The Russell Life Skills and Reading Foundation was founded in 1998 by former Miami Dolphins linebacker Twan Russell and his late mother, Corliss Ann Russell. The Foundation, whose motto is “Opening Books to Open Doors”, has a mission of eradicating illiteracy among our inner-city youth. The RLSARF reaches about 1,000 South Florida children annually, primarily through after-school and summer reading programs held at 12 centers around Broward and Dade counties.
A couple of years ago Twan’s wife, Lysandra, began to develop a real burden not only for the RLSARF children, but also for the mothers and grandmothers who care for them. So, she decided to form a women’s auxiliary group to the RLSARF that she named the “Dragonfly Darlings” (more on the name later). After much praying and planning, the Darlings’ dreams of ministering to women in need are about to become a reality, as they host their first annual BankAtlantic Dragonfly Darlings Women’s Conference on October 1st.
I had an opportunity to sit down with Lysandra a few weeks ago to find out a little more about the upcoming event, as well as about the Dragonfly Darlings women’s organization as a whole and here is her feedback:
Q. The first thing most people will probably ask when reading this is, “What’s the Dragonfly thing all about?”
A. The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world, symbolizes change; the kind of change that has its source in true maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life. The dragonfly only flies for a fraction of its life; symbolizing and exemplifying the virtue of living in the moment and living life to the fullest. Webster defines “darling” as “precious or loved one”. Another meaning is “a person or thing in great favor”. I think the two together are powerful words with grand meanings, colliding to create a definition of “the extraordinary woman”. If we can help to create women who truly live up to what these words mean, our prayer is that their lives, the lives of their children and the whole environment around them will be impacted with positive change.
Q. What is the makeup of your group of ladies?
A. We have a group of anywhere from 15-20 ladies at any given time. Our group is very diverse in age, race, cultural background, vocation, education, etc., which I believe really adds both depth and strength. The one common bond that we all share is a desire to serve other women in need and to be a blessing to them.
Q. What is your mission and vision of the Dragonfly Darlings?
A. Our vision statement is “Woman to Woman: Helping and Healing”. We want to rekindle a grass-roots village mentality, whereby women can walk alongside one another and provide love, support and encouragement to each other.
Q. When and how was the idea for the Women’s Conference birthed?
A. I was sitting at a women’s conference called “Speaking of Women’s Health” a few years ago and I thought to myself, “Wow, wouldn’t the moms of the children we serve benefit from something like this?! It would have to be free, though, because it’s the last thing they are thinking of doing for themselves!”
Q. What are you anticipating the Lord to do in and through this Conference?
A. This event will be the first time we have the privilege of loving on these ladies. We expect miracles. We have already experienced the movement of God in a very profound way in our small group meetings. He has been so very present! We have ladies of all denominations in our group and the one thing that was constant and verbalized, even by the non-Christians in the group, was the existence of His sweet presence. There has been clear revelation about ourselves and about the mission He has set before us.
Q. Can you share a little bit about the book club and the Darlings’ journey through Kim Hamilton Anthony’s book Unfavorable Odds?
A. I can personally relate to the book because I, like Kim, had a father who was in-and-out of my life, and who led a very dangerous lifestyle. In the past, I have allowed those father issues to cripple me emotionally and to handicap how I relate to others. As a group, we found that the issues that Kim dealt with transcend social, economic and racial boundaries. We had ladies from very affluent backgrounds breaking down and sharing stories of marital abuse, rape, abandonment and other issues and struggles common to all women. It was a very intimate and healing journey for all of us.
Q. What is your vision for the future of the Darlings? How do you see the group building relationships with these ladies and coming alongside those that so desperately need support?
A. Back during the times when homes did not have running water, there was a well that women would draw water from in the center of the town. There they would commune with other women, and there they would share one another’s pains and joys. With the advent of modern technology, the need to gather at a well disappeared. We would like to bring that ideology back through our Women’s Conference event and the follow-up meetings and programs we have planned afterwards. We want to provide that well of refreshment and encouragement to these ladies who are thirsty and weary.
Q. What is the format of the conference going to be?
A. The event is going to feature lively music, compelling dramas, a keynote address by Kim Anthony, and intimate breakout sessions. We will be covering a wide range of topics including health and wellness, education and financial literacy. We are praying that this conference will be the vehicle to bridge the gap between us and the moms of the children we serve.
Q. Anything else you would like to share?
A. Just some important points to highlight: each $99 conference ticket purchased allows a RLSARF mother (or grandmother, caretaker, etc.) complimentary admission to the event. The ladies will also be provided totally free transportation to and from the conference. All attendees will receive a gift bag full of goodies worth around $200. There will also be some fantastic raffle items, as well as a vendor area where there will be free services and giveaways.
Q. If someone reading this article wants to get involved, what should they do?
A. There are still sponsorship opportunities and vendor space available, as well as plenty of tickets still for sale for the event. Please email me at [email protected], or call the RLSARF office at 954-921-3787.
The BankAtlantic Dragonfly Darlings Women’s Conference is being held Saturday, October 1, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Corporate Headquarters, located at 2100 W. Cypress Creek Road, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33309 (directly across the street from the Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale main campus).
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