Celebrating City Year alum and nonprofit founder Dre Thomas
“My entrepreneurial journey actually started when I was 16 years old. I remember having a conversation with my mom in our kitchen about me wanting to give girls in our apartment complex hygiene products, and 13 years later I launched Smile On Me.”
Dre Thomas: From City Year to founding Smile On Me
As the Founder and CEO of Smile On Me, Dre Thomas has continued to serve her community long after her two years of service—one with City Year Los Angeles (2010-2011) and the other with City Year New York (2011-2012)—were complete. In fact, it was during her time as an AmeriCorps member that Dre developed the confidence to “connect her heart to her feet” and follow her entrepreneurial dreams. It’s where she found her network of peers who continue to encourage her today and connected with to New York City youth. These factors inspired Dre to plant her roots and start her nonprofit that serves young girls in the New York City metropolitan area.
“Throughout my years of service, I got to meet so many inspiring people. I learned what I wanted to do with my career and what I did not want to do with my career, which is equally important,” says Dre. “I learned to surround myself with people who celebrated and supported me when no one was watching. This is so amazing. As a solopreneur, it’s sometimes very hard to keep going, but people who celebrate me and push me forward is the reason why I get up in the morning.”
Smile On Me adequately prepares girls for puberty and provides a space where they can be authentic and discover something new. Since its inception, Smile On Me has donated more than 3,000 hygiene products to girls throughout the New York City area and facilitates engaging programming on puberty, menstruation and reproductive health, body image, and mental wellness.
After witnessing the loneliness and lack of belonging her girls were experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dre launched “Homeroom”: a Smile On Me members-only club where girls ages 12-16 can connect digitally, participate in meaningful conversations and mentorship, and get access to cool perks such as discounts on their favorite brands. The work Smile On Me does has proven that low self-esteem, poor body image, and unrealistic expectations decrease when girls are a part of healthy environments in which they are valued and heard.
Dre is constantly pushing the envelope and expanding the reach and impact of Smile On Me. She recently finished a crowdfunding campaign to bring to life the first and only BIPOC-girl-focused Wellness Summer Camp in 2022. This summer camp experience, which will be free of charge to all participants, aims to provide a unique opportunity for campers to gain and practice life skills in a safe space. With only 10% of American campers identifying as Black and only 60% of Smile On Me participants having ever attended sleep-away camp, Dre wants to close the gap in access and participation through this enriching summer experience.
Dre continues to inspire and shape the lives of hundreds of BlPOC young girls. She is committed to making a difference in their lives and inspiring other “solopreneurs” to identify a need in their community and start an organization to address it.
“People ask me, “how can I make a difference?” And I like to say that impact starts in your backyard,” Dre says. “What’s going on in your community, on your block? What’s interrupting your daily thoughts? Instead of focusing on what keeps you up at night, I would encourage you to consider what gets you out of bed in the morning, because oftentimes the remarkable is found in your familiar.”
Dre, we honor your work and celebrate you! Congrats again on winning the 2021 Comcast NBCUniversal Leadership Award!
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