Our nonprofit, A Beautiful Me, empowers girls with life-giving messages about their self-worth and tools to build their confidence. In our emerge360 teen program, we train girls in business and philanthropy skills at our social enterprise retail store, The Closet by A Beautiful Me, in downtown Port Huron, Michigan.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of all non-essential retail stores in Michigan, we lost the ability to continue our in-person training program at The Closet. After months of spending regular time with the teens in our program, we had to discover new ways to connect with them.
We were grateful to engage most of them virtually with new and adapted programming via Zoom, but we still needed to figure out how to make sure we maximized this season. With our store closed, and our staff working from home, we decided to evaluate our curriculum and the plan we were using to train teens.
Research at The Rox Institute states that 46% of high school girls do not believe they are smart enough for their dream career. Our original program was developed to give teen girls the opportunity to learn about business and professional skills firsthand. They begin our program essentially as volunteers who are trained in basic retail skills while working with a mentor.
Girls come to us with all the normal fears and insecurities about talking to people they don’t know, taking initiative, and understanding business processes. Through patient coaching, they are soon happily approaching customers, confidently answering the phone, and thoughtfully contributing to the sales team.
Through our work with 14 teens in our first year, we discovered that once the girls began to get comfortable with the retail environment, they started to contribute new ideas that were good for the business. These young women saw things the rest of the team didn’t –– their youth offered a fresh perspective.
When COVID slowed us down, we were able to review the last year of the program and develop a new module to the training that grew out of an experience with one of our teens.
In one of our Zoom meetings, we talked about the importance of branding and consistency with logos, colors, and style. One of our teens, Makihia, wanted to help the public understand the connection between the butterfly in our logo and our message of metamorphosis - something she felt like she experienced as a result of her training. She developed and implemented a plan with the help of her ABMe mentor to build and install butterfly houses and a butterfly garden on the streetscape in front of The Closet.
This experience led us to see the importance of allowing the girls to take their learning to the next level and take ownership of some kind of project as part of their training. We were able to use the knowledge gained from Makhia’s project to research, develop, and design a complete Project Based Learning Manual for our program. Makhia’s butterfly garden also helped us finalize the name for our teen training program, emerge360.
Our free teen training program, emerge360, is now ready to reach a whole new group of young women. With new training tools in place, we are beginning to recruit new girls to the program so they too can experience confidence-building activities in a real-life environment. Girls in 9th-12th grade can apply today at over1000dresses.com or by texting emerge360 to 586-623-4407.
The small atmosphere of our store allows us to safely work with teens and serve our customers well. We know that girls need a strong social support system to succeed, and we are ready to provide that to a whole new group of 9th-12th grade girls who are interested in becoming tomorrow’s future leaders and professionals.
Karen Palka is the Founder & Executive Director of A Beautiful Me, Inc.in Port Huron. This entry is part of our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19 is impacting the nonprofit sector--and how they are innovating. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.ACT.