Iron Butterflies Project Team

Shelley Anne Friend

Shelley grew up in Liberty, Texas and now lives in Austin.  Fortunately, she had supportive grandparents, siblings, family, friends and, acquaintances, as well as neighbors, teachers and faith to help her grow and thrive after the loss of her mother, at age 14.

She got her degrees in Public Policy and Communication from The University of Texas and The University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She worked in government and has taught Organizational, Intercultural, Interpersonal and Group Communication, Leadership and Public Speaking on the university and college level for many years. She studied Intercultural Communication as part of the Fulbright Program in Bulgaria. Then, she and a colleague taught Intercultural Communication and Cooperative Learning to participants from all over the world in the Fulbright International Summer Institute, also in Bulgaria.

Shelley teaches part-time at Austin Community College and works as a Communication Consultant in the public, private and non-profit sectors. She sits on the Board of Directors for FaithWorks of Abilene, a non-profit whose mission is to “help the underemployed, through personal, career, academic and spiritual development, acquire the confidence and skills for gainful and long-term employment.” Their motto is “it’s never too late to become what you might have been.” In other words, they create the environment for Iron Butterflies to flourish.

She married her college sweetheart, Travis Kessler, and they have two smart, strong, beautiful, successful and loving daughters, who married two creative, supportive, strong and loving men. They have one magnificent grandson, who makes the world a better place through the twinkle in his eye and his infectious laugh.

Kathy Strain

Kathy was born and raised in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. Being one of eight children, Kathy always knew that it was easy to get lost in the crowd. It was rare she got to say what she was thinking because all the older siblings felt it necessary to speak for her. Writing became a big part of her way to express herself. Over the years, Kathy has found it important to write and to learn from others’ stories as well. Kathy has experienced the joys and struggles of raising a daughter and two sons, including a son born with a clubfoot.

Today, her children are still the source of her joy and happiness and include adding a wonderful grandson to the mix who keeps everyone laughing. Kathy’s husband Ken has always been supportive of her endeavors including returning to college in her forties to get her Bachelor’s Degree from The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) in Public Relations & Communications. She works part-time at a writing lab at a local community college and also as a journalist for an international website called Broadway World.

These jobs along with running the Iron Butterflies Project allows Kathy to make a difference in the world and help others to find themselves as well.

Check out Kathy’s stories on Broadway World here:

Verlie McAlister Edwards

Verlie McAlister Edwards was raised in Abilene, Texas and it’s there that she realized her love for writing. She enjoyed a special high school English teacher who happened to be the school’s newspaper sponsor. In order to take another class under her, Verlie signed up for journalism and the journey began. Unlike many students, she never changed her college major – she was always focused on journalism as a career. She graduated from the University of North Texas (UNT) with a degree in journalism and political science.

After graduation she returned to her hometown and worked as a reporter at the Abilene Reporter-News covering the local education scene from the students’ perspective. Following a year of graduate work at UNT she moved to Fort Worth where a career in public relations and political affairs flourished. She always wanted to work in academic PR and achieved that goal early in her career at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine.

After many years providing public relations consultation to the osteopathic profession and serving as the communications director/special events fundraiser for Lena Pope Home (a residential treatment facility for abused and neglected youth) she joined the staff of the Greater Fort Worth Association of Realtors (GFWAR) as the communications and governmental affairs director. It’s here that she found her calling and further developed her skills in the political arena.

After 11 years in that position she took her writing, political and organizational skills to serve as chief of staff for Texas State Representative Rob Orr, a past president of the GFWAR. She remained on Rep. Orr’s staff throughout his 10 years as an elected official and then served as District Director for his successor, Representative DeWayne Burns, during his first legislative session. At that time she retired from the Texas Legislature and began working part-time as curator for U.S. Congressman Roger Williams’ personal museum.

Verlie is excited to use her writing skills to help the Iron Butterflies Project as both a writer and Vice President and Editor-In-Chief.


Shayna and ButterflyShayna Levy is twelve years old and lives in Austin, Texas. She is currently in the sixth grade at Murchison Middle School. Shayna lives with her mother, father, younger brother, and two dogs. She enjoys reading, writing, braiding hair, and riding her bike through her neighborhood. When she grows up, she either want to be a copyright lawyer, an author, or an inspirational speaker. Shayna also enjoys hanging out with her friends and family. She is staying busy by preparing for her upcoming mitzvah, which will be in the fall of 2018. Shayna is so excited to be partnering with the Iron Butterflies Project to interview Iron Caterpillars!


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