News accounts of the dire conditions that affect children around the globe can leave many feeling helpless. Not Michelle Jenice Stephens of Bonita Springs, who launched The Mahaan Aasha (translate, “great hope”) Foundation, so that she could effect change for children half a world away in India.

“Conquering India’s patriarchal society is one of the most challenging initiatives I have taken on,” says Michelle. “In many poor families, the fathers have died, are alcoholics, or have simply abandoned their families, leaving their families with no way of supporting themselves.”

Mahaan Aasha (MA) has provided some of these mothers with sewing classes and machines to earn an income, become independent and, most importantly, the ability to keep their children. MA also supports a girl’s school in the slums of Mumbai that focuses on empowering and educating girls to be independent.

Before starting Mahaan Aasha, she worked as a civil engineer and was a part of many projects in Naples.

To pass along the importance of her work, Stephens takes her 7-year-old daughter, Sophia, along to India, visiting orphanages and schools. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling the world, flamenco dancing, event planning and cake design.