KOKOMO, Ind. – A new program in Kokomo is teaching kids as young as four years old work and life skills on a weekly basis.
Every Tuesday evening, children head to the Trinity United Methodist Church for "Mini Up." The sessions are focused on helping kids improve themselves and leaders reward them for their efforts.
A simple room upstairs at the church provides a safe haven for the kids.
"They don’t have really anywhere else to go so they look forward to coming here," said Jeff Newton, executive director of Kokomo Urban Outreach.
Little ones who participate are learning skills that can keep them on the right path as they get older.
"We are teaching them how to work, how to make money, to be responsible and reliable," said Kareen Dunn, Mini Up co-founder.
Dunn has lived in Kokomo for several years and admits he struggled earlier in his life. But, he now sees the importance of creating structure in kids' lives to prevent them from making bad decisions.
"I was once in their shoes before," Dunn said. "I understand what they go through in life."
Even though the kids at Mini Up are very young, they spend 20 minutes each session "working." The tasks are things like folding mailers or helping tidy up a room. They earn points for completing tasks well.
"We are teaching them work skills, how to show up to work on time, what’s expected when you’re on a job," Newton said.
The kids are also shown that their hard work can lead to benefits. The points they accumulate can be used toward earning a new winter coat, hat or even a bicycle.
Once they reach age 10, the kids can join the "Man Up" or "Step Up for Girls" groups. The two programs guide the tweens and teens through crucial years.
Dunn says seeing the impact they're making on the community is what motivates him, and the other adults, to keep the programs growing.
"This is my purpose to be on earth right here," Dunn said. "To be doing what I'm doing. God put me here."
If you'd like to learn more about the year-round programs, click here.