One of the many gifts I’ve received from my time as an Aerie Real Role model is the connection and friendship with driven, talented, beautiful women who are actively, passionately pursuing a better future for our world.
I remember sitting across the table from Dre Thomas at a hotel in Brooklyn when she told me about her work with young girls and teens, how she’s dedicated to helping them grow in their confidence and celebrate their girlhood and womanhood, all while providing the very real need of hygiene products in under-resourced communities.
In 2020, Dre Thomas had to take her Smile On Me events virtual, like so many others. She knew that the need for connection last year was greater than ever, and she wasn’t about to let her community down. Dre Thomas is here to share her community-nurturing expertise, and talk about all of the exciting ways she’s rethinking events after a year gone virtual.
Where She Started
Dre remembers sitting around the kitchen table with her mother as a teenager in high school feeling called to help the younger girls that lived in her apartment complex. She wanted to be able to give them socks and underwear as well as start hosting sessions where they could feel connected to a community. It was the first time she was really awakened to the power she had to make a difference, right in her own community.
Smile On Me is the evolution of that conversation. Dre founded the organization with the mission of awakening girls to their inner greatness. “Through these workshops, through providing girls with hygiene products, we get to witness these girls waking up to what makes them great,” Dre explained.
2020 Changed Everything
So much of Smile On Me is the in-person connection Dre has with her community. These girls love their time together, and 2020 was supposed to be a massive year with their annual summit that would take them to all of NYC’s five boroughs and include a big block party. But 2020 happened, and in-person events came to a halt.
“My mom always tells me that boredom breeds creativity,” Dre laughed. “I was at home every day, I lost my job, so I had a lot of time on my hands to think about these types of things.”
Dre’s boredom turned into a new way for her to connect with her girls and serve them virtually. It’s a program called Tiny Talks, and it’s become one of Dre’s favorite programs that she runs (pandemic or not!) The online conversation series allows girls to get together in an intimate online setting to discuss big topics — menstruation, mental health, and more female health topics.
Fostering Community Online
One thing Dre faced when moving her community events totally online was Zoom fatigue. Her girls were already doing virtual school via Zoom, and so inviting them to join yet another Zoom call was challenging. However, she quickly learned that they were more engaged and likely to show up if they had a stake in the planning process.
Dre asked for help picking themes for each session — her favorite was Unicorn Sunday when they’d all dress up in their best unicorn outfits — and it helped keep the girls excited to join the sessions.
Introducing other ways of connecting, like group chats, daily text check-ins, and other more direct forms of communication fostered an incredible community among girls that may’ve otherwise felt alone during a challenging year.
Are You Qualified?
One thing that fascinates me about female founders like Dre Thomas is that they identify a need or lacking in their community and feel called to be the one to help. They don’t let it fall on others — they’ve qualified themselves as the one to fill that need.
Dre remembered a quote that really spoke to her on this topic, “Those who are called are already qualified.” Even on days when Dre doubts herself, when she asks “Who am I to make a difference?” Dre says she is interrupted by the girl asking for help. She’s interrupted by the business or individual who wants to donate supplies to help her girls.
“Even if I help only one girl, it’s worth it,” Dre explained. “That keeps me going every day. That qualifies me every day, because that’s what matters. Focusing on the one.”
More from Dre Thomas
Dre is doing so many incredible things with Smile On Me. Hit play to hear about the members-only online club she launched in 2020 that will continue into this year and all of the ways she’s hoping to grow the organization into the new year. I hope you’ll join me in supporting Smile On Me and Dre and the important work she does with young people and girls to help them awaken to their inner greatness.