be able to visit Kenya with Susan, who is someone I know and respect and who came from one of these communities in a far off land and who had made so much of her own life, this personal connection gave me clarity and a specific means of helping children and their families who had been impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.” - Darrell Dudley

Locally, Darrell has been supporting Graceworks’ fundraising efforts.


Robin Lyall

Robin Lyall

Robin Lyall has been on the Graceworks board since its inception. She has been a volunteer and board member of several philanthropic organizations over the past 30+ years. Robin’s professional experience includes sales, interior design, and human resources. Robin holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from University of Utah and a master’s degree in human resources from Chapman University.

Upon meeting Susan Njemanze many years ago, Robin was encouraged to visit the village of Rwika, Kenya in 2008, which changed her life.

“Seeing the conditions that the children experienced in Rwika made me realize that I should never complain about anything ever again, considering my circumstances and life in Orange County. When I left Rwika, I vowed to never forget the children I met and made a commitment to do what I can to improve their lives.” - Robin Lyall

Robin Lyall

Robin Lyall

Robin Lyall has been on the Graceworks board since its inception. She has been a volunteer and board member of several philanthropic organizations over the past 30+ years. Robin’s professional experience includes sales, interior design, and human resources. Robin holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from University of Utah and a master’s degree in human resources from Chapman University.

Upon meeting Susan Njemanze many years ago, Robin was encouraged to visit the village of Rwika, Kenya in 2008, which changed her life.

“Seeing the conditions that the children experienced in Rwika made me realize that I should never complain about anything ever again, considering my circumstances and life in Orange County. When I left Rwika, I vowed to never forget the children I met and made a commitment to do what I can to improve their lives.” - Robin Lyall


Alison Conard

Alison Conrad

Alison D. Conard has been working in the field of social work for over decades, primarily as an advocate for at-risk children. For the past 24 years, she has worked for the County of Orange Department of Child and Family Services. She holds a Master of Social Work (MSW) from USC.

In addition to her employment with the County of Orange, Alison is a certified mediator, and she volunteers her time each week as a senior mediator with Orange County Small Claims Court.

Alison has travelled to Kenya twice as a volunteer for Graceworks. For the past 13 years, she has served on the Board of Directors. Her involvement has been primarily as a fundraiser and a personal sponsor for two Kenyan students.

“Being able to visit Africa and experience first hand the impact that Graceworks is having was huge for me. Africa and her people hold a special place in my heart, and I’m happy to contribute and to inspire others to get involved with Graceworks.” - Alison Conard

Alison Conard

Alison Conrad

Alison D. Conard has been working in the field of social work for over decades, primarily as an advocate for at-risk children. For the past 24 years, she has worked for the County of Orange Department of Child and Family Services. She holds a Master of Social Work (MSW) from USC.

In addition to her employment with the County of Orange, Alison is a certified mediator, and she volunteers her time each week as a senior mediator with Orange County Small Claims Court.

Alison has travelled to Kenya twice as a volunteer for Graceworks. For the past 13 years, she has served on the Board of Directors. Her involvement has been primarily as a fundraiser and a personal sponsor for two Kenyan students.

“Being able to visit Africa and experience first hand the impact that Graceworks is having was huge for me. Africa and her people hold a special place in my heart, and I’m happy to contribute and to inspire others to get involved with Graceworks.” - Alison Conard


Jay Bauman

Jay Bauman

Jay Bauman, DDS is a practicing general dentist in the City of Orange. Fourteen years ago, a patient asked him if he would be interested in doing charitable work in Kenya. He accepted the offer and became involved with Graceworks. He was inspired by Susan Njemanze’s vision to help impoverished children lead more productive and healthy lives and to help break the cycle of poverty.

After an assessment trip in 2007 to Graceworks Kenya, Dr. Bauman began the process of equipping a dental clinic in the village. After multiple visits bringing supplies and equipment, there currently exists a functional dental clinic at the Graceworks location in Rwika, Kenya.

“Serving on the Gracework board and working with the people involved both here in Orange County and in Kenya has been a highlight of my career.” - Jay Bauman

Jay Bauman

Jay Bauman

Jay Bauman, DDS is a practicing general dentist in the City of Orange. Fourteen years ago, a patient asked him if he would be interested in doing charitable work in Kenya. He accepted the offer and became involved with Graceworks. He was inspired by Susan Njemanze’s vision to help impoverished children lead more productive and healthy lives and to help break the cycle of poverty.

After an assessment trip in 2007 to Graceworks Kenya, Dr. Bauman began the process of equipping a dental clinic in the village. After multiple visits bringing supplies and equipment, there currently exists a functional dental clinic at the Graceworks location in Rwika, Kenya.

“Serving on the Gracework board and working with the people involved both here in Orange County and in Kenya has been a highlight of my career.” - Jay Bauman


Theresa Hines

Theresa Hines

Theresa Hines retired after serving 26 years at the California State University (CSU) Office of the Chancellor. She appreciates the professional experiences attained in their system-wide Human Resources Administration office (responsible for serving the 23 campuses that comprise the CSU system), retiring as Director, HR Policy & Programs and HR Systems.

On a more personal note, Ms. Hines cherishes her many years served as a foster parent for the Los Angeles and Orange County Departments of Children and Family Services, and for the many experiences that have truly been life-changing. Additionally, Theresa appreciates the blessings to be a Graceworks child sponsor for many years.

Without a doubt, Theresa’s personal and professional experiences will make a positive difference to the mission and goals of Graceworks.

Theresa Hines

Theresa Hines

Theresa Hines retired after serving 26 years at the California State University (CSU) Office of the Chancellor. She appreciates the professional experiences attained in their system-wide Human Resources Administration office (responsible for serving the 23 campuses that comprise the CSU system), retiring as Director, HR Policy & Programs and HR Systems.

On a more personal note, Ms. Hines cherishes her many years served as a foster parent for the Los Angeles and Orange County Departments of Children and Family Services, and for the many experiences that have truly been life-changing. Additionally, Theresa appreciates the blessings to be a Graceworks child sponsor for many years.

Without a doubt, Theresa’s personal and professional experiences will make a positive difference to the mission and goals of Graceworks.


Megan Gjersvold

Megan Gjersvold

Megan grew up at St. John’s and serving was always a huge part of that experience. It was instilled in her by her parents that there are many ways to give, not just financially (which is important), but also with time and talents.

She has a passion for people and a heart for serving; she is always looking for opportunities to serve God’s people. The love that God has for her has changed her life, and she could not help but live her life in a way that reflected just that.

Megan spent three years in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky working at a non-profit. Her work there included providing summer day camps for the local children, working in the schools, and fixing homes. She thought that this was where she was going to make a difference long term, but God had another plan.

After those three years, she brought her passion to serve locally and globally back to Orange, California to work in the youth department at her home church. She has been serving on staff for the last 6 years.

Growing up as St. Johns, Megan has heard so many heartwarming stories about Graceworks and is excited for the opportunity to be a part of the wonderful things they do!

Megan Gjersvold

Megan Gjersvold

Megan grew up at St. John’s and serving was always a huge part of that experience. It was instilled in her by her parents that there are many ways to give, not just financially (which is important), but also with time and talents.

She has a passion for people and a heart for serving; she is always looking for opportunities to serve God’s people. The love that God has for her has changed her life, and she could not help but live her life in a way that reflected just that.

Megan spent three years in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky working at a non-profit. Her work there included providing summer day camps for the local children, working in the schools, and fixing homes. She thought that this was where she was going to make a difference long term, but God had another plan.

After those three years, she brought her passion to serve locally and globally back to Orange, California to work in the youth department at her home church. She has been serving on staff for the last 6 years.

Growing up as St. Johns, Megan has heard so many heartwarming stories about Graceworks and is excited for the opportunity to be a part of the wonderful things they do!


Megan Gjersvold

Michelle Levesque

Michelle has served as a volunteer for over 25 years in many areas. Michelle has a heart for children and was a classroom volunteer for 7 years in a 2nd grade classroom in the Santa Ana public school district. She has been on several mission trips to Juarez,Mexico to help build houses for families in need. Michelle earned a registered nurse license in 1985 and worked at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital for 10 years before ‘retiring’ to raise her 3 children. Michelle is a long time member of St. Johns Lutheran Church. In 2018 she and her husband joined Susan Njemanze and a team of volunteers on a mission trip to Kenya.

“It was such a privilege to visit Graceworks Kenya and to see what God is doing there. I am honored to serve on the this board.” - Michelle Levesque

Michelle Levesque

Megan Gjersvold

Michelle has served as a volunteer for over 25 years in many areas. Michelle has a heart for children and was a classroom volunteer for 7 years in a 2nd grade classroom in the Santa Ana public school district. She has been on several mission trips to Juarez,Mexico to help build houses for families in need. Michelle earned a registered nurse license in 1985 and worked at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital for 10 years before ‘retiring’ to raise her 3 children. Michelle is a long time member of St. Johns Lutheran Church. In 2018 she and her husband joined Susan Njemanze and a team of volunteers on a mission trip to Kenya.

“It was such a privilege to visit Graceworks Kenya and to see what God is doing there. I am honored to serve on the this board.” - Michelle Levesque


Andrea Dabrow

As a long-time member of St. John’s Lutheran Church, I have known Susan and her work for many years.  Although I have not yet traveled to Kenya, my oldest daughter, Emily, visited the village of Rwika with Susan in 2019.  I heard about the needs and stories of the children through the details of her personal visit and the many photos she shared with me. Thus, my interest in supporting Graceworks grew and I was honored to be asked to join the board to help with the organization’s mission.

My husband Chris and I have three children, Emily, Jake and Kate. We have participated in many volunteer activities involving our children. Much of my volunteer work is with St. John’s School Board, Auxiliary Board, Mother’s of Preschoolers Founding Board, and leading Bible study groups.  In the community, I volunteered with AYSO, Foothill High School, and other community programs.  Currently, I am the Director of Development at Tustin Public Schools Foundation.

I look forward to working with my fellow board members to increase support and awareness of Graceworks’ important impact in Kenya as well as here in Orange County.


Stephanie Van Blarcom

Stephanie Van Blarcom

Stephanie Van Blarcom hails from the San Francisco Bay Area and attended San Francisco State. There, she worked with at risk children in inner city schools and in a family homeless shelter. After receiving a teaching credential and masters degree, she has worked in education for the last 15 years. Stephanie is married to Pastor Trevor Van Blarcom. Together they have two daughters, 11 and six months. She loves to garden, read, spend time with family and serve the local community. It is my hope that my heart and my background will be an asset to the Graceworks' Board's mission.

Stephanie Van Blarcom

Stephanie Van Blarcom
Stephanie Van Blarcom hails from the San Francisco Bay Area and attended San Francisco State. There, she worked with at risk children in inner city schools and in a family homeless shelter. After receiving a teaching credential and masters degree, she has worked in education for the last 15 years. Stephanie is married to Pastor Trevor Van Blarcom. Together they have two daughters, 11 and six months. She loves to garden, read, spend time with family and serve the local community. It is my hope that my heart and my background will be an asset to the Graceworks' Board's mission.

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