By Mark Young, SouthFloridaReporter.com Managing Editor, Oct. 9, 2015 – If you happened to have driven past the Signature Grand on Saturday, September 26th, you may have noticed a special, loving glow coming from the landmark building. The Dragonfly Darlings, a women’s auxiliary group of the Russell Education Foundation (REF) hosted their fifth Annual Dragonfly Darlings Women’s Conference.
Hundreds of women from South Florida poured into the most elegant Signature Grand expecting a nice day of pampering, positive interaction with other women and a plethora of food to satiate their appetite. Never did they expect the transformative experience that took place and to walk out of that building, inspired, changed and moved to a higher level of empowerment.
This year’s theme was “Financial Wellness” and featured keynote speaker, Marcia Barry-Smith, University of Phoenix’s 2015 Commencement Speaker. Ms. Barry-Smith gave the women much to think about as she asked the audience. “Is more better?” She explored financial wellness from the slant of giving with an open hand rather than receiving in a society where we work to attain the highest level of financial status possible.
“The women at the well were all in tune with each other. For six hours each woman’s joy, pain and fears blended together as one. We all laughed and celebrated each other in the fullness of sisterhood and, at the end of the day in total transformation,” said Barry- Smith.
According to organizers, this was the most successful conference to date and was a sell out! Hundreds of women participated in an enriching and empowering day filled with informative workshops, seminars, and a shopping bazaar from local vendors, free childcare, a Miami Dolphins Academy Youth Camp and a science seminar powered by The Dennis Project.
“On Saturday, September 26th, we accomplished what we set out to do by taking care of the intangible – the heart of a woman. It is only then that trans-formative healing can take place to heed the calling and come into the fullness of what she is created to be…to be a heroine partaking in changing this world. Mission accomplished for 2015,” stated Lysandra Russell, who officially formed the Dragonfly Darlings as a women’s auxiliary group to the REF in 2010.
Kelly Arias, managing partner from The Arias Law Group, PA, was the title sponsor of the event and hosted a workshop on how to “renew your mind” and focus on quality of life, rather than quantity of life. Arias shared years of wisdom and experience and her personal story demonstrated how women can overcome obstacles to be successful.
“I entered this relationship between Dragonfly Darlings and Arias Law Group/FreshMix Beverage with the intention of helping others. I did not realize or anticipate that I, too, would be helped, changed and inspired at the end of the day. An absolutely amazing event leaves women transformed in a matter of hours,” Arias stated.
The Dragonfly Darlings Women’s Conference offered free admission and scholarships to women whose children either attend a reading room facilitated by REF, utilize government assistance or were referred by a participating non-profit organization.
“We didn’t want finances to hinder a woman from experiencing all that this dynamic conference had to offer,” Russel added.
One of the women that benefited from the Conference was Tia Carlisle, who shared the following comments: “I enjoyed the breakout sessions and learning that took place. This is my second year being there. I had to take the bus. Once I got there, I had to walk alongside I-95 and my stroller broke once I reaching the gas station. I was determined to come and the challenges did not stop me because I knew there was a message in the house for me. Upon arrival to the Signature Grand I was greeted by Ms. Cynthia and she saw the struggle in my eyes. She got me registered for child care and Ms. Evette was a big help as well. Thank you so much Dragonfly Darlings because I learned from Lisa Rogers-Cherry’s breakout session how to budget my money. I am so grateful to attend such a powerful event and I was so full from the good food. The apple pie was great! Thank you so much again.”
This year the Dragonfly Darlings Women’s Conference added the “DD Consignment Boutique”, offering stylish, gently used, clothing for women and children. Guests were given “DD Bucks” and had the opportunity to “shop” for clothing for themselves and their children.
The Teen Conference hosted over 40 teen girls including many of the Hollywood Hill High School cheerleaders. The teen girls enjoyed small group discussions, make up and skin care applications, games and prizes. The highlight of the day was the heart-to-heart talk from Adonis Reeves, and Judi Seward. “We needed a place where we could share honestly with each other and not feel judged,” said Palesa Dawanyi, teen coordinator.
Lysandra Russell and the entire organization acknowledged that to create an event of this magnitude requires the support of businesses and community leaders.
“We are so grateful to our title sponsor Kelly Arias from The Arias Law Group and FreshMix Beverage, our presenting sponsor, The Signature Grand, as well as, Walmart, Broward Health, Dress Barn, MBS Consulting, FPL, Bank United, Sunshine Health, Corporate Coaches, and TJ Max for all of their generosity,” she said.
About the Russell Education Foundation
The Russell Education Foundation (REF) is a non-profit organization committed to fighting illiteracy among high-risk youth through a mission of “Opening Books to Open Doors.” The REF provides certified teachers to assess and to instruct, using proven methods such as phonics, word recognition, comprehension, and other interactive reading material. Their hope is to break the cycle of multi-generational illiteracy, and to cultivate a love for reading and a passion for learning. REF community outreach initiatives include programs designed to instill a deep love of reading and respect for the life-changing possibilities offered through literacy, as well as to enable the Foundation to achieve its vision of “opening young minds to the boundless opportunities available to the educated.” REF centers are established in twelve locations across Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, and primarily serve minority, economically disadvantaged children.