Technology

Girls group teaches empowerment, charity and kindness

In the digital age, many parents are becoming increasingly concerned with how technology and social media are affecting their children's development. Domonique Smith, of Aiken, was one of those parents.

"I felt like social media had kind of taken over with the girls and they didn't really have social skills," Smith said. "Everything was all about text messages, social media, Instagram, Facebook, stuff like that. They didn't really have any face-to-face connections."

In February 2019, Smith decided to do something proactive about her worries for her daughter's generation. She founded a nonprofit group for girls, Issaunicorn, which today serves girls 8-16 from all over Aiken.

"I felt like, if I start a program for these girls and I can get them out of the house and together, it can help them bond, and we can cut some of the bullying down and teach them what friendship is all about," Smith said.

The name Issaunicorn comes from one of the girls' favorite creatures. Smith and her co-founder, Chassity Price, wanted the unicorn theme of the group with bright colors and sparkles to appeal to some of the younger girls and give the organization a positive energy.

A major focus of Issaunicorn involves charity work. Once a month, the group meets and assists with or hosts some kind of charity event for people in need in Aiken.

"We want to teach them how to give back, to show how fortunate they are," Smith said. "A lot of the girls we work with are fortunate ... they're not underprivileged, they're not troubled. They're a good group of girls, but I felt like it was necessary to teach them how to give back to their community, because this is their community."

The young girls of Issaunicorn have made care packages for first responders, given out hygiene products during a homeless resource fair, and collected and dropped off hundreds of items at the Cumbee Center to Assist Abused Persons. They have held several fundraisers and donation drives.

Most recently, the group helped feed the homeless at Friendship Baptist Church on Richland Avenue. Smith said seeing the girls help out with the event made her realize how much they have grown because of their involvement with Issaunicorn.

"They just went in and said, what can I do to help?" Smith said. "The first time they did it they were ... very nervous."

That transformation is a big part of why Smith, Chassity Price and other mentors in the group wanted the girls to be involved in charity work. Aside from assisting the community and logging community service hours, they also wanted to build the girls' confidence.

"A lot of them lack self confidence," Smith said. "You wouldn't think they do, but they're really shy ... as gifted and talented as they are, they're shy. They've grown socially and academically through Issaunicorn. I've seen a major boost in their confidence level, even since February."

Vicki Trowell, like Smith, has a daughter in Issaunicorn. She became involved as a mentor and an organizer.

"I started with this group back in February when it first started, and it's been a joy ever since," Trowell said. "... We just hosted a Halloween party for children 10 and under and also invited children with special needs ... Coming up, we are planning on feeding less-fortunate families with a drop-in soup kitchen the third Saturday of the month of November, and we also have a teddy bear drive as well as a coat drive starting the first of the month."

The group has expanded significantly since it was created in February.

Bi-weekly tutoring sessions are now offered for girls in case they need help with their homework, and the group has added an age group for younger girls (mini-unicorns) and a group for those aged 13-16 called Issaqueen. They've even gained an office on Whiskey Road where they can meet for their tutoring sessions.

Like any nonprofit, Smith said the main challenge comes in the form of funding.

"We fund a lot of stuff ourselves," Smith said. "But it's not like a deal-breaker. For being so new, we've done a lot of stuff. It's by God's grace we've been able to do anything."

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