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The Philanthropist

Strength in Numbers

Virginia M. Akar, Strong Girls, Inc

Background

The child of Cuban immigrants, Akar says she saw firsthand how grateful her family was for the support of family, friends and community when they arrived in the United States. “They taught my brothers and me to always help others,” she says. As she finished her own education and began a career as an attorney, Akar has taken on numerous pro bono cases and volunteered on the Community Relations Board for the City of Miami. In 2013, she helped start a non-profit music program that provides access to quality music education in schools before creating Strong Girls, Inc.

About Strong Girls, Inc

Focused on helping girls in disadvantaged communities, the nonprofit offers a unique afterschool program that meets for two hours, four times per week, focused on creating a support system to help break the poverty cycle. More than just academics, the program works on SEL or social and emotional learning as well. “Academics are just part of the picture when you’re talking about education. In order to truly educate the whole child, you have to address emotional intelligence because it is as important and vital to life success as math and reading,” says Akar “SEL teaches life skills such as collaboration, decision making, empathy, interpersonal relations, self-awareness. Those are the skills that help you make responsible decisions, the skills that make you career ready, those are the skills employers are looking for.”

Finding Strength

Akar was hit with the idea for Strong Girls after earning an LLM in Intercultural Human Rights in 2015. “In a discussion on the nexus between poverty and the denial of education for girls, I realized that educating girls was the key to large-scale positive socio-economic impact,” she says. Akar met with various stakeholders in the Miami community in an effort to understand why children born into poverty underperformed their wealthier counterparts. “It wasn’t the books, it wasn’t the teachers, it wasn’t the school,” she says. “Instead, it was having the added toxic stresses of food and housing insecurity, a fear of violence, inadequate access to healthcare, and in many cases an absence of positive role models. Strong Girls can’t remove those stresses, but we help girls better understand how those stresses play a role in preventing them from getting the most from their academic education.”

Looking Ahead

Strong Girls was recently awarded the Grand Innovator award by Inspire 305 and hopes to expand to an additional two schools this Fall, but Akar says help is still needed. “We are a young organization but we are growing quickly,” she says, noting that bringing awareness to the cause and asking for SEL in schools is a good first step. “It’s important that SEL is implemented in a way that is meaningful,” says Akar. “Our goal is to one day be in every school in the district and in the State.”

stronggirlsinc.org

Andrea Carneiro
Author: Andrea Carneiro

Andrea Carneiro
the authorAndrea Carneiro
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