Chamber Chat with Theresa Strong (she|her|hers), Founder and Executive Director with Bel Inizio.
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The Chamber is committed to telling the stories of our members. Chamber Chat is a regular series profiling our members. We love sharing great stories and insight from our members and highlighting the mission and work of our nonprofit members.
In this Chamber Chat, learn more from one of our Chamber members, Theresa Strong, who is the Founder and Executive Director with the nonprofit organization, Bel Inizio.
Talk about making a difference! In 2009, dealing with a personal tragedy and significant challenges, Theresa volunteered at homeless shelters and relied heavily on exercise and practicing healthy eating habits to maintain a positive attitude and strength of purpose. It was through this experience that she understood the power of having the tools to move forward which gave her the vision to launch Bel Inizio.
Bel Inizio means beautiful beginning in Italian and as you read throughout the blog post you will see why beautiful beginnings is at the heart of Theresa’s story and the work of Bel Inizio through the many lives that have been changed.
We are proud to call Bel Inizio one of our nonprofit Chamber Members and honored to highlight their mission and life changing work in this blog post.
Can you tell us about Bel Inizio?
Bel Inizio, means beautiful beginning in Italian. We are a local nonprofit that helps women in recovery from abuse and addition build self-esteem and life skills through fitness and nutrition education education. Our 8-week program, culminating in a 5K race, teaches disadvantaged women that they can set goals and achieve them, and as a result build a foundation of success for the future.
Can you share more about the challenges that some of your clients face and why your work makes such a difference?
Our clients are in active recovery from various forms of abuse, chronic homelessness, incarceration, and addiction. All are at risk of homelessness, and most live in transitional housing. Of those that have their own place to stay and are employed, they are minimum wage earners who rely on public transportation, while trying to maintain adequate housing, preserve their sobriety, take care of their children, or stabilize themselves health wise and financially. They are facing seemingly insurmountable challenges, which pose a looming threat to their resiliency and stability. Bel Inizio’s program is unique in that it expands beyond its basis to provide the support that helps keep clients on track and moving forward despite these challenges.
You work with a number of agencies across Houston. How do these collaborations support Bel Inizio’s mission?
The success of Bel Inizio’s program depends greatly on the synergistic relationship with our partners, the majority of whom provide supportive housing programs to assist vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals. This partnership enables Bel Inizio to provide a coordinated, on-site program to help individuals improve their physical and emotional health.
To date, Bel Inizio has partnered with agency locations who readily donate space, time, staff, and supplies to achieve our common goals. Each agency provides group meeting space twice a week for eight weeks, staff participation at each workout, childcare, and transportation to race locations
Can you share a success story with one of your clients?
I love to highlight the success story of Sharon Hadley. In the 10 years before she came into recovery Sharon was incarcerated 14 times and when she wasn’t incarcerated she was homeless. Sharon’s life was a nightmare and she felt hopeless. This is a story we see over and over again with so many of our clients.
Sharon was accepted into Brigid’s Hope, a program for women who have been incarcerated to learn how to live independently. This was the first time she was responsible for feeding herself in a very long time. Sharon knew that she was at the stage of here recovery where she needed to start improving her physical health and wellness but she just couldn’t seem to get motivated.
Bel Inizio showed up offering support through our program and while Sharon was not excited, she was very grateful to have people there to support and encourage her as she moved into a new stage of her recovery. I was able to share with her how exercise had helped me cope with a difficult time in my life and share my passion for passing on these coping skills to her and other women like her who were in a transition in their lives and dealing with all kinds of new emotions and situations. Sharon’s excitement and enthusiasm were contagious and it wasn’t long before she was excited by the prospect of running a 5K race.
The 5K race, the program, and Bel Inizio helped to change Sharon’s trajectory and her life. Today she is a recovery coach at Santa Maria Hostel and has the privilege of watching as class after class get to experience the joy of being a part of the Bel Inizio program.
I wish I had enough time to share more because there is so much more to Sharon’s story. Read more about how this 5K race changed Sharon’s life here.
We want to learn more about you. Can you share more about your background and journey?
Bel Inizio started as a result of my personal challenges and my experience at finding the necessary tools to move forward.
In 2009, within two months, my husband passed away from brain cancer and my employer went bankrupt. To combat the distress during this period, I volunteered at homeless shelters and relied heavily on exercise and practicing healthy eating habits to maintain a positive attitude and strength of purpose. Through these coping mechanisms, I recognized the importance of these activities during periods of crisis.
This led me to seek out exercise and nutrition programs specifically offered to short and long-term homeless shelters and substance abuse recovery programs. Unfortunately, they did not exist. After collaborating with a multidisciplinary team of shelter and program staff, business leaders, and social workers, as well as reviewing relevant studies and literature, I determined that this was not only a service of great need to this specific population, but also one with potential life changing effects for clients.
Why did you start Bel Inizio?
Houston has a generous giving community and great compassion for those in need. We have emergency shelters, transitional housing, and half-way houses. The agencies offer case workers, recovery programs, and job skills training. What gets lost, and is critically needed, is helping individuals achieve the self-esteem and confidence that can come from an ongoing exercise and nutrition program.
Bel Inizio was launched to help meet this need. With Bel Inizio many have the opportunity to succeed in a way which they never thought possible: they will set a healthy goal and achieve it.
What’s ahead in the next couple of years for Bel Inizio?
Bel Inizio will continue to partner with local shelters and agencies to bring our life-changing program to many disadvantaged women. Our growth is only limited by the hours in the day!
Do you have volunteer opportunities? How can someone get involved with Bel Inizio?
Volunteer opportunities are available to walk and run with our women during their weekly trainings and to participate in their goal race. Spending time with Bel Inizio clients will give you insight into challenges you have never considered, and the opportunity to give back to women that are grateful for your investment of time. Volunteer opportunities are posted at https://www.bel-inizio.org/volunteers/
Are there other ways to support Bel Inizio?
Bel Inizio is grateful for current and new corporate and business partners to provide the financial resources which allow us to serve 100s of women in the Houston area each year. We have sponsorship opportunities available to help support our work. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about sponsorship opportunities and help us continue to change lives.
Also, individual donations are appreciated. You can donate at https://www.bel-inizio.org/donate/. It takes about $250 for a woman to complete the Bel Inizio program.
What is the one thing you want other Chamber members to know about Bel Inizio?
Bel Inizio harnesses the power of running to change lives. Our 40-hour program teaches the life skills needed to stay sober, to take responsibility for past actions, and to gain the self-compassion to forgive, and move forward. YOUR partnership make this happen.
We are proud to call Bel Inizio one of our Chamber members! Why is it important that Bel Inizio is a member of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce?
Bel Inizio values our Chamber membership, first and foremost due to the advocacy for equal rights. Our clients have long been a marginalized population and it is through the support of like-minded member businesses and corporations that progress can continue to be made to achieve equality and equity through business.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.
Now for some fun…rapid fire! What's your favorite thing to do in HTX when you're not working?
Running with my two rescue dogs Glenn Glenn and Phoenix
Barbeque or Mexican, and where do you go for it?
The Original Ninfas!
Native Houstonian or got here as fast as you could and from where?
I’ve been here since 1977, which is longer than most readers will have been alive! Transplanted from Chicago, Illinois.
First app checked in the morning?
Weather – (Can I go running?)
Most used app?
Person you FaceTime most often?
Ummm… I have never FaceTimed
Most listened-to track?
Peter Gabriele, In Your Eyes.
Is there anything else you want to mention about Bel Inizio?
Don’t have time to help? Don’t have the resources for a sponsorship? Join is as a monthly donor. As little as $25-$50 a month will help us buy fruit for our workouts for a healthy celebration. Please join us at https://www.bel-inizio.org/donate/.
Learn more about Bel Inizio
Connect with Bel Inizio on social media:
Learn more about volunteer opportunities at https://www.bel-inizio.org/volunteers/
Donate at https://www.bel-inizio.org/donate/