Superpower on the Side is a series that features WeWork team members and how they spend their time when they’re not at work.
When she was in fourth grade, Dre Thomas organized a canned-food drive at her school. She understood the value in giving back to her community: Her mom, a single parent, had always led by example, making time to volunteer at the family’s church and the schools Thomas and her three siblings attended in Los Angeles. But it wasn’t until Thomas saw how much food she and her classmates collected, and how meaningful it was to the underresourced communities who received it, that she understood how even seemingly small acts could make a big impact.
“From there I had this drive to do something, to gather people together and make a difference,” says Thomas, 29, who works on WeWork’s member marketing and communications team in New York.
It was her desire to help others that spurred Thomas to apply for a job at WeWork. She had launched her nonprofit, Smile On Me, in 2017, through which she ran workshops for inner-city girls, giving them the necessary tools to understand menstruation, their bodies, and themselves. But she was also working full-time, and her employer wasn’t especially supportive. So when she began hearing good things about working at WeWork, her interest was piqued.
“I saw that they really encourage their employees to all be creators and invest in their side hustles,” she says. “I thought, I would love to work for a company that understands the importance of giving back and the impact you can make on others.”
Since joining WeWork’s marketing team in November 2018, Thomas says she’s been continually inspired to think about new ways she can make an impact—in and out of the office.
“My role is in email marketing,” she explains. “And in one meeting, a VP said, ‘If you’re not proud to have your name on this, don’t send it out.’ It was cool to hear how much intention we put behind communicating with members via email. We get to be proud of the work we do.”
Thomas is equally mindful with the work she does through Smile On Me. Growing up in a “family of hand-me-downs,” sharing things like clothes and hygiene products with her mom and sisters, she understood how important it is for young girls to have their own stuff. Girls from lower-income families who often have to choose between basic necessities like toilet paper, food, and rent—and they can be unprepared for puberty. In New York City, where nearly 30 percent of children live in poverty, feminine-hygiene products can cost as much as $100 annually per person.
That’s the gap Thomas aims to bridge with Smile On Me. She started the organization on her 28th birthday by collecting 500 feminine-hygiene products––donated by friends and family in lieu of birthday gifts. Then she coordinated with a nonprofit called Good Shepherd Services, which offers housing for homeless, runaway, and former foster-care youth, donating the items and running a puberty and menstruation workshop for the 13 girls in Good Shepherd housing at the time.
Today, Smile On Me continues to run workshops with Good Shepherd Services, as well as other organizations and schools. And Thomas has expanded her curriculum to include conversations around self-esteem, self-care, self-help, self-advocacy, and mental health—topics requested by the girls and the organizations she works with.
“My goal is to make sure girls are not only leaving with tangible products, but also understanding how to use these products and how these products empower them as a girl,” she says.
Smile On Me also hosts annual events, including one pegged to the Day of the Girl in October, and a summit held over summer break. Last year’s daylong summit in Brooklyn included workshops on self-esteem and mental health, plus zine-making stations, photos booths, and other fun activities—and was attended by 40 girls.
“The summit is the heart and soul of Smile On Me,” she says. “A lot of girls do not leave their borough. I worked in Brooklyn for about four years, and a lot of girls hadn’t even seen the Brooklyn Bridge or gone to Manhattan or Queens. So I really wanted to bring all of the girls together so they can have that connection and discover something new.”
Since Smile on Me launched, about 100 girls have attended workshops, and the organization has given away more than 1,000 feminine-hygiene products. They’ve also established partnerships with companies like Birchbox, Project Glimmer, and THINX.
Thomas, who hopes to further grow Smile On Me’s success in the coming year, says she’s grateful to work at a company like WeWork, because she’s not only encouraged to pursue her passion for helping young girls, but is inspired to keep dreaming bigger.
“That atmosphere of us all being creators and making an impact and elevating the world’s consciousness really has been impactful for me,” says Thomas.
If you want to contribute to making Smile On Me’s 2019 Summit Awesome, make a donation.