Founding Story

Be Strong Families was founded in 2011 by a group of dedicated Strengthening Families Illinois staff members: Dara Griffin, Guy Schingoethe, Letechia Holmes, Chris McGrath, Tarcisio Ornelas, Celina Orozco, Kathy Goetz Wolf, and Kareen Nunnally who joined later that year. The founding partners served as the original board of directors of the newly formed 501 c-3 until October 2012.

The Partners’ vision was to create a national organization of parents working to strengthen families from the inside out. The bold theory of change was that parents can be a force for social transformation. How? By strengthening ourselves, mind, body and spirit, consciously and intentionally strengthening our families, and then joining together to create communities that support families in raising kids. The founding partners knew that positive energy is the key to making this happen –above all else, we need to nurture the spirit of family. The Partners were and we are passionately committed to leading with positive energy, ancient wisdom, and respect. We are dedicated to including all voices and striving for reconciliation, peace, and justice.

The founding partners took the initial risk. They stayed with Be Strong Families for four months with no funding. They believed in its future and they dug in and kept going, developing materials, plans and policies, knowing that the dream would be manifested. One of them even donated office space. In June 2014, the founding partners clarified how they see their role as distinct from board or staff –past, present, and future. They see themselves as having made a permanent (or at least long-term) commitment to the organization, feeling “it is part of us and we are it.” They see themselves as having a spiritual connection to the soul and spirit of the organization – much as parents do to their children, however old the child is. They feel like they are energetic guardians.

We are parents and community members. Be Strong Families staff has a high concentration of former Head Start parents and people who in one way or another (as children or as parents) have been involved with the child welfare system. We are dedicated to uplifting, empowering, and developing the leadership of people who have healed from and are thriving after really difficult experiences.

Going forward, the founding partners identified several commitments that are crucial to maintaining the vision of Be Strong Families:


Commitment to Parents: We need to always be saying “Parents are capable of  doing this work with proper training, support, and encouragement.”

Commitment to Strength: Mind, Body, and Spirit

Commitment to Energy Leadership: We want to lead with positive energy.

Commitment to Uplifting: We are committed to meeting people where they are and elevating. As Erwin McEwen, our initial benefactor and mentor used to say: Mind elevation over bureaucratic domination.”

Commitment to the Be Strong Families Family: Board, advisory board,  staff, consultants, partners, former staff and consultants, and volunteer parent leaders – we are committed to our community and to growing this community.

Commitment to Fierce Conversations: We are committed to being honest, brave, keeping it real, having the conversations that will move us forward – even if they are difficult.

Commitment to Inclusivity, Diversity and Healing: We are committed to breaking psychological and emotional chains. We want people to reconsider what they think about themselves and others and move towards harmony.