We are still thinking about how INCREDIBLE this year’s Keystone Conference was, and since today is International Day of the Girl, the SMART Girls Expo is top of mind. Each year at the conference, this event is an inspiring celebration of strength, resilience, and sisterhood, and this year was no exception. With the theme “Uniquely You,” over 300 attendees were empowered to recognize the things that make them uniquely special, reassured that it’s okay to be different, and motivated to follow their own path.
We do the SMART Girls Expo all the way up right, with swag, a choice of activities, special guests, and a DJ to bring the FIRE to the entire experience. But you can bring these same kinds of fun and powerful experiences to your Club girls all year long by hosting your own events! Interspersed in this post are ideas you can use to inspire your own SMART Girls Expo, plus top tips from BGCA’s Youth Development team, who facilitated the planning of the event. You’ll also see answers to questions we used as a scavenger hunt activity. Read them and tell me you don’t get a little teary-eyed! If these teens are the future? We’ll be alright.
The first essential step is that youth should be the ones driving the entire event. From the very start, their voices should be determining what the experience should be, including the theme, topics for workshops, the kinds of activities, and who they want to hear from in a panel discussion or keynote speaker. We believe strongly in Youth Voice, both because it builds essential leadership and advocacy skills, but also because they are the teens! They are literally the experts at what it is like to be them right now today. Members of the Keystone Steering Committee played a major role in bringing the SMART Girls Expo to life, and it was more relevant, more engaging, and more fun because they did.
The second step is choosing a topic that will be the theme of the event, because that will help spark all of the rest of the ideas. It could be related to a specific topic that your girls are interested in like mental health or the future, or a more generalized theme like Uniquely You! We do the same for the Keystone Conference overall, and it really brings focus and clarity. Choose special guests or sponsors that can speak to that theme directly, or donate items you can use for swag or snacks. This year, the Kimberly-Clark Foundation were key sponsors of the Expo, which was a great fit because they have are a supporter of our SMART Girls programming, so they understand why it is so impactful.
Allow plenty of time to adequately plan for your event, considering a wide range of activities appropriate for your venue, the amount of youth you expect, and adequate staffing. It’s a great time to get volunteers involved, including your organization’s Board Members and their families! At this year’s Expo we had a mix of games, group art projects, individual crafts, panels, small group discussions, and lots of opportunities to reflect about what they were hearing and thinking. Our event was for teens because it was at the Keystone Conference, but at your Club you could include any ages. If you do, be sure to plan accordingly.
Once all the planning is done, promote it everywhere! Encourage your girls to share with their friends in person and on social media. Let them create social media templates that they can personalize for their own posts. (Canva is a great tool for this!) Also share through your partners including the schools in your area, local businesses, community spaces like libraries or church group, and anywhere else you know girls and their families are gathering.
Here at BGCA we always want to celebrate the work you are doing in your Clubs, so if you host a SMART Girls Expo, we want to know! Always tag @bgcatapin on Instagram or the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page if you do anything special for International Day of the Girl or to share what you are doing to support greater inclusion, acceptance, and representation of girls in Clubs. (You can tag us with your Passport to Manhood or other event ideas too! 🙂 )
Young women and girls are dealing with a lot these days. As supportive, caring adults in their lives, we have a role in creating safe environments where they can explore their identities, build resiliency and confidence, and both prepare for their future while thriving today.