When Monika Mathews started a nonprofit 16 years ago to help youth, she wouldn’t have guessed that it would someday lead to a Columbia City business of her own.
Mathews is the owner of QueenCare, a Seattle-based, luxury skincare brand, and the executive director of Life Enrichment Group, the nonprofit organization that Mathews founded in 2003. Both ventures were inspired by the lessons she learned in her own life.
Mathews drew from her own experience when she started Life Enrichment Group.
“Growing up, I was a very wild teenager,” Mathews said. “I was a teenage mother by the time I was age 15 and I struggled a lot with self-esteem issues.”
Entering her late 20s, Mathews decided to redirect her life, focusing on what she really wanted to do.
“I really spent a lot of time personally developing myself and really identifying the areas where I was struggling,” Mathews said. “Self-esteem was a huge one, and so I started working on … really teaching myself how to love myself.”
While building her own self-esteem, Mathews came to the realization that many young people shared the same struggles she had.
This inspired her to start her own nonprofit for young people that would focus on four different areas: self-love, personal development, academic achievement and sisterhood. Life Enrichment Group was born.
The organization’s first program, Young Queens of Seattle/King County, is a personal development program for middle and high school girls. It has since been implemented into several public schools in Seattle.
“I felt like it was my purpose, and still is my purpose, to really help youth and families navigate this thing called life and help youth — in particular young ladies — love themselves and feel good about themselves,” Mathews said.
Although it is implemented in schools, the program weaves throughout the girls’ lives and provides them with an additional layer of support in going off to college, starting their own businesses and their family lives.
“Middle and high school is such a critical age and I know that that’s kind of where I lost it,” Mathews said. “So, just providing a positive outlet for them with mentors and adults that they can trust I think is very important.”
QueenCare’s skin care line also was inspired by Mathews’ time of personal growth.
All of her past mentors put a heavy emphasis on practicing self-care as a way to love oneself. Using natural bath salts, natural bubble baths, and other natural products, became a ritual for Mathews. Taking the time to do something as simple as properly moisturizing is an important step in taking care of yourself.
“What better way to really share with young girls than giving them the gift of teaching them how to love themselves through self-care?” Mathews said.
Mathews and her team began to make and sell all-natural products based off of recipes that Mathews’ mentor had passed down to her. QueenCare took off after winning a local “Shark Tank”-style competition hosted by Urban Impact, a Seattle-based nonprofit.
Last year, she found an opportunity to get a storefront year in Columbia City. The store is staffed by participants in the Young Queens program who want on-the-job training.
Mathews and Life Enrichment Group work with 50 to 100 youths per year, with around 20 youths per school. However, only six girls initially chose to work in QueenCare’s store.
“I started the program this year and I really connected with the people,” said Eva Zhang, a participant in Young Queens. “It’s just like one big sisterhood and I needed that extra support.”
“I’ve been a part of the program since I was a freshman, I’m a senior now,” said Kiana Green, the youth manager and another member of Young Queens. “I was given the honor of being youth manager. That was really something that boosted my confidence, as well as a lot of things that we do in the program. It’s good to know that I have people that are there to support me with anything outside of school.”
Life Enrichment Group continues to grow with the addition of their Scholars Program, a summer program focused on reading and writing for elementary and middle-school kids; Know To Grow, the group’s college prep program; and, most recently, their Youth In Business Program, which teaches young people about business and successful business owners of color.
Mathews also hopes to expand QueenCare. After introducing four main products, QueenCare’s range now includes even more products and scents. Mathews hopes to eventually add natural deodorants and toothpastes into the line. She even wants to venture into the world of natural cleaning supplies.
“We’re people of the earth,” Mathews said. “Before all of this, we got all of our remedies and everything from the earth. I just believe that we need to return to some of those practices for wellness.”
When QueenCare’s store opened in Columbia City, Mathews saw the store as one way to push back against gentrification. Families with long ties to the neighborhood are leaving because they can’t afford to stay in the area.
Mathews says she hopes her ventures can teach young people marketable skills that will allow them to make the income they need to stay in Columbia City. She also sees the influx of higher income individuals in the neighborhood as something that can bring opportunity.
“Columbia City is near and dear to my heart because it’s my neighborhood and to watch it change is painful,” Mathews said. “But if you don’t change, you won’t grow.”
Mathews says her biggest inspiration is her son. For Mathews, QueenCare and Life Enrichment Group are more than just stores, or programs or non-profits. They’re her legacy and something for the next generation, including her son, to take over.
“I want him to live in a city, and in a world, where people take care of each other,” Mathews said.
The city of Seattle declared Dec. 8, 2018, QueenCare Day, and gave her a proclamation that now hangs on the wall of the store. It’s the day Mathews cut the red ribbon, opening QueenCare’s storefront to the public — a day that makes her tear up remembering it.
“When I looked out and seeing all the young people’s faces … they were all really inspired,” Mathews said. “It was real, like, ‘Oh, my god, I’ve never seen nothing like this in my entire life, this is so great.’ … It made all the sacrifices that I made worth it.”