Giving Back: Female peer group raises blood cancer awareness, community support

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, November 8, 2017

RESERVE — Prodigy Youth Foundation’s second annual Blood Cancer Awareness Fashion Show was an overwhelming success culminating in $1,813 collected to fund the organization’s activities and support the fight against blood cancer.

Held Saturday evening at St. John Theatre in Reserve, the fashion show was themed “Beat It – The Fight Against Blood Cancer” and drew a crowd of more than 250 people.

The event was held in honor of Prodigy Youth Foundation President Shona Lawrence’s mother, Florabell Gullatt, who passed away from lymphoma complications in January 2016, only three weeks after being diagnosed.

Those crowned Saturday night include Miss Prodigy Miya Jackson, Miss Ruby Zyria Moses, Miss Emerald Skyla Lawrence and Miss Diamond Gabrielle Cage.

Blood cancer has also affected the families of members within the organization and claimed the life of Vice President Erica Jackson’s father.

“You always hear about breast cancer awareness,” Lawrence said. “We want to shed light on the four different types of blood cancer: leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and myeloma.”

The fundraiser took place two days after the Light the Night walk hosted by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the organization.

“It went really, really well,” Jackson said. “We got lots and lots of compliments. I think people were expecting it to be a typical fashion show, and they were impressed when they realized it was a different type of fashion show and saw how much the girls could do.”

She said the show consisted of several choreographed numbers that members have diligently practiced each Sunday since August. Four members were crowned titles, allowing them to represent the organization during community events over the upcoming year.

Winners are as follows: Zyria Moses as Miss Ruby, Skyla Lawrence as Miss Emerald, Gabrielle Cage as Miss Diamond and overall winner Miya Jackson as Miss Prodigy.

Prodigy Youth Foundation, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping young girls ages 8 to 18 acquire leadership skills and self-confidence through mentoring, themed educational seminars and community service projects.

As a nurse practitioner working in a school-based health setting, Lawrence has a love for the youth and has seen a need to provide positive influences for young people in the community.

“There is a need for young ladies to have mentors,” Lawrence said. “From the New Orleans area to the St. John area, there’s not much for them to get involved in.”

She said Prodigy Youth Foundation is similar to a sorority, giving girls a chance to form friendships with peers while facing their personal struggles head on.

Members are also assigned mentors to connect with face-to-face at least once a month, giving girls a chance to talk about what’s going on in their lives.

Lawrence said people have asked her whether Prodigy Youth Foundation is an at risk program. She tells people it’s not specifically for at risk children, but members come from all walks of life, and there isn’t a person in the world without struggles.

Her friendship with Jackson, who has been her best friend and right hand woman since they met in college, is a perfect example of how people can come from different backgrounds and end up having the same goals and achievements in life.

While Lawrence grew up in a two-parent family in Kenner, Jackson grew up in a single-parent household in a poor area of New Orleans and had to work especially hard to overcome adversity.

Both women have ended up successful and wish to continue teaching and inspiring girls in the program.

“It’s all about creating self confidence,” Lawrence said. “A lot of girls who come are shy, timid, afraid to speak for themselves.”

Jackson said seeing the girls make progress as time goes on is the most rewarding part of the experience.

“I’ve watched these girls grow over time into the people they need to be to succeed in life,” Jackson said. “We are teaching life skills; things you need to be equipped with.”

Lawrence’s long-term goal is to see Prodigy Youth Foundation become part of local elementary, middle and high schools.

Open enrollment is held each year in April, Lawrence said. Prospective members can find applications at

Applicants are accepted on a first come, first serve basis, and the first 50 with a completed application packet will be invited to participate in the interview process for membership.

For more information, email, follow the organization on Facebook and Instagram or visit