Brenda Silvils '77 helps young girls reach their full potential

Alumna Brenda L. Silvils works to bless others in the same way she was blessed.

Brenda Silvils ’77 launched a financial systems upgrade firm, BLS Consulting, in 1998 and the nonprofit Free2Rise Educational Foundation in 2011. Two other DSU alumni are also part of the Free2Rise foundation: Kisha Webster '95 is its program director, and Helen Mitchell '77 is a board member.

Silvils was not raised by a traditional mother and father, but instead was brought up by a succession of loving great-grandparents, aunts and uncles.

During her undergraduate years at then-Delaware State College, she was fortunate to have several Del State faculty members and administrators who were surrogate parent figures who shared their wisdom and kept a watchful eye for her.

Because she understands the benefit of having positive and nurturing people who helped her navigate life from childhood to her early adult years, Silvils has established a foundation in the greater Washington, D.C., area to provide young girls there with adult angels to help them make something of themselves.

Silvils’ Free2Rise Educational Foundation is a nonprofit organization committed to enriching the lives of girls in grades 6-8. The organization was originally established in 2011 to help girls who are children without natural parents, but over its first few years it has expanded to include other girls who come from challenging circumstances such as single-parent homes.

Guided by the “FREE” acronym of preparing girls to become Forever Responsible, Educated and Empowered to rise to their full potential, the foundation does so by providing advocacy, educational enrichment, life skills guidance, cultural exposure and travel experiences.

“If young girls don’t have angels show up in their lives to guide them, then they are at risk at never becoming all that they can be,” Silvils said.

Having had a “village” of family, friends and Del State folks helping to steer her life in the right direction from her childhood in her native Milford, Del., to her undergraduate years in Dover, she graduated from DSC in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education.

She affectionately notes several Del State personalities who were especially supportive of her during her undergraduate years — such as Jethro C. Williams, the then-admissions director, sociology faculty member Ernestine Brittingham (“who was my surrogate mother”) and Dr. Richard Wynder, dean of students (“he was known as the Godfather”).

“There were others as well,” Silvils said. “Delaware State College was a very nurturing place.”

Her professional life, however, did not manifest itself as a school teacher.

Career in financial systems upgrades

Following a short stint with a Philadelphia law firm and an unsuccessful attempt to settle in Atlanta, she returned to the Mid-Atlantic region in 1979, where the road to her professional calling began with Computer Science Corporation (CSC), where she started as a project accountant and progressed to the post of assistant controller during 15 years with the company.

During her CSC years, she became well-skilled in accounting and the implementation of financial systems upgrades. After she left CSC, she completed her MBA/International Business degree at George Washington University. She then worked from 1995-1998 for INTERSAT (International Telecommunications Satellite Organization), where she became astutely proficient in working with Oracle technology applications for financial systems upgrades.

Confident that it was time to launch her own financial systems upgrade firm, she established BLS Consulting in late 1998. Over the last 16 years, she has become a sought-after consultant for financial system upgrade work using Oracle software technology, tackling projects for companies such as the Ciena Corporation, GE Global Exchange, IBM, SERCO/Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the Government Printing Office, The MIL Corporation and several others.

Some projects can be completed in a few months, while others are multi-year endeavors. “I can only do one project at a time,” she said. “Once the project is done, I have to find a new project.”

She added, however, that because of the track record she has established, companies frequently seek her out for projects.

Free2Rise and other DSU alumni

While continuing to make her mark with her BLS Consulting firm, Silvils has found the energy and passion to focus on the girls she supports through Free2Rise.

“I believe to whom much is given, much is required,” Silvils said. “It is therefore my charter to identify and provide positive role models and opportunities for young girls who don’t have the benefit of biological parents, as well as for other girls who need help to overcome life obstacles.”

Silvils also has some DSU alumni help with her foundation. Helen Mitchell, a friend from the Class of 1977, serves as a board member. Kisha Webster, Class of 1995, is working as the program director for the foundation.

Mitchell is the owner of The Meeting Advisor Inc., which plans and coordinates conferences and conventions worldwide. Amid her business professional schedule, she finds time to support the Free2Rise endeavor.

“Our mutual friendship (dating back to their DSC freshman year) and knowing how Brenda feels about this cause got me involved, as I share in that passion,” Mitchell said. “To be able to mentor and know this small amount of support could make a big difference, it was a good fit for me.”

Webster said she met the Free2Rise founder in 1997 through a charter school where she taught Silvils’ grandson. The commonality of their alma mater and the desire to help young girls create bright futures for themselves formed a shared purpose for the two women.

“Since then, she has served as a mentor to me,” said Webster, who graduated from DSU with a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education. “As a former teacher and assistant principal, she knows that was an area of my life that was purpose driven, and she made me a part of the foundation’s work.”

Webster is now director of education and community engagement for Welcoming Schools, through which she provides professional development training for teachers in the Mid-Atlantic region. Just as she works to provide teachers with the knowledge to achieve the best outcomes for their students, she is also looking to achieve the same with the girls through social, cultural and academic enrichment.

“The greatest purpose is for the girls to see that other people are invested in their future,” Webster said. “It takes much more than your family to make you great.”

This year, Silvils and her foundation are launching the Inspire Girls2Rise Educational Enrichment Program to provide the reinforcement of academic skills.

“We are working primarily with middle school girls, so when they age out, they will know that they are going to college,”  Silvils said.

-- Story by Carlos Holmes