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A Beautiful Me finds ways to foster self-worth and community connection, especially among girls

A Beautiful Me finds ways to foster self-worth and community connection, especially among girls

By Karen Palka, Contributing Writer - The Nonprofit Journal Project 

A Beautiful Me, founded in 2008, has a mission to create better communities one person at a time, with our focus being on girls and young women. Through confidence building workshops, innovative programs, and special events, our participants thrive personally and professionally. We also operate The Closet, our nonprofit store located in downtown Port Huron designed to teach business & philanthropy skills to teen girls. We give our young ladies the tools they need to be successful, while also building their self esteem and confidence.

I started this organization because I didn't see value, purpose, and worth in myself until I was in my 40s. This realization made me wonder what would happen if my daughters and their friends never stumbled upon that knowledge? But if I could get them to recognize their value and worth at an early age, they wouldn't have to endure some of the pitfalls and obstacles I did. Studies show that self-esteem peaks in young girls at age nine, and gradually declines without proper guidance and positive reinforcement.

Picture the community as a chain, which is only as strong as its weakest link. If we can get our young women to understand their value and place in the world at elementary and adolescent ages, they are more likely to take on roles in their adult lives that enhance their communities in some shape, form or fashion. 

This past year, one of our young ladies was going through a rough time. We know how much the pandemic has disrupted our lives, but on top of that she was dealing with a major family crisis. Yet, through all of the obstacles thrown her way, she continued to participate at our store and volunteer at our events. I’ve watched her grow, and it's stories like these that show me that our organization holds a valuable place in the community.

When our store had to close during COVID-19, that was a huge blow. We were also in the middle of five workshops at five separate schools, in three different counties. They were all cancelled. To maintain and sustain our nonprofit we often rely on volunteers, donations, and fundraising events. We had to reinvent ourselves and find new ways to keep programs going.

During 2020, we created an online peer-to-peer fundraising page that secured 411 donations. We started our Pen Pal Program where we wrote letters to encourage young women who’d previously participated in our workshops. We also shifted our operational focus more towards the retail side of things. The Closet's Flash of Fashion series on You Tube is one innovative way we've worked to reach audiences, marketing our inventory of over 1000 dresses. This continues online today, though our store is now open Monday thru Saturday and recently fitted many young women for Homecoming.

During the pandemic, we've formed a new partnership with St. Clair County Community Mental Health (SCCCMH), a local organization that supports individuals with mental illness, intellectual/developmental disabilities, and substance use disorders. I began working with them during the lockdown to offer a personal mission statement webinar for their staff. Social work is a field where people are constantly giving of themselves to the point where they sometimes forget to care for themselves, and begin to experience burnout. 

Creating a personal mission statement builds confidence and helps keep us as individuals on target and on task. Those who participated with the activity enjoyed the results so much that I'll be providing an in-person workshop of the same original curriculum again in December. Although it started because of the pandemic, this program has been a blessing in disguise as it is now helping people in the community. I believe forming solid relationships with local organizations and helping each other is another way to sustain A Beautiful Me.

In addition to working with our local community, we’re getting ready to make our fourth trip to visit and encourage girls in Guatemala. With the help of a translator who’s coming with us, we’ll deliver school supplies and spend a week teaching girls in Central America the same principles and values we teach our girls back home, such as manners, business, and self love.

On November 7, we'll be hosting our Signature FUNdraiser and Avant Garde Hair Show. The event, at Zuccaro’s Banquet Center in Chesterfield, will feature a runway of everyday women with extreme artistic hair,  an online auction and several personal stories from our young girls.

Running a nonprofit during the pandemic has been a roller coaster experience. But I know what we provide helps girls become confident women, make healthy decisions and achieve their goals. I've had the pleasure of working with girls from the time they’re in third grade until they go off to college who tell me they could have never made it without A Beautiful Me. Hearing and seeing results like these are what keeps me going. 

It takes a village to raise a child. We're just doing our part to help our young girls and women become the best version of themselves.

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 major social disruptors today are affecting their work--and how they are responding. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.act Detroit.