When Joy Lindsay unexpectedly lost her sister to gun violence in 2012, finding and creating her own therapy process was crucial to her.
At what seemed like the beginning of her career as a graduate student at NYU was also a time of great sorrow. She didn’t know what was next for her, but she knew she liked to write. So she did, and not only did she begin her healing process, but she found inspiration.
“I got this idea that I would write a children’s book for my future kids so that even though they didn’t know Kim in person they would feel like they knew her because they read her story and red her character,” said Lindsay. “ I was a huge book worm growing up, so even though I didn’t know Cinderella, I felt like I knew her because I read her stories.”
The book”When a Butterfly Chooses to Fly” was similar to her own life story was of three butterfly sisters, where one had flew away and the other two were left to deal with it.
After the book release, she did a one-day workshop on the book to schools and was encouraged by a coworker to expand to other workshops. Westside High School asked her to come in and give a girl group some structure.
When a Butterly Chooses to Fly morphed into something bigger than Joy ever imagined; Butterfly Dreamz, a non profit organization that helps young women in Newark, NJ develop the skills in leadership to achieve their dreams.
For the next two years, Butterfly Dreamz went with the idea to use storytelling as a way to build platforms for teenage girls in Newark as leaders, using their voice and literary skills.
She realized that the workshops were more than just small programs, but something larger worth sustaining and growing. She created an advisory board and reached out to 10 of her peers she trusted to help build the vision, including her parents and sister who had backgrounds in book publishing, law and organizational structuring.
“I didn’t really know what it was going to be. It’s hard to go to strangers and say “I have this idea and I can’t articulate it but I know it’s going to be something.”
Lindsay began to make personal changes in her life as well.
She paid off her credit cards knowing she may have to lean on them, and continued to work for two years. She moved from Harlem to New Jersey and brought a multifamily property with two tenants that subsidize the cost of the house, which took out rent. She thought she’d quit Newark Public Schools, make money off of her house and have a seamless financial transition.
But life happened. After handing in her two-weeks resignation at work, her realtor told her she would not be able to close out on the house for another three months. Joy and her then boyfriend at the time, who was also part of her financial plan broke up.
With all of her streams of income on hold, Joy returned to working at an old job prior to Newark Public Schools. Even after closing out on her house, she continued to work in the position for two years and stacked her money.
Lindsay dived into Butterfly Dreamz full time as Executive Director and shifted her focus to writing and submitting for grants and building the organization.
There are two programs. The Girls Club program, which is largely comprised of juniors is seniors was created as a safe space for teen girls at Westside HS. The program provides help through 1-1 coaching sessions, help with job applications, college applications and focuses on skills like how to build your resume, have effective communication and pairing the girls with mentors.
Most of the junior girls have jobs. “You can see the beginning of some very strong women developing, which is amazing.” The girls heavily lead the design of the program. In fact, the interns are developing the designs and books for the school year program.
They have varying career interest, and Butterfly Dreamz encourages them to challenge the status quo to make it happen.
“It’s a lot of dream killers in this world, and a big part of it is just like “yes if you want to be a model go after that, and you know what, modeling may be different,” said Lindsay. “It may not be walking across the runaway but it may take a different form. But not trying to reality check our girls, because your reality is what you want it to be. The possibilities are endless.”
The newer program, Write to Lead is a six-week stipend internship where 12 girls in Newark will become published authors and write a book and develop their own marketing plan to host a community book launch.
Butterfly Dreamz also will expand their program to provide guidance for women beyond Newark and low-income communities. The vision is a small fee, approx. $25 a month for girls whose families can afford for them to be a part of the club and they’ll get the same type of support.
“What we realized is that yes these girls need the program but there are girls from middle class background that need that guidance and support, said Lindsay. “So when you do research on the guidance counselors crisis, it’s not just a shortage on low income schools, it’s a national shortage.”
For this org, it is only the beginning. In the future, Joy sees Butterfly Dreamz being a network of resources for girls and being a multigenerational organization.
“Our vision is to have more women of color in leadership positions. To get that, we have to start now. We have to start saying hey, yea your voice does matter. And even though you’re going to have to prove that you’re smart when you shouldn’t have to, you matter.”