Connecting with and supporting Gen Z requires understanding what they care about. Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Forever 21’s partnership focuses on the issues today’s kids and teens care about, as well as preparing them for the workforce.
They’re a diverse group of digital natives who believe in social justice. They are independent thinkers and pragmatic spenders who value wellness and smart financial management.1 Born between 1997 and 2012, they’re known as Generation Z, and they care deeply about making a positive impact on their world.
“Gen Z is different,” says Winnie Park, chief executive officer of Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s national partner Forever 21. “They are cultural omnivores who consume food, music and everything around them including relevant issues. Self-expression and advocacy are so key to this generation, and it’s about showcasing a real, authentic self. We want to help them advocate for themselves.”
As Gen Z youth march boldly into the next chapters of their life — from self-discovery in school to navigating early days in the working world — they’ll need support and resources to navigate what’s ahead. With Forever 21’s help, Boys & Girls Clubs are meeting young people on their terms to support academic success, create meaningful mentor-mentee relationships and ensure career and workforce readiness opportunities after high school.
Connecting with and supporting Gen Z requires an understanding of what they care about. Today’s young people have plenty to say about the things that matter to them — and one of their biggest priorities is mental health.
A growing concern prior to 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic served to further exacerbate mental health challenges related to stress management, peer relationships, bullying and the negative impact of social media.
“Mental health challenges for teens are truly unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” says Lisa Anastasi, chief development and public affairs officer of Boys & Girls Clubs of America. “If you take 1000 teens right now, 450 would say that they experienced persistent sadness, anxiety or depression.2”
To address these mental health concerns, Boys & Girls Clubs train staff to recognize emotional changes such as signs of teenage anxiety and depression, provide teenage mentoring programs and maintain a safe space in which youth are empowered to express themselves freely. Clubs also provide an array of resources on youth mental health as well as strategies to build healthy coping skills. Above all, staff are fully committed to making sure young people feel heard, appreciated and accepted as they are.
“Gen Z expects the opportunity to be authentic and to be able to express it in whatever way they want, whenever they want,” says Anastasi. “We’re doing a lot of things at the Club level to help tap into that creativity and self-expression. You also see a real passion for advocacy and making their voice be heard. These are youth who want to create and be a part of change.”
Building strong relationships with young people and listening to what matters to them is essential to translating their interests into experiences that teach them how to use their voices, channel their passions and emotions. From the start of the partnership, Forever 21 has worked hand-in-hand with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to support programs which drive equity and opportunity for all youth. Through various character and leadership development programs, Club kids and teens are introduced to opportunities to discover their personal passions and exercise leadership in serving a need in their community.
For companies looking to understand and support today’s teens, joining them shoulder-to-shoulder in community service efforts can have a meaningful impact. Park says, “Last year, Forever 21 took on an initiative with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to paint murals throughout Los Angeles through a program called Art Bridging the Gap. Those types of moments where we can actually engage and activate are important to us.” Since 2020, Forever 21 has raised more than $7 million for the non-profit, with the funds making a huge impact on communities nationwide.
Experiences can provide young people with such practical skills as problem solving, planning, and teamwork — which can then be applied to any endeavor in life after high school graduation.
Because Generation Z has never existed in a world without social media and smartphones, they tend to view technology and their digital presence as extensions of their real lives. “For them, social media is not just influencers,” says Park. “It’s a window to the world and a means of communication.”
In fact, in a recent survey by Boys & Girls Clubs of America, teens said that they are most likely to get their news from social media than any other source, even family or friends.
As emerging technologies like AI, AR and VR continue to integrate into and transform our cultural and business landscape, Gen Z is poised to lead the way in discovering new applications and uses.
In addition to recognizing the importance of digital literacy in today’s youth, Forever 21’s partnership supports career preparation, including learning interview skills and how to establish their individual brand via personal branding workshops.
“Our partnership is all about lifting our youth up to give them experiences and opportunities they would not have otherwise,” says Anastasi. “These are truly transformational opportunities for our youth.”
Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Forever 21 are meeting Gen Z where they are by providing support and resources that address what they care about and help build skills for great futures.
A proud partner of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America since 2017, Forever 21 has raised more than $7 million in support of the youth and teens at local Boys & Girls Clubs throughout the nation. A global fashion industry leader with more than 540 locations around the world, Forever 21 supports youth in preparing for career and workforce success by delivering career exploration experiences for Club teens.
To prepare young people for tomorrow’s workforce, they need safe places, caring mentors and career-ready skills today. Boys & Girls Clubs provide opportunities that help kids and teens develop both soft and hard skills, explore their interests and cultivate a positive sense of self. Discover how Clubs prepare today’s youth for success in college, careers and life.