Philanthropy

Who Runs the World? Tyra Banks to Raise Future Businesswomen in Manhattan

The "America's Next Top Model" mogul moves into the Lower Eastside Girls Club Center for Community to shape female entrepreneurs.
Tyra Banks at the 2012 Matrix Awards
Getty Images

With 18 cycles of America’s Next Top Model under her belt and close to 50 adaptations of the reality talent search around the world, Tyra Banks has spent the past 10 years raising a flock of beautiful women to enter the fashion industry as working models. But she’ll soon be adding newer, much younger students to her roster -- the supermodel mogul is setting up camp on Avenue D to spearhead a leadership development center for New York City girls.

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Now completing construction, Tyra Banks’ TZONE will be a 2,000-square-foot space on the third floor of Center for Community building at the Lower Eastside Girls Club (LESGC). The resource center will also include a commercial training kitchen, screening room, health and wellness center, art studio, planetarium, rooftop farm and outdoor fountain designed by artist Kiki Smith. After shuttling between five locations over the past 15 years, the 30,000-square-foot building is set to open January 2013 as the permanent home of the LESGC.

“It’s like our dream center that we’ve been working on for 12 years,” said Adriani Pezzulli, LESGC Director of Development and Capital Project. “The partnership with Tyra is the new element that we’re excited to add into the mix.”

While LESGC programs currently focus on the arts, science, technology, health and more, Banks’ TZONE leadership center will offer college preparatory and career development workshops, mentoring options, experiential learning opportunities, nutritional workshops, financial literacy initiatives and community-wide events. A rep for Banks told THR that TZONE hopes to serve up to 1,500 girls, ages 8 to 18, within its first three years of operation.

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“We’re partnering with Tyra on developing a TZONE curriculum that our members will have access to, depending on their age group,” explained Pezzulli of the leadership tracks to come for girls ages 8-11, 12-15 and 16-18. “At each age level, the program will focus on what is most relevant to helping girls build self-esteem and economic self-sufficiency.”

However, Banks, a former talk show host, Victoria’s Secret Angel and recent Harvard Business School graduate, doesn’t mind being on display for all to see. The pupils will be subject to both her curriculum as well as her day-to-day example in person, as the businesswoman will be working from an office located inside TZONE.

“What I don’t want to be is Tyra, the ‘celebrity girl,’ coming here and the girls being excited when they see me,” she told The New York Times. “I can do normal work here and they can see me, to know that this is what a business is. It’s not about living on a red carpet. I am a businesswoman who goes to work every single day."

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The idea for a leadership center sprouts from Banks’ original TZONE iteration -- a series of weeklong summer camps for young girls to build confidence amidst adolescent pressures and confusion. The self-esteem sleepovers first began in 1999 and ran through 2005, and also catapulted the TZONE Foundation to provide resources to nonprofits that positively impact young girls and women. It was through these monetary grants that a TZONE partnership with LESGC was initially established in 2007.

“After reevaluating her charitable interests, she approached the Girls Club about making the TZONE more of an actual space that girls could come to, instead of just a grant-making foundation that gives out money,” said Pezzulli. “She wanted to build upon the concept of supporting girls’ leadership and self-esteem programs, and build a space that would be accessible for the girls permanently so that there was continuity throughout their lives of always having a safe space to go.”

While all programming is free for members, making a difference isn’t cheap -- according to a rep for Banks, the upcoming LESGC space is a $20 million project, funded primarily through fundraising via City Capital funds from the City of New York and private contributions from foundations and Individuals. In addition, Tyra Banks herself has committed to help raise money to run TZONE, and will hold her first fundraising initiative on October 18th in NYC. The Flawsome Ball boasts a star-studded host committee from many industries, with everyone from Barneys creative director Simon Doonan and Good Morning America anchor Lara Spencer to J.P. Morgan’s Asset Management CEO Mary Callahan Erdoes and foursquare creator Dennis Crowley.

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“I’ve been using the word ‘flawsome’ a lot,” wrote Banks in a letter to Vogue last month, congratulating the fashion magazine for taking a stand against an unhealthy standard of female body image. “It’s you + your flaws + awesome = Flawsome. I have a big forehead, and I got made fun of all time. When I was a little girl, they used to call me ‘five-head.’ I’ve been teased my whole life, but I continue to rock it with pride. Years ago one of my agents told me that my forehead was what got me signed.”

A $1,000 Flawsome Ball ticket will sponsor one girl to enroll in the TZONE program for a year, and proceeds from the charity gala will support construction and provide programming necessities such as healthy meals and workspace equipment. By establishing this space in Manhattan, she hopes to cultivate a new generation of female entrepreneurs and international change-makers.

“We’re most looking forward to giving young women a space that they deserve, that will help them to dream without limitations,” said Pezzulli. “And to be surrounded by women like Tyra who do everything they can to help these young women fulfill their dreams and move into adulthood economically self-sufficient, secure and ready to take on the world.”

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