By: Valencia Joseph
Smyrna is slaying it!
Smyrna is the home of the new Atlanta Braves @ Sun Trust Stadium which will make its grand debut in a few short weeks. Smyrna is the home of I Fly, the only Atlanta area indoor skydiving simulator or as I affectionately call it, the “wind tunnel on steroids.” Smyrna is smack dab in the middle of both Interstates 75 and 285, making it easy-peasy to get anywhere in metro Atlanta in a snap. With nature trails, beautiful homes and fabulous restaurants, Smyrna’s highlights are its crown jewels.
The sparkling philanthropic gemstone in its crown of jewels -- Show Me Shoes Foundation – chose Smyrna as its “Prom in the City” Prom Project event destination and home base, helping Smyrna slay Atlanta’s 2017 Prom Season kick off! Last month, on Sunday March 12, hordes of high school girls and parents converged on the Atlanta Marriott Northwest hotel for three hours to excitedly sift through their pick of hundreds of gowns and party dresses in all sizes that the girls will wear to prom this year! Not only were dresses and shoes fitted and provided to girls who found a match, but hair and makeup prizes were awarded, gifting lucky winners professional, custom services on their special day.
The creators of Show Me Shoes Foundation, Anneka Jenkins and Shiv’on Bullock started the non-profit organization as a way to connect with, elevate and enrich the lives of teen girls who are ambitious and smart, but who may need a guiding hand to navigate the unfamiliar and uncharted waters in life. Since both founders are shoe lovers and from Kansas City, Missouri (the show mestate), there was no better way to combine their two faves-- and Show Me Shoes Foundation was born. They created the platform tagline, “rebuilding confidence, starting from the sole” and went to work doing just that.
Proms are a massively expensive undertaking these days and young folks want to do it up big! From pricey attire and accessories, to big-ticket transportation, to lavish make-up, to globally-imported hair extensions, added to the cost of the actual prom ticket itself, a prom can set parents back a pretty penny. Show Me Shoes Foundationhas found a creative, fun-filled way to help offset costs to participating families by gifting girls with dresses/shoes/accessories and having beauty bars and hair stylists on site showing the girls how to beautify for the big event, all aimed at helping take the burden off of mom and dad. The prom dress initiative was an idea that came to Shiv’on while watching ELLEN on television. Ellen featured a young girl going door to door collecting dresses for a prom give away to needy families. Shiv’on called Anneka and told her they should do the same thing through their foundation. Shiv’on wanted Show Me Shoes to be a prom expense solution for girls and families. Their solution now serves four cities, Atlanta, Kansas City, Los Angeles and Chicago. The LA and KC events were both off-the-charts successes! A fifth city, to be announced later this year, will be added for the 2018 prom season!
“Our families are made up of all family types… single moms, dual-parent households, single dads, kids who recently lost parents, moms fighting cancer, grandmothers raising their grand kids, you name it, we help them all. We enjoy being a blessing to families,” said foundation organizers Anneka and Shiv’on. They understand that for some families, the expense can mean a choice between making their child’s big night dreams come true and paying the rent or other bills that month.
Wondering how or why Shiv’on and Anneka, who both work at full-time jobs, make the time to do so much for so many? Both young women see themselves in these girls and the foundation’s work makes them feel alive. Anneka was already mentoring girls when she and Shiv’on joined forces. However, getting the foundation off the ground was a saving grace for Shiv’on, as it came after a huge career disappointment and deep depression. Shiv’on had excitedly accepted an opportunity to work in South Korea after grad school only to have the opportunity suddenly fall through. Talk about heartbreak. She told everyone she was leaving the U.S., had a going away party, everyone gave her kudos on social media, then the rug was pulled out from under before her departure date. She was broken, embarrassed and wanted to disappear and hide in the loving arms of her parents. Shiv’on’s dad gave her the time she needed to grieve, then persuaded her to get back on the horse of life and make her mark on the world. She picked up the pieces and began rebuilding her life. It’s a story she often shares with girls to demonstrate a real-life example of a smashing comeback.
Both Anneka and Shiv’on also know what it’s like to want someone other than mom to talk to and bounce ideas off. “We know it’s easy for girls to hear encouraging words from mom, but it’s mom so she has to say nice things. We provide opportunities for girls’ talent, beauty and abilities to be championed and validated by successful women who aren’t biased by being their mom.” That’s the best confidence booster there is!
Show Me Shoes started with initiatives to just collect shoes to distribute to girls, but as they connected with their constituents, they found a much bigger need. They’ve created master classes that expose girls to career options and fields that aren’t being talked about or taught in school. We’ve shown them what it’s like to work in areas they barely knew existed. Show Me Shoes works with school counselors to identify interested girls and have toured Atlanta’s CDC and Radio One studios, where the girls met women working in STEM fields and in all areas of radio production. They came in thinking “oh, I can be the on-air personality,” but we had them tour every department from accounting, to traffic, to programming, to marketing and commercial production. Girls who originally had sights set on being in fashion careers or opening an online store, learned the range of salaries STEM careers can command and the wheels began turning. It opened their eyes to a world of possibilities!
Show Me Shoes targets the ambitious girl, who often doesn’t have a mentor or may sometimes feel like the underdog because she doesn’t have high-level connections. She may have insecurities and the mentorship is a vehicle to build self-esteem, and pass along information and advice via a platform that helps the girls feel loved and safe. Getting them knowledgeable while they’re still in high school provides them a larger viewpoint and first-hand experiences that helps them make more informed decisions in college.
The foundation’s creators know they can’t do the Prom Project and master classes alone and give all credit and thanks to individual volunteers and corporate supporters in each city who raise their hands and ask, how can we help? Major contributors have been the city of Atlanta and Kansas City, the venues who donate space, the CDC of Atlanta, Radio One who has provided local radio and social media support since first prom project seven years ago, 3D Girls Inc. and Take Flight Girls Inc., both of which have hosted dress drives for us, in addition to many individual dress donors via volunteers who host dress drives at their jobs.
The foundation founders love having conversations with and getting to know the parents. It’s a joy to hear how much this helps them. The most rewarding part for Shiv’on and Anneka is seeing the girls’ eyes light up at the dress options, seeing them have fun looking through and finding the PERFECT dress that is so them. One future prom goer, Chenoa Tyehimba, who was skeptical that she’d get a dress, was pleasantly surprised by the experience. Chenoa shared, “I am so happy I found one that fit my personality completely and it was totally what I was looking for.” Chenoa also enjoyed meeting other girls and getting each other’s opinion on dresses and fit.
The hardest part? “Figuring out what to feed the volunteers,” quips Anneka. On a more candid note, they both note that dealing with venue rules is sometimes tough. Some want you to purchase their food. The Marriott has really been a god send and bent the rules slightly for us.
If you have a giving spirit, DO IT! Give for the joy and the gift of giving and for the joy of helping young people enjoy the fun events of their youth without worrying about money.
Advice to future philanthropists… Don’t stop, keep going! Get your ideas going and don’t wait for paperwork to be complete. That takes time, meanwhile families, kids, etc., need your help. “No one cares that your paperwork isn’t ready yet. They care about what you’re doing for the community,” say Shiv’on and Anneka. They also say, “don’t fret or change your mind if someone is already doing what you’re thinking about doing. You still move forward. You will touch different souls and reach additional people that need help. Every sphere of reach is different.” Other words of advice, find creative solutions for the problems you’re seeing in your community, start in your city but don’t be afraid to partner with people or organizations that are like-minded to branch out and expand your dream.