Miami Youth for Christ Mourns the Death of Catalyst Hip Hop Minister Joel Stigale

joelIt was in the South Miami Dade community of Perrine that Joel David Stigale, age 41, who died August 14 of complications from a double-lung transplant, found his passion for the hip-hop culture and in bringing lost, abandoned and at-risk kids the life-saving message of Jesus Christ.

Stigale was the founder of Catalyst Hip Hop, a Miami Youth for Christ program that began in 2001 and is presently located in Miami Springs. Catalyst Hip Hop reaches out and serves thousands of graffiti artists, rappers, break-dancers and DJs, and continues to draw artists from all over the world to their regularly scheduled Saturday night events in which hip hop artists perform in a safe environment before hearing a biblical gospel message that points to the saving grace that is Jesus.

“Joel comes from a conservative Christian family,” said his mother, Joann Stigale. “When we lived in Perrine, it was a diverse community, with different races, and Joel was very comfortable in that environment. He liked rap music, and he developed many friendships with like-minded kids. To Joel, race meant nothing.”

Eventually, Stigale and his family moved to Plantation. He graduated from Plantation High, and immediately following high school he worked for the Boys and Girls Club of Broward County where he met with teenagers, reaching out to them with the gospel message and forming a youth club, which was the forerunner to Catalyst Hip Hop.

“At first, the youth club met in churches in Cooper City and Hollywood, before moving to Miami,” Joann said.

“Joel spent a lot of time with his dad, Paul Stigale, who pre-deceased him 26 years ago. Joel was always an avid reader; he loved history. He would accompany his dad to meetings with the fellowship of Christian brothers, bringing along his books to read.”

And it was this exposure to Christian values that helped mold young Joel that would ultimately form the basis of his immensely powerful ministry.

Joel Will Catalyst

Impacting a generation

“Catalyst Hip Hop has impacted me in the most dramatic way,” said Catalyst Alumni Kevin Sanchez. “I came from a lifestyle of selling drugs and basically just living my life day by day, not really looking towards the future and not caring about my talent, but Catalyst Hip Hop gave me an outlet.” Today, Sanchez is one of the program’s ministry leaders, often performing break-dancing routines publicly and in competition with other dancers world-wide.

National Youth for Christ Director of Unified Underground Loyal Thurman said from YFC headquarters in Denver, “Joel was one of the most effective underground urban youth ministers I have ever had the privilege of knowing. His legacy is long and deep, and is marked by hundreds of youth in the hip hop culture whose hopeless lives were changed forever by Joel’s exemplary leadership and authentic spiritual guidance. We must continue to carry on the mantle of Joel which is bathed in the culture and baptized in the blood of Christ. I will miss my friend.  He will be profoundly missed until I see him again.”

Giving hip-hop a home

Miami Youth for Christ executive director Bonnie Rodriguez, who has known Stigale for over 15 years, was there at the start of Catalyst Hip Hop. “ I watched Joel’s ministry mushroom – almost overnight – to become the popular and hugely effective ministry it is today,” Rodriguez said.

“In fact,” she added, “in honor of our beloved Joel, Miami Youth for Christ and Catalyst Hip Hop are moving forward with plans to purchase a building in the Hialeah area where kids can congregate in a safe place, and where they can develop their gifts and talents that God has given them to reach the lost and abandoned in the hip hop culture. We believe this is the mission that Jesus preached when he was on earth over 2,000 years ago – to reach the unlovely, the lost and desperate among you. And it was also Joel’s dream and vision to have a building set aside just for the Catalyst Hip Hop youth of Miami,” she said.

Catalyst crew 1

Leaving a legacy

Miami Youth for Christ, the umbrella organization for five active ministries including Catalyst Hip Hop, was founded in 1948, two years after the national organization was formed in Chicago by a Baptist minister named Torrey Johnson. Evangelist Billy Graham was the first full-time employee of Youth for Christ International. The Miami chapter has been continuously operating since the end of WWII, and today serves over 7,800 youth throughout Miami-Dade, including within the communities of Homestead, Overtown, Perrine, North Miami, Miami Springs, Kendall, Coral Gables, Westchester and others. After-school tutoring and mentoring programs, sports activities, outreaches to the juvenile justice community and a youth pastor leadership institute are just some of the ways in which Miami Youth for Christ serves Greater Miami.

Miami YFC is served by an active board of directors headed by chairperson Jackie Eads, retired, Miami Dade Public Schools, who had this to say about Stigale: “Joel was one of my favorite in-city missionaries. He had a great sense of humor, was passionate about spreading the gospel, and always insisted on full participation from his staff, even though they frequently worked late nights, often until 2 a.m. or later. He was a wonderful, sensitive person who is now in the arms of Jesus. We will all miss him very much.”

Stigale, an ordained minister, was born in Plantation, on Nov. 6, 1974, and resided in Kendall. He is survived by his wife, Vivian; his step daughter, Havanna; his mother, Joann Stigale, and many, many friends, including his colleagues at Miami Youth for Christ.

Donations in memory of Joel Stigale may be made to Miami Youth for Christ Catalyst Hip Hop Youth Building, and sent to 9350 SW 79th Avenue, Miami, FL 33156. For more information, call Miami Youth for Christ offices at 305-271-2442, or visit


Share this article