KOKOMO, Ind. – Glitter, a hot glue gun, beads, and acrylic paint are more than just the components for an awesome day of crafting.
They are also the tools Chelsee Carroll uses to teach the StepUp Principles of being Respectful, Responsible, Reliable, and Ready.
As program resource director for Kokomo Urban Outreach’s StepUP program, the Indiana University Kokomo student plans the craft projects more than 50 girls, ages 10 to 18, create and sell in the StepUp boutique. Money earned goes back to the girls, as well as points that can later be used to purchase items such as winter coats, or even a Thanksgiving meal for their family.
“We teach them how to work. It’s like they have their own business,” said Carroll, a junior. “It’s awesome seeing them after they’ve finished making a craft and they’ve done a good job. Their self-esteem is boosted and it makes them feel really good.”
Carroll first began working at Kokomo Urban Outreach (KUO) as an intern in May 2019. She enjoyed working with the girls, so when the program resource director job became available, she jumped at the chance to continue working with them.
“I love the girls,” she said. “They are the number one reason I love this job. I feel like just being there for them and listening to them makes a difference.”
The StepUp program began in 2017 with a goal of teaching young ladies real-world skills, and giving them an opportunity to earn money through creating and selling their hand-made products.
As a college student, Carroll takes pride in setting a good example of what can be accomplished with hard work.
“It’s nice for them to see that I’m going to school full time, and I take college and my grades very seriously,” said Carroll, from Kokomo. “They also see that even though I am a student, I have time to have a job, too.”
The group attends a weekly meeting called Skills, Opportunities, Action, Rise, or SOAR, and then are eligible to work in the craft workshop.
The work being done goes beyond creating items to sell.
“They open up to you while they’re working on the crafts,” Carroll said. “If they’re having a bad day, they can talk about it, and some will ask to speak to you about problems they’re having. It means a lot to me to have their trust.”
Carroll plans to earn a master’s degree after graduating from IU Kokomo with her degree in sociology. And while she doesn’t know for sure what her career will be, she knows it will involve helping children and families.
“I thought I would have to wait to work at a non-profit until after graduation,” she added. “I feel like I’m making a difference.”
Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.