J. Desiree on How to Always Be A Lady First
J. Desiree Thomas juggles her teaching job, her modeling career and graduate school, but she still finds the time to work with young women through her nonprofit organization, Always a Lady First.
In the midst of all of her life’s pursuits, Desiree has a trick to maintaining her balance. Check out our conversation to find out what it is!
Tell us about the nonprofit you founded.
In Spring 2015, I was an instructional assistant at a school, and I noticed that the young girls weren’t dressing appropriately, and I noticed how they were talking, how they would sit and all those things, and I realized how much I don’t really like the way media affects young ladies with the way it portrays women.
I wanted to do something about it, and that’s why I started Always a Lady First. It is a three-to-five week workshop on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and each day is a different module.
One of the modules is called “Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder,” and we talk about hygiene, makeup, and types of products to use one your face when you’re a teenager.
Then there’s also the “Dress Like a Lady Workshop,” for the girls who are thinking things like, “I like to wear skirts, but what length is appropriate?” We also cover when and where to wear jeans and leggings. We talk about what to wear in specific situations, like what to wear to class in high school, or what to wear to an interview.
We also hold a “Future Workshop” in which we talk about what the participants are interested in doing beyond high school. I’ll go to different colleges and universities in the San Antonio area and ask them to donate brochures that I can share with the girls. The girls ask questions about university programs and community college opportunities available to them.
Another workshop is our fitness and health workshop. It’s not about being skinny, but it’s about being the healthy weight for you. I implement that, and I give the participants a height and weight chart to see where they’re at, and I bring in female trainers who can show them what kinds of exercise regimens they can start as teenagers.
At the end of each five-week course, I have the participants complete a rating. I ask them how they felt about different activities, and I adjust the workshops based on their feedback. For example, a lot of the ladies felt like they loved heels, but they didn’t know how to walk in them. I’ve been modeling for over ten years, so I started to do a two-day workshop on how to properly walk in heels, how to stand in heels, how to sit in a chair when you’re in heels—things like that.
How does your nonprofit work balance out your other projects and aspirations as a teacher and a model?
I still model in the San Antonio area as I did in college. I’ve done San Antonio Fashion Week and some other small shows, like Stylish Saturdays. It’s just kind of hard to juggle when you have so many other things going on, too. I’m completing my master’s as well! It’s a lot, but I still try to fit modeling in every now and then.
As far as managing all my different activities, I am very well organized. I’m constantly keeping a calendar. I’m balancing my graduate course work, being a full-time teacher, and finishing my certification for teaching, while I run my nonprofit. I’m also active in my sorority, and I’m an officer, so for me, it’s about keeping a calendar, on my laptop, and I like to write things out. I keep notes, and honestly, I’m always on a time constraint. I make sure that I have the time of an event written down, so that I don’t forget it, because if I don’t do that, I’ll forget it.
What is your number one advice staying organized?
To balance my busy schedule Monday through Friday, I try to keep the weekends to myself.
What lessons are you taking with you into 2017?
I would just say perseverance.
When I graduated from Norfolk State University, I didn’t want to stay in Virginia. I packed up my car, and I moved to San Antonio, Texas by myself, knowing only one person, and I started all over. I think that’s also my inspiration and what challenges me—that I could start all over, and I would be ok if I kept doing what I needed to do and casting a positive reflection in other people.
Towards the middle of 2016, it was a very rough patch for me because I was starting a new career at a different school. I was starting graduate school, and at the time I didn’t have a guaranteed teaching job. I was in my car, dropping off my resume to make sure I could find work. It was very stressful for me, and through it all I just kept going, and then God blessed me with a position! I just had to stay positive, and a little prayer helps, too.
So, at the end of 2016 I said, ok, let’s go 2017! What’s next?
Want more of J. Desiree? Visit her website, www.alwaysaladyfirst.com or follow her on Instagram, @desiree_espaillat.