Story & Mission


When Tragedy Meets Passion

September 11, 2001 was the major catalyst in Tom Etzel's commitment to peacebuilding. His 25 year-old niece, Katie McCloskey was on the 97th floor of the World Trade Center when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower. Tom’s high school friend, Ken Waldie, was aboard that jetliner. In the days following the tragedy, when many Americans were thinking of war and retribution, Etzel's thoughts were traveling on a different path. He began to wonder if there was someway peace could be achieved by improving relationships among people of different viewpoints.

Upon completing his Master of Arts degree in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, in July of 2010, Tom successfully established GPBF.  Bearing special significance, the effective date of incorporation for GPBF was September 11, 2010.

GPBF operates under the premise that changing attitudes, perceptions and relationships are essential to peacebuilding, and doing this at the grassroots level will contribute to sustainable peace.  

GPBF’s mission is to contribute to the building of global peace by supporting organizations and projects that restore, rebuild, and transform relationships that have been broken due to prejudices, stereotyping, hatreds, and fears that may have accumulated over generations.

We hope you join us. 


GPBF is supported by an exceptional governing board, comprised of members dedicated to grassroots peacebuilding around the globe.



mark etzel

After completing his Bachelors Degree from Duquesne University, Mark moved to Mulanje, Malawi where he taught English and Music at a secondary school. After living in Africa for the year, he spent a month in Katerinice, Czech Republic, teaching English to youth and adults and leading music rehearsals with the handbell group he helped to create and train over the past decade. He has traveled to 24 countries throughout Europe, North America, and Africa. He currently works for Apple, Inc., connecting business customers to the products and services they rely on to run their businesses. He resides in Pittsburgh this with his fiance, Katie, and their two dogs, Major and Lucy.

Gavin Byrum.jpg

Gavin byrum

Gavin works as a business consultant for Apple where he helps growing companies understand the evolving IT landscape and maximize their impact through effective use of technology. He has five years of experience growing and developing relationships with key business customers in Apple Retail. He also does freelance work for Hawkeye Innovations, a UK-based company that provides in-game instant replay solutions in professional sports. Gavin’s international experience includes spending the majority of his childhood overseas and he has lived in France, Zimbabwe, and Senegal. More recently, he spent the 2016-2017 school year in Auxerre, France teaching English to French high-schoolers. Gavin has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. He has spent time volunteering in youth soccer, teaching piano lessons, and volunteering in hospice care facilities. He currently resides in Baltimore, Maryland.

Sonja Finn.jpg

sonja finn

Sonja Finn is the Sole Owner and Chef of Dinette restaurant and Consulting Chef of The Café Carnegie at Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History.

Dinette is a critically acclaimed restaurant rooted in sustainability, from its physical construction, to the daily sourcing of all food and drink to, most importantly, employing systems—good pay, health insurance, a reasonable work week—that ensure high employee welfare. Fittingly, Dinette was the first restaurant to be recognized as a “Sustainable Restaurant” by Sustainable Pittsburgh (2015) and has achieved the highest level of Platinum Plate, making it one of only four restaurants and the only independently owned restaurant in Pittsburgh to earn this top designation.

Sonja was the first Pittsburgh Chef to be recognized by the James Beard Foundation - twice a semi-finalist for “Rising Star Chef of the Year” (2009 and 2010). Sonja was also number 10 of Mother Nature Network’s “40 Chef’s Under 40” (2009), one of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s “Young Pittsburghers to Watch in 2009,” and twice a regional nominee for Food and Wine’s “Peoples’ Best New Chef” (2011 and 2012). More recently, Sonja’s been named an ACDA “Woman of Achievement” (2017) and a Pittsburgh Magazine's "40 under 40" (2017), and was featured on “Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown” Season 10. In June 2019, Sustainable Pittsburgh honored Sonja with the “Leadership in Sustainability” Award.

Sonja is a Culinary Institute of America (2003) and Columbia University (2001) grad.



Our advisors come from various industries. Their skills and expertise create value for the GPFB team as we tackle the challenges that come with identifying and supporting grassroots peacebuilding organizations around the world. 

Caitlin professional photo.jpg

Caitlin Miller

Caitlin has a background in nonprofit work in the fields of health and human services. She has a focus in grant writing. She has successfully sourced funding for foundations such as the Lupus Foundation of Pennsylvania and the Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh. Caitlin earned her undergraduate degree from Sarah Lawrence College and a Master’s degree from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She also studied abroad in France and speaks fluent French. She currently resides in Pittsburgh.


Jessica Berns

Jessica Berns is the Founder and Principal of Jessica Berns Consulting. She creates strategies, designs programs, develops partnerships, and operates at the intersection of content and communications. She is motivated by a vision of a safer, more just, and more equal world.

The majority of Jessica’s work has taken place within the NGO sector, and her areas of expertise include strategic planning, program design and implementation, and communications. She has a special interest in civil society network and partnership development, which she first developed as a Program Officer working with the Latin American chapters of Transparency International, the anti-corruption NGO in Berlin, Germany. More recently, as Program Director of Coexistence International at Brandeis University, an initiative focused on strengthening the coexistence field, Jessica facilitated the creation of a network of coexistence practitioners in West Africa.

With an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan in Spanish, and a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, Jessica has spent much of her professional life working and living abroad, in Latin America, Europe, and West Africa.


May Salameh

May is the Project Manager for Middle East and North Africa, DAI. Formerly, she was the Executive Director of INJAZ Yemen until April of 2011. Originally from Jordan, May began operations in Yemen in December 2009 following three years in Bogota, Colombia as Junior Achievement's Operations Manager in Latin America. Prior to her work in Latin America, she was a fundraising and marketing consultant in INJAZ Al-Arab's regional office in Amman, and a monitoring and evaluation specialist with INJAZ Jordan.

May has also worked with UNHCR on Iraqi refugee issues. May is fluent in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish and holds a Master's degree in International Affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. 


Tom Etzel

Founder & Executive Director


Tom’s Story… 

Our life experiences shape us. After losing two loved ones on 9/11/2001, I was moved to transform my grief and loss into something positive, tangible and driven by hope. I feel very fortunate in that I was able to respond to human violence in an altruistic manner. 
My 25-year-old niece, Katie McCloskey was on the 97th floor of the World Trade Center when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower. My high school friend, Ken Waldie, was aboard that jetliner. In the days following the tragedy, when many Americans were thinking of war and retribution, my thoughts were traveling on a different path.  I began to wonder if there was some way peace could be achieved by improving relationships among people of different viewpoints.  I searched for over five years before I would understand how to go about accomplishing my dream of bringing people together for peace. I was attending a graduation ceremony in December of 2006 when the keynote speaker, an alumnus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, addressed the assembly on the subject of global peace. The speech inspired me and I contacted the Fletcher School to inquire about their international programs. I discovered that the tuition for their mid-career one-year graduate program cost $62,500. I initially ruled-out this option because I still had a child in college.

 Throughout 2007 I kept going back to the thought of attending the Fletcher School.  In May 2008 I visited the Fletcher School and I was encouraged to apply for admission. At this stage I had a passionate spiritual calling to take action.  Throughout 2008 I consulted with clergy, mentors, friends and family about taking on this academic and financial challenge at the age of 54. I was humbled by the support I received. Shortly thereafter, I applied and was accepted at Fletcher. I borrowed $40,000 and family, friends and church community members contributed the remaining $22,500 to pay the tuition. I began studies in July 2009 with a purposeful intent to find a vision for building peace on a global scale. My thesis was entitled “The Impact of Grassroots Diplomacy on Peace Building.” The Fletcher School education formed the cornerstone for the Global Peace Building Foundation (GPBF). After graduation in July 2010, I established GPBF. Bearing special significance, the effective date of incorporation was September 11, 2010. I was compelled to have GPBF focus on changing the attitudes and perceptions of youth and children to stop the cycle of hatred and fear that has previously passed down from generation to generation.   

Tom holds the Master of Arts degree in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, cum laude, from Duquesne University.

Tom is a Certified Public Accountant and Investment Advisor. He has been the Principal of his own tax and investment advisory practice for the past 25 years. He currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his wife, Phyllis Etzel. Tom and Phyllis have three children, Kristen, Katie and Mark; a son-in-law, Aaron; a daughter-in-law, Nikki; and grandsons, Elliott, Sullivan and Hobson Thomas. 


GPBF is a member of the Peace and Security Funders Group (PSFG) and the Alliance for Peacebuilding(AFP); and registered with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  These organizations provide collaboration, education and networking opportunities for GPBF.

about psfg

The Peace and Security Funders Group is a network of public, private and family foundations, and individual philanthropists who make grants or expenditures that contribute to peace and global security. PSFG maintains an informed, engaged and collegial community of funders, whose numbers and investments in the field are steadily increasing. 


About AFP

The Alliance for Peacebuilding (AfP) is the institutional home for the peacebuilding community—a network of over 100 organizations working to resolve conflict and create sustainable peace in 153 countries. 



One of the many things USAID does is to help societies prevent and recover from conflicts.