Uncover the inspiring history and future plans of This Girls Story as Beth Tomas shares her motivation, challenges, and triumphs. Dive into a world where teenage girls become confident leaders through creative expression.
We’re Bruce and Karen Carlson. We recently moved to the Metro East area of Illinois. It’s a whole new world out there. Our goal with this website is to share our exploration of the Metro East area. As we find businesses and services we use in our daily lives, we’ll share how these businesses and services have helped make our lives better and easier to live.
We’re calling our move to the Metro East area retirement, but we’re not quite sure what that means. By sharing our story with you, we hope you too will gain a better sense of what the Metro East area has to offer and how their businesses and services can improve your lives and build a better community.
Embark on a riveting journey into the heart of empowerment with Beth Tomas, the visionary founder of This Girls Story. In this exclusive interview, Beth unveils the intricate threads of her passion, weaving a narrative that transcends borders and resonates with the universal need for amplifying girls’ voices. From humble beginnings to global impact, get ready to explore the genesis, challenges, and triumphs of an organization dedicated to fostering confidence and creativity in teenage girls.
This is an interview with Beth Tomas, who is the founder and executive director of This Girls Story. I want to get a little bit of history about This Girls Story, what you see as the future, and how you got to where you are.
Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. I’m excited to get this interview out on our website, www.EastOfStLouis.com, and other platforms on social media so that people can know more about This Girls Story because girls have important things to say. First of all, let’s share kind of how it all started.
What was your motivation behind it, and what kind of the journey so far?
It is a bit of a convoluted, complicated story. I want to start with a little bit more just to let everybody know what This Girls Story is all about. In a nutshell, what we do is amplify girls’ voices. We provide a platform for teens who identify as girls where they can express themselves creatively, they can gain some publishing skills and can build their confidence.
We want them to come in and learn how to define their voice and to gain that unshakable confidence that they’ll take into the adult world and become strong, articulate, compassionate leaders in a world where, right now, women’s ideas are being stolen, and their voices are just being ignored. Some women feel the necessity to compete in the corporate world by tearing each other down.
I think that just contributes to women not being heard. So This Girls Story starts when the girls are teenagers and they’re starting to look at what they want to do in their life, either by being published in the magazine or being part of the youth editorial team.
Their voices will be heard through this magazine that they produce. They don’t just write the stories, but actually publish their stories that are contributed by teens who identify as girls from literally around the world, but mostly in the U.S. It’s a platform for creative expression.
So how did that start? Well, there’s a whole lot of things, but basically, it is a passion of mine which is to nurture young women. I was a Girl Scout leader for ten years. My children were assigned female at birth, and so I proceeded to raise them that way and considered myself a girl mom. I knew that I was silenced as a kid and even as an adult, so I didn’t want that world for them.
I tried to raise them to stand up and speak for themselves. And then Girl Scouts is very much a girl-led organization that I embraced as well. That philosophy came over into this magazine. I wanted to be able to provide a place where girls can grow up and not have to unpack the baggage that many adult women have had to unpack in their thirties, forties, and sometimes later.
I completely agree with how important it is to help girls learn the value of expressing themselves. Recently I did a short exercise, and this memory came up for me of not being heard. I don’t want young women now to feel like they don’t have a voice. What a wonderful opportunity for young girls to develop themselves through this platform and not have to wait until many years later and a lot of heartache and frustration to feel the confidence of themselves.
Why a magazine? It’s quick and it’s easy. When I started out, I basically just wanted to help girls tell their stories if they wanted to be published. But a magazine is a little bit more inclusive. You don’t have to write a novel. Eventually, down the road, maybe we will do that for girls, but I just want them to be able to have this now.
I also have a background in graphic design with 30 years of experience. So, although I lay out the magazine, I really don’t design the magazine, the girls on the team do it. That’s why we chose to make This Girls Story a magazine format.
We do it digitally because I want to help girls to build their resumes. Whether they’re going to go to college after high school or they’re going to go straight into the work world or whatever they choose, being published looks good on a resume.
If you have the link to your creative work, everything’s done digitally these days and you can link your article to your resume for college or a job. It shows initiative to be published, to take that chance, and to take healthy risks. There’s a lot that goes into it, so it really looks good on a resume, period.
What types of submissions can girls make to the digital magazine?
It’s really cool because that’s something that I hear a lot of people say when I’m making connections. People say, “Oh, do you talk to the English teachers in high schools?” From there I love to share that we’re not just a magazine that showcases writing, although that is the bulk of what gets contributed, so far. We publish art, photography, and videos.
That’s the cool thing about being digital too, because we just put the link with the photo and people can see it. We’ve had people doing cover songs of famous artists. We’ve had dance videos. So, if you’re a dancer and you want to show your moves and express your story that way, you certainly can do so. The Fall issue this year had a theme of What Scares You. That was released in September of this year and was really fun to see the submissions.
We actually had a little mini horror flick somebody put together and it was really cool. Those are all the kinds of contributions that girls can make. You don’t have to be a writer to submit content to This Girls Story. And if you have written content that you want to submit and you’re not sure about your skills, that’s what we have an editorial team for.
We do everything we possibly can to make sure that you get published. Each contributor gets assigned a teen editor so that they have one face from This Girls Story to connect with.
So when did This Girls Story launch?
Well, we launched on March 8, 2022. Actually, we launched on International Women’s Day of 2022. Yeah, we picked that date on purpose. We’re still a very young organization. I should point out that we are a nonprofit organization. We sell subscriptions to the magazine and individual issues and accept donations to continue this mission. Since we’re very young we focus on getting noticed and building the audience for the important things that girls have to say.
And in the early years of this organization, what kind of things have changed since your early vision and where you are now?
I have a lot of things that I envisioned. That’s an interesting question. I think that it’s not necessarily that things have changed but we’re starting to see a fulfillment of the vision. We did basically traditional content. We didn’t have a video as a submission option. We said, let’s get used to producing a magazine first. And then we started learning about adding video. So that’s a change.
What’s more important to me is the change that I’ve seen and am still seeing in the girls involved with the magazine. I’ve noticed that last year the girls would ask, “Hey Beth, can we do this?” “Can we do this?” “Can we do this?” And now this year I hear, “Hey Beth, let’s do this.” So, their confidence has really grown.
They are starting to dream about things that they want to know and they’re starting to be a little bit bolder in sharing their ideas. It’s not like somebody says, hey, can we do this? Yeah, you can do this. I always put it back on their plates. If they asked me if they can do something, I’d say, “Well, I don’t know. Let’s ask the team.”
I think it shows that the editorial staff, these teen girls that are the editors, are taking ownership of the magazine, and so they’re really stepping into that, which is great.
Yes. I will say that they started a little bit last year. We started doing the blog. Each week, except the week that we publish the magazine, one of the girls on the team writes a blog that we send out in a newsletter. When we started talking about it, I said, hey, maybe we can invite guest bloggers.
Shame on me for my doubt, but I just said, maybe we can have guest blog writers. And BOOM, they said no, and they were very adamant that we just keep it to the editorial staff. They talked about taking ownership of that. They did that.
We do a quarterly workshop, and the girls said that instead of doing it as more of a meet and greet, we should focus on a subject. The workshops were actually the brainchild of one of the girls on the team to do workshops. And so we did and the girls started saying we can pick a specific subject?
It was interesting because in late May, or early June, we would normally plan a workshop in July. They said, can we do one in June? Can we do two workshops? Then it came to planning the workshops, and it started coming together. Everybody on the team works on it. They come up with ideas, and they’ll do things together, but they don’t all necessarily come.
And not everybody is participating in presenting a workshop. So sometimes at other meetings, there will be some fine-tuning on a presentation. I had an experience at one of the workshops that made it impossible for me to attend the planning. Usually, I’m involved in all the aspects of this magazine, but our calendars just didn’t mesh in July.
And so the girls said, “You know what, Beth? We got this!” How great is that? “We’ll meet,” they said. And so I was excused from a meeting. That’s what I’m seeing. We (the girls) can take care of this and do this. So now we’re starting to talk about next year, a little bit more hands-on leadership, on the team, and what that’s going to look like.
And the more experience they have, obviously, it does build their confidence and it helps to fuel their ideas of how they see things tweaking and turning and adapting. But you talked about the workshops. I was just wondering what other types of events This Girls Story has offered.
We had our very first fundraiser. We got sponsors and it was fun, interesting, and challenging. It was a poetry slam. What was surprising was how it went heavily international and not just local. We had a couple of girls that were local, but most of them were from other states. Actually, what’s interesting was our very first applicant for the poetry slam was from Sri Lanka.
So it became an international event very quickly. It was kind of neat to see how that all worked out. Karen, you were there. You saw that. Everybody that went to that event said the same thing. “The girls’ poems, oh, my God, they were just so powerful and profound.” Those are the two words that I’ve been using to describe it.
We’ve also enjoyed the support of people doing fundraisers for us.
We had an energetic and spiritual kind of event that raised funds for TGS [called Be the Peace]. We just recently did a yoga class online, so we have things like that. But the girls weren’t quite involved in that.
Now, something that’s coming up in January that the girls are going to be involved in, and this is what’s really cool, is because they’re game changers in this. There’s a local library that has a “No Shush” salon, but it’s basically a very broad interpretation of an open mic, and it’s catered towards adults.
It’s part of the adult librarian program. But I was working with the young adult librarian who connected me with the adult librarian who started and runs the salon. I believe my contact there told the person who does the No Shush salon at this library (J-Nine )about This Girls Story.
J-Nine came to the meeting, presented it to the girls on the team, and I said, “Okay, so here we have a library. The team represents five states and two countries. Four of our girls are from the greater Chicagoland area.” I said, “Well, we’re an online digital magazine. We do everything digitally. Is there a way that people can participate? Can you use Zoom? Can we do a hybrid event with this?”
And so two things happened with this.
They [J-Nine” said, “Yes, we could do hybrid events.” They took this No Shush salon now, which was a local event, and now they’ve made it a hybrid event.
They are the first teenagers to be participating in this No Shush salon. They’re [the girls] breaking ground and opening it up to teenagers and making a bigger audience. And the cool thing is that it brings generations together, and it also ensures the legacy and the future of this event because now they’re bringing in a whole new generation of participants.
It sounds like that glass ceiling has been broken.
The teenage glass ceiling. Yeah, it’s just great. And where best to go and amplify girls’ voices than at an open mic salon? It’s really cool. So four of the girls are going to be participating. Most of them are local and some of them are not, and that works.
So, as you are out in the community and networking and introducing people to This Girls Story, let me ask you, if you were on an elevator and the doors opened and you had less than a minute, what would you say to a person who gets on the elevator to tell them about This Girls Story?
We are on a mission to change the world, and to make sure that women’s voices are heard and respected. We do that by working with teens while they’re making their decisions about their adult life and what it might look like.
We provide a platform for creative expression for girls, and that is through a digital magazine that’s produced by teen girls and showcases content that’s contributed by teen girls in the form of art, writing, photography, and video. Because girls have important things to say.
That’s right. Very good. So what would you say is the very best part of being the executive director of This Girls Story and what do you do to move the organization forward?
First and foremost, I must say, is working with these young women. I was a Girl Scout leader for ten years, and a new leader asked me early on in their leadership “What would you suggest? What are some pointers?” I said then, and I still say it now as a leader. When you’re working with these girls, step out of the way and let them amaze you, because 100% of the time they’re going to do exactly that, so just watch them.
These girls came together. We did an onboarding workshop in March of 2022. By June 10, we had published our first magazine. These girls didn’t know each other from Eve. They came together, they decided everything down to what style of writing we were going to use for the magazine.
They determined the themes for the next year, they determined the branding and the standards of the magazine, and they gelled. And then each one, in their own way, showed their leadership and stepped forward, and had suggestions as I watched their confidence build. Like I said earlier, to watch them go from, “Hey, can we do this?” to, “Hey, let’s do this,” to standing their ground and saying, “No, this is our blog. We want to make sure that we write it” is ah, so good.
We had our first editorial team member graduate from the team. And when I say graduate, it means she turned 20. She aged out of our teen girls’ parameters.
Because we work high school and college through age 19, when you hit 20, we lovingly release you into the world to go do good things. That same girl came back and did an internship over the summer. The girls were thrilled to work with her again. Then she took and changed kind of the face of our art because she did a graphic design internship.
And it’s [something] quietly in the works, well, not literally. She took all the blogs from the very first year and created an anthology. She laid it out. It is complete, nearly complete. We are working with an author who does publishing to help put it into an eBook format and are just kind of figuring out how we’re going to use that. It’s well over 100 pages of content.
So how do you see that being disseminated?
I see it being some sort of fundraiser. Very cool.
What is the most challenging part of running this organization?
Getting people to know who we are and then building that audience. If I had a dollar for every time a woman has said, “Oh, I wish this was around when I was a kid”, we wouldn’t need to do any fundraising. We have a lot of support, but we need to just continue to grow the audience so that these girls have the proper audience for what they have to say. Because what they have to say is astounding.
Just being more visible.
Yeah. Just to read it. And when I talk to some people, they comment, well, I have a son, why would I subscribe to the magazine? I respond by saying, do you think your son will want to date girls? Is your son going to deal with women in the future?
If they are at some point, and you want to know what’s on the minds of girls right now, read our magazine. Our banner says By Girls, For Everyone. So it’s trying to get people to understand that this isn’t just a girls’ club, it is trying to amplify girls’ voices to the world. So, yeah, that’s our challenge, and there’s a lot of work to be done.
So building a good volunteer team is a challenge.
What do you see as the future of This Girls Story and what are your biggest hopes and dreams?
These girls will take what they’ve gained from participating, whether as a content contributor or as an editorial team member, and go into the world and change it. These girls really work collaboratively. They support each other. I mean, really to be a fly on the wall, which is kind of what I am at meetings, especially in the beginning,
it’s very quiet because we start each meeting out with editing the blog. And they don’t just correct typos and punctuation errors in this. They highlight portions of the blog that they think are powerful and they say so. So they’re not clamoring to be the best individually but as a team.
They’re not clamoring to do what they’re doing but more like, we have a message to get out. Let’s make sure it’s the best message. Let’s work together. So they’re definitely living the principle of collaboration over competition. I want to see that go into the future where women are working together and not fighting against each other. And again, to be heard.
I see down the road things coming. The girls are going to start taking more leadership in actually running the production of the magazine. I see big, hairy, audacious goals, to quote Jack Campbell. I see a podcast coming. I see TEDx teams coming – Teen TEDx teams.
I see This Girls Story starting to publish writings, to become a publisher of books that are written by alumni and whoever else wants to come through this, and certainly by teenagers. I want to just see a place where this continues to grow, to amplify the girls’ voices and change the world.
As somebody who’s affiliated with the organization, I guess I dream that one of these girls someday is going to be a Pulitzer Prize winner.
I can see one. I can name one right in my head, right now.
How do you see This Girls Story being something that helps communities? The girls as individuals obviously help them build their confidence, and give them a voice. And I love subscribing to the newsletter because then I get emails that let me know when those blogs come out besides seeing them on the social media platforms.
I love being able to comment on those and being able to encourage those teen girls and their writing and their vulnerability and transparency and their sharing such meaningful expressions. So if you were speaking to kind of community development individuals, what would you say is the biggest benefit for a community?
The involvement of the girls. I mean, when we grow up, we become a part of a community on so many levels. We live in a community. We interact with people in the community. We sometimes work in the community where we live. If we don’t work in the community, we still come home to the community and spend our dollars in that community. We provide the best that we can for the next generation in that community. This Girls Story is part of that for communities.
The cool thing about us being digital is that it doesn’t matter where you are, you can still build your community by making sure that girls get involved with this opportunity. It’s more than just putting together a magazine. These girls are stretching themselves.
Part of this is being involved in events where they’re talking to other girls. This year, one of the girls said, “It’s gone beyond just working on this magazine. I’ve taken it into my classroom and it helps me with that.” So it helps them in their classes, helps them become better students.
It helps them learn how to speak out. This week, when we were talking, I asked if there was anybody in their world who was going to be contributing content? One of the girls said, “You know what, I’m going to put something in myself. But I’ve also been talking to my creative writing teacher who is letting her freshman and sophomore class students know about this opportunity and providing that.”
They’re learning how to speak up and advocate. These are skills that you take into the world. They’re learning how to market and it builds confidence. It’s something that they take pride in. And when you take pride in something it spills over into your life.
And I think also it’s the added benefit of submissions from around the world. For example, one of the poets was from Sri Lanka. Being able to see things from a different perspective. A lot of times when you’re a teen girl, your reach, and your experiences are in some ways limited.
And so to be able to hear, read these articles, see this artwork, see these videos from different people around the world, kind of opens things up in such a big way that really expands their knowledge of the world and their interaction with the world by seeing what’s published in this digital magazine.
Yeah. And I have two things to say about that. First of all, I’ve been collecting quotes all year. One of the things that was common with the girls, I noted, was them saying that our topics are kind of broad, like the theme coming up for the winter issue is Stories That Shaped You. What does that mean? The girls write an overview and give some prompts.
We do that, and that’s always up on the website. So if you need some ideas, go to our website and check it out. But what they have said individually and collectively, is that they’re surprised at the broad interpretation of each of the themes.
So that’s really cool. We do have a worldwide reach, but we also have a local reach and a community reach here. And so these girls are seeing more.
I hear them say, “This is what I think about it, but I didn’t think about it that way.” That’s expansion.
Go and read our magazine. We have a free sample on our website. If you go to the purchase page, where you can purchase a subscription, right across the top, in bold pink lettering, it says “free sample.” And so it shows you the level and the quality of what these girls are writing and what’s important to them. And it’s not just writing. There’s a beautiful watercolor painting done by a 13-year-old girl. You would never believe that a 13-year-old could do this.
People think of teenagers as being noisy and rambunctious, and they are, but that’s what teenagers are supposed to be, but they can be taken seriously. Whether they have a high-cost education or wherever they are, girls have important things to say and they can express themselves.
And what they’re talking about is very important. If you want to know what’s on girls’ minds, watch the news, because they’re paying attention.
Your mind can be changed about teenage girls by reading this magazine. If you have a certain way of thinking about teenage girls, read our magazine and see if it either confirms what you’ve been thinking or if it changes your mind. It’s by Girls….It’s for Everybody. And everyone can benefit from reading this magazine. Seeing things from it gives me hope for the future.
You mentioned that you were gathering testimonials. Might you be able to share a few testimonials?
~ It’s been really fun working on the team.
~ It’s just great to see everybody’s creativity and how amazing they are. I like the collaboration.
~ It made me think there’s more than one way to see things.
~ So I’m kind of telling you that even though we’ve only met on Zoom, there’s a spontaneous genuineness to it every time we meet. There’s a feeling of companionship and a sort of comfort in being a team of girls working together.
~ It’s kind of amazing. You guys live thousands of miles away from me. I’ve never met you in person, and yet I feel like I really know you, and that’s kind of a thing that goes on. The team has given me a major confidence in my writing and my photography.
One of our girls, she just kind of noodled with pictures [photography], but she ended up taking a really cool picture that the team said, hey, let’s make that a cover. So our second issue of the magazine is kind of a self-portrait of this girl on our team. She took that picture. Now she goes around and she takes pictures with the magazine in mind and the theme in mind, and so if we need photography to cover that, we’ll do that. She feels like she’s gotten better at it and feels more comfortable.
Those testimonials are really great.
She said, “It’s fun to see.” One other girl says, “I think it’s really cool when you submit something to a magazine and it gets accepted. It makes you happy, and there’s a sense of accomplishment”.
I do want to read a quote from a parent that I actually put into the newsletter this week. “After my daughter’s first story was published in This Girls Story magazine, she felt proud of her achievement outside of her school accomplishments. This accomplishment also provided her with a confidence boost, sharing her work with the public.
Thank you to This Girls Story for their invaluable role in helping young girls become more confident in who they are and what they want to be as individuals as they grow up. Your magazine’s message and support are appreciated.”
That’s awesome and must be so satisfying to hear that from a parent. As we wrap up, any final thoughts that maybe you wanted to share? Anything I didn’t ask or you didn’t have an opportunity to share, maybe a snippet or a tidbit of something that you want to have heard.
This Girls Story is for everybody because we are a magazine, I think people have the misconception that you must be a writer to be the editorial team, and that couldn’t be further than from the truth. We publish art – and all kinds of art. I just did a reel on fiber arts, we publish photography, we publish video, and all that can be encompassed.
So if you are not a writer, but you want to have your voice heard in some way, you can do that. We need artists on the team. We need your artist’s eye. We need your creative eye.
And the same goes for anybody who’s submitting content. It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking. It’s amazing what’s being submitted. I don’t think there’s a story that we have rejected yet. We have published just about every story that has come in. If it didn’t go into the magazine it was submitted for, we looked to see if it would fit one of the themes of upcoming issues. So go for it. We want to publish your story, and we will help you put it in the best light possible.
But you don’t have to be a writer or an artist or anything. You just have to be a girl who has a story to tell. If you have a story to tell and feel like you don’t know how to tell it, contact us. One of the editorial team members might be able to talk to you and help.
What are the best ways for somebody who just wants to find out more about submitting something or being involved in some way with the organization to utilize?
Start with our website – www.thisgirlsstory.org and make sure you sign up for the newsletter because the newsletter comes out every week, and we tell you what’s coming up.
And if you can’t remember thisgirlstory.org, just remember This Girls Story. But remember that there’s no apostrophe in the word “Girls,” because it’s not about one girl. It’s about all kinds of girls. A story about all kinds of girls.
Amazing! Well, this has been a joy just to hear your passion and your love and your vision of what you’ve started and all the girls around the world who can benefit from that and be able to be heard and be seen in a way that they probably were not before. We look forward to reading the blogs and getting the magazine and seeing it grow and impact the future of the world.
And follow us on social media, too. We’re on Facebook, Instagram, and on LinkedIn.
Thank you so much, Beth. Much gratitude for everything that you do to help girls be heard and let their important things be published and out in the world.
And thank you for hearing me – and us.
As we conclude our conversation with Beth Tomas, the driving force behind This Girls Story, the echoes of empowerment linger. The trajectory from a mere idea to an international platform for creative expression is nothing short of inspiring. The girls involved in this movement are not just shaping a magazine; they are crafting a future where collaboration triumphs over competition, and voices once silenced reverberate globally. This Girls Story is more than a publication; it’s a catalyst for change, a testament to the resilience and creativity of teenage girls, and a beacon illuminating the path towards a world where every girl’s story is heard and celebrated.
We hope you are enjoying these articles and are willing to continue to follow along as we share our adventures of learning about life in southern Illinois, This is an exciting area and we are so happy to be part of this area. Our lives are being fulfilled by the people we are meeting. Bruce & Karen.