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Dragonflies, hope encourage families who serve

In late 2017, after the Laughlin T-38 Talon II mishap in Del Rio, Texas, the Dragonfly Project reached out to the family and friends of Capt. Paul Barbour, 87th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot, offering their consoling message and hope. This organization, the Dragonfly Project, is the legacy of the little girl, Anne Marquardt Brooker, and her one act of kindness. (Courtesy art by Annie Young and Bill Mitchell)

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas— Once there was little girl named Anne whose friend, Hans passed away from cancer.

Eleven-year-old Anne had a big heart and understood what pain Hans’ family must be suffering. Then Anne got an idea—what if she could show Hans’ family the memory of their little boy lived on?

Anne took the idea to her mother, and the two sent Hans’ mother a card with the dragonfly story.

“In the bottom of an old pond lived some grubs who could not understand why none of their group ever came back after crawling up the stems of the lilies to the top of the water. They promised each other that the next one who was called to make the upward climb would return and tell what happened to him. Soon one of them felt an urgent impulse to seek the surface; he rested himself on the top of a lily pad and went through a glorious transformation, which made him a dragonfly with beautiful wings. In vain he tried to keep his promise. Flying back and forth over the pond, he peered down at his friends below. Then he realized that even if they could see him they would not recognize such a radiant creature as one of their number.

The fact that we cannot see our friends or communicate with them after the transformation, which we call death, is no proof that they cease to exist.” Written by Walter Dudley Cavert

The card happened to arrive on Hans’ birthday. His family’s journey of grief was greatly changed by the story and the card. His mother even shared the impact of Anne’s kindness in her Christmas letter that year.

After sending the letter to Hans’ family, Anne told her mother she wanted to help others who were grieving by making and sending out more cards. They then decided to read the obituaries in the local newspaper to find others who would benefit from a kind gesture.

In late 2017, after the Laughlin T-38 Talon II mishap in Del Rio, Texas, the Dragonfly Project reached out to the family and friends of Capt. Paul Barbour, 87th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot, offering their consoling message and hope.

The Dragonfly Project, is the legacy of the little girl, Anne Marquardt Brooker, and her original act of kindness. Since 2002, it expanded through the help of volunteers and sponsors to send more than 100,000 packets to those grieving the loss of a loved one.

Annie Young, an artist, learned of the Dragonfly Project a few years later when the board of directors who managed the organization discovered one of her paintings.

“I initially learned of Dragonfly Project when the board of directors wanted to purchase one of my dragonfly paintings as a gift for the resigning president of the organization,” said Young. “I ended up donating the image to them for use in their cards.”

After being introduced to the Dragonfly Project, Young went on to volunteer with the project. For Young, who is a U.S. Air Force veteran, a specific loss hit close to home—the loss of those who served their country or community. Her way of addressing this loss was to create a card incorporating the American flag with the concept of the dragonfly story.

“The loss of a veteran, police officer, firefighter, civic leader, and the list goes on, is felt by an entire community,” Young said. “I knew I wanted to paint a dragonfly flying upwards [for the Dragonfly Project’s cards]. I asked fellow veteran, Bill Mitchell, if he could help me to bring my idea to fruition.”

Together, Young and Mitchell created two cards. One featured a dragonfly flying upward with its wings showcasing an image of the American flag. The other, a painting of many dragonflies together making up the American flag.

“I also wanted to include the powerful message of strength and hope the lyrics of the National Anthem provide, so Bill arranged the images and helped transpose the lyrics,” Young said.

These same cards honoring service to the country were among the cards sent to the Barbour family at Laughlin.

The impact has reached Laughlin, across the states and even worldwide.

“What started with an 11–year-old girl in Minneapolis has grown into a national non-profit [organization], spreading a message of hope to grieving people across the nation and world,” stated the Dragonfly Project’s 2016 Annual Report. “This exponential growth would not be possible without volunteers and donors sharing dragonfly packets with others.”

Young took Brooker’s mission of providing a message of hope to those grieving the loss of a loved one a step further through her desire to address the loss of families of the military community and all who have served the country and through her art.

For more information about the Dragonfly Project, visit www.dragonflyproject.org.