Little did Ann Averbach ’97 know when she was competing on Gilmour Academy's Speech and Debate Team that her experience in public speaking would fortify her entrepreneurial work in Guatemala. Averbach has owned a small fair-trade business called the Mayan Connection for the last five years and works with indigenous women to guide them in their efforts to earn a livelihood to support their families.
"We currently have a women's collective of 12 single mothers who work at home making jewelry for us," Averbach says. She also works with two families one makes bags, the other makes skirts. Through her efforts on their behalf, the Guatemalan women are paid fair trade wages and their products are sold in the United States in boutiques, art museum stores and at events. Averbach says that the business involves 15 employees in Guatemala and four in the United States. It supports schools and local environmental projects near Lake Atitlán where she lives. She has another business called Divinity Within Designs, making clothes for yoga.
"Competing with the Speech and Debate Team gave me the confidence to communicate with anyone anywhere," Averbach says. "I also learned to write, think independently and work as a team. My experience helped to form me as a person and the skills have been invaluable in the real world." Averbach credits Gay and Ed Janis for this. Gay Janis is speech and debate coach at Gilmour. Ed Janis, who died in September, was a speech and debate instructor. "Mr. and Mrs. Janis really built a family for us," Averbach says, "and I will be perpetually grateful for all of the time they devoted to our betterment, not only as debaters, but as people." At Gilmour, Averbach also was in the Drama Club and competed in Mock Trial.
In 2001, Averbach graduated from Northwestern University with a double major in anthropology and Eastern religion. After college, she travelled around Latin America with her best friend, Andrea Vazquez '97, who is now studying pre-Columbian art at Columbia University. In 2003, Averbach earned a master's degree in education from John Carroll University. She taught Spanish at Old Brooklyn Montessori, is a yoga teacher, and leads retreats and workshops around the world.
When Averbach is stateside, she stops in to Gilmour to see how the Speech and Debate Team is faring. She visits with Vazquez and architect Mark Matuska '97 when she is in New York City.
"My philosophy on life and business is that you must do what you love, help others, follow your dreams and know that anything is possible," Averbach says. "I really believe that as long as you are truly doing something that is meaningful and will better the lives of others, everything will fall into place for you in life."