NewsWomen's History Month 2023


KC woman continues to spread passion for helping poor, marginalized through nonprofit Unbound

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Posted at 5:28 PM, Mar 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-13 16:38:48-04

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Ashley Hufft was working as a corporate lawyer, in merger and acquisition, in New York City when a subway ride changed her life.

“After making partner one day, I found myself riding the subway to work and tears coming to my eyes. I realized that I had a bigger calling in life,” Hufft said.

At that moment, she saw the rest of her life with clear eyes. Hufft quit her job and moved to Africa, where she made it her life’s work to serve those in need.

“Being in sub-Saharan Africa and seeing just a complete — people’s lack of everyday needs and the inability to have choices in their lives was eye-opening,” Hufft said. “The first thing, of course, is the poverty. And poverty, I had never seen or experienced before in the United States.”


She fell in love with the people and the landscape, leading her to adopt her son Max, who is now 12 years old, from Ethiopia after one of her projects.

Hufft and Max moved back to the U.S. when the pandemic began, but her work never ceased.

When she came back home to Kansas City, she wanted to continue spreading her passion for helping the less fortunate.

“Really thought I’d be leaving the international work behind, and then I learned about Unbound,” Hufft said.

Unbound is an international nonprofit headquartered in Kansas City.

The nonprofit works with the poor and marginalized across 18 countries, primarily focusing on helping families often led by mothers, to become autonomous and self-sufficient.

Across all program locations, there are about 13,000 mothers groups.


“These women get together and they do trainings, they hold each other accountable to meeting their goals, they help when a child is sick and they also form something that I love to see — they form cooperatives and they contribute money into savings and loans and give each other loans,” Hufft said.

A program called “Agents of Change” was also born out of these groups. Together members work with one another on community-wide projects.

Whether it be an infrastructure plan, building roads or putting in lights, Unbound believes empowering women will empower their families.

Unbound and its mission are made possible through willing sponsors who are matched with a child or an elder in need. Monthly donations from the sponsors go directly into families’ bank accounts, who then determine how to use it and set their own rules.

“Giving that family the ability to make a choice is empowering, and day-by-day-by-day it gives them a little bit more leeway, a little bit more runway to take themselves sort of up the ladder out of poverty,” Hufft said.

Tara Lavelle, one of the organization’s 280,000 sponsors, says she came to the Unbound's “Experience Center” and felt compelled to help in any way she could.

“Here we are living our lives of luxury, and in that moment, I thought there has to be, like, what can we do to help?” Lavelle said. “There was a picture of this young girl holding a soccer ball. Our girls grew up playing softball, so it was the sport that spoke to me.

"And so I picked up Tiana’s letter and I read about Tiana’s life. She’s from Madagascar, lives with her mom, her dad and a brother. Wants to be a doctor when she grows up. Walks to school every day.”

Lavelle tells KSHB 41 that being a trusted adult in Tiana’s life has been rewarding.

“We have a way of telling young girls they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. but when they make the decision of what they want to be, when they grow up, we stifle that,” Lavelle said.

Her message to Tiana as she grows into adulthood is that she can truly be anything she wants to be.

Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor can learn more on the organization's website.