Be Strong International // bestrongintl.org
Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @bestrongintl
In 1992, Althea McMillan founded Be Strong International (BSI) to end the cycle of broken individuals and family relationships in at-risk communities. She grew the organization almost single-handedly until the community started to take notice of its impact. The organization received its first grant in 1998 and today has expanded its mission to help thousands of youth and families. She knew that with the right tools, youth and parents could succeed and live the “Be Strong” lifestyle.
In 2012, Michelle Shirley, a servant leader, showed her dedication to helping South Florida’s vulnerable families go from brokenness to wholeness by becoming the CEO (and Chief Heart Officer) of BSI. Shirley took on oversight of the organization after completing her master’s degree with no longtime mentor grooming her for the position and at a time when the organization had just seven employees. Today, BSI manages an operating budget of $3.1 million and a staff of 38, is 100% debt-free and has a myriad of program offerings.
BSI currently has four divisions: Youth, parenting, family and marriage and community. The youth division offers workshops to help teens and young adults make informed decisions about healthy relationships, character development, careers and financial literacy. The parent division has resources that teach caregivers evidence-based strategies for raising happy, healthy children.
The family and marriage division offers workshops to help married couples at every stage and to help build communication skills, intimacy and understanding. Finally, the community division offers great volunteer opportunities to assist BSI with food drives, toy drives, back-to-school events and more. The community division serves to bridge the gap between people from different walks of life to have them better understand each other and work together to serve one another.
Acknowledging a nearly 30-year impact across South Florida, numerous accolades have been bestowed upon BSI. The 2020 Champions of Children Awards, hosted by The Children’s Trust, a dedicated funding source for children and families in Miami-Dade County, acknowledged BSI as the Program of the Year, recognizing its educational services and resources provided to youth and parents from broken families. Former Miami-Dade County Mayor, Carlos Gimenez, proclaimed March 23, 2019, “Have a Heart Day,” acknowledging BSI’s healthy relationship program. In 2020, BSI’s Best Places to Work in South Florida score was 94.51 out of 100.
While BSI has survived what they hope to be the worst of the pandemic, they need continuous financial and volunteer support from those who feel connected to its mission of moving individuals and families from brokenness to wholeness. Part of their strategic goal is to become less dependent on grants and more heavily supported by families and communities that understand the generational cycles of poverty and trauma that BSI wishes to break.
They need consistent, long-term donors that can make a pledge to give monthly or yearly. Shirley has heard time and time again that they are a “best-kept secret” in Miami-Dade County, but she no longer wants to be! “We are seeking assistance from those who are willing to volunteer with us and help us share our heartfelt message of wholeness with the world,” says Shirley.