MIAMI (CBSMiami) – It’s an unlikely pairing, women prisoners and entrepreneurs, but there is an organization of women that have figured out how to mentor, change lives and make money. And they are doing it with something most people love to do and that is shop.
“Dragonfly is a symbol of change, of evolution, that’s what inspired us to name the store Dragonfly because that’s what we see from the ladies that graduate our program in prison once they get out,” said LEAP Co-Founder Gemma Garcia.
Dragonfly Thrift Boutique is located along Southwest 8th Street and 31st Avenue in Miami. The store opened in March and is creating all kinds of buzz on social media like Instagram and Facebook.
“All of the merchandise that we get is donated from friends of ours, word of mouth, and social media. We have clothing, we have furniture, and we have household goods. I think we are a really special thrift store because if anyone comes in here, they are not going to feel that they are in a thrift store. It really feels like a boutique, rather than a thrift store,” said Garcia.
And there are a few more things that make Dragonfly very unique. All proceeds from the store fund the first of its kind and the only entrepreneurship training and support program dedicated to preparing incarcerated women to re-enter society in Florida and be economically independent.
LEAP strives to provide female inmates with the necessary skills and training to gain employment upon their exit from prison as well as providing the knowledge and education necessary for creating a small business.
“So we already had kind of an inventory of clothing and shoes that people started donating. So I think probably that’s how the idea came together, “Hey, we already have a collection of things so why don’t we put it in a thrift store,” said Garcia.
According to Garcia, the women are well prepared. She says in certain cases they are better prepared than others applying to the same position because these women walk out of prison with a business plan in hand.
“Even though they may not be starting their businesses right away, they are going to be better employees. They know what a budget is, they know what marketing is, and they know what management is so they are much more in tune with businesses than many other people that may be applying for the same position,” said Garcia.
Rebecca McLemore was released from prison in April. She was one out of two-hundred applicants selected for the LEAP program. She says she prayed for a change in her life
“Yes, the eight month course. It’s entrepreneurship. It also teaches how, if you have substance abuse or trauma, how they coexist and the tools to get through it. It’s a very extensive program, it’s very hard, and very self-seeking and learning a lot about yourself and actually, I think the breakthrough is when you decide hey this is me and I’ve got to deal with me now,” said McLemore.
And while working at Dragonfly, McLemore is working with Garcia as her business mentor to launch her dog training business. She already has an operating website at allpawsallowed.com.
“Gemma is amazing. She’s one of those that “You’re going to get the job done.” Inside everybody, she helps everybody, every of those ladies. On the outside, it’s if you choose to push yourself in the position to where you get help. You know, like I wanted this so bad that I knew that if I asked her to be continue to be like my business mentor and what have you she would keep pushing me. And some days I’m like “oh God,” but I know that it is going to get me to where I need to be and she is who I need in my life to get me there. You know, like as far as, she’s amazing! You know, she’s just an amazing woman,” said McLemore.
According to LEAP, 162 women have successfully completed the program and they say the rate of recidivism rate is less than six percent.
“The whole purpose of prison is rehabilitation and they are there because they did something wrong and that is ok. But the fact that they continue to be punished when they get out, that’s not fair. I think the community needs to be more in tune, more embracing, businesses have to be more open in giving these people a chance,” said Garcia
And it’s that second chance that gives McLemore hope about her future.
“I feel free. I feel more open. I feel like I deserve a better life. I couldn’t even say that to myself earlier, like you deserve this. I would have never said that to myself, but I do believe that I deserve a good life,” said McLemore.
And for mentors like Garcia that give their time, the experience is priceless
“For me, it truly has been life changing to be a mentor and as the co-founder of LEAP. I think that it has given me a much broader idea of the world and it has made me a more accepting person, a less judgmental person, and a more giving person as a result of this work,” said Garcia.
The Dragonfly Thrift Boutique is located at 3141 SW 8th Street. It’s open Monday thru Friday, 11am to 7pm and Saturdays 11am to 5pm. For more information, go to dragonflythriftboutique.org.
The LEAP Program is open to new volunteer mentors. They host informational sessions at the store every second Thursday of the month at 6pm.
And on September 27th LEAP will launch its Book & Lecture Series which aims to delight, enlighten, educate, and create a connection. Our monthly gatherings will alternate between speakers and book discussions and will encompass a wide spectrum of books and topics, including the arts, entertainment, therapeutic concepts, and social justice.
The first scheduled event will feature Monica Espitia, South Florida Regional Organizer at the ACLU of Florida. Monica will discuss Amendment 4 which, if passed in November, will return the eligibility to vote to 1.4 million Floridians convicted of felonies who have completed all terms of their sentence.
By Executive Producer: Caridad Hernandez Wood