By Tina Kelso
JU Communications Sophomore
 
Through the eyes of a passerby, Chelsea Swilley is a student, seen each week traversing the walkways of the Jacksonville University campus.
To others, she is the bubbly president of Baptist Collegiate Ministries, member of the Psi Chi Honor Society and the part-time smile behind the cash register at Charming Charlie.
To seven young girls at Duval County’s North Shore Elementary School who await her arrival once a week to guide them out of class to talk, Swilley is a bastion of solace; a confidante and friend.
chelsea swilley small.jpgA JU senior and psychology major, Swilley is an intern for the community program “Girl Matters: It’s Elementary!” The gender-responsive intervention program works with girls in grades K-5 whose circumstances put them at risk for future suspensions, expulsions and involvement in the juvenile justice system.
“I fell in love with its mission, its values and everything it stood for,” Swilley said. “It perfectly aligned with what I want to do with my life.”
Blurring the roles of student and teacher, Swilley spends about an hour talking with and counseling each girl. Together they work on lesson plans based on the five core building blocks of Girl Matters — safety, identity, communication, emotions and relationships — and tailored to issues in the girls’ own lives, whether with peers, home-life or academics.
“It’s not an internship where you’re sitting and piling paperwork for somebody,” Swilley said. “It’s an internship where they are giving you the chance to actually make a difference and use what you’re learning and impact someone’s life forever.”
A Jacksonville native, Swilley was valedictorian of First Coast High School and arrived at JU with a full presidential scholarship, with dreams of going into seminary for her master’s degree and eventually working as a counselor for teenage girls.swilley girl matters.jpg
“She’s a bright, wonderful, joyful, thoughtful young woman, and I would love to clone her and keep her forever,” said Bonnie Rose, project director for Girl Matters.
The Girl Matters project launched in fall 2010 with six interns working at two schools: North Shore Elementary and George Washington Carver Elementary. The project expanded to include 16 interns and may be replicated throughout the Duval County school system. 
“I’m amazed at the caliber of interns that this project has brought in,” Rose said. “It’s almost been a calling; once the young women learn about the project, they react to it from the heart.”
Since last fall, Swilley has completed 270 hours with the Girl Matters, and at the conclusion of her first semester, she wrote a final report on the experience that was later incorporated into the project’s official six-month report to its grant funder, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“I was able to take what I learned in the textbook and use it and practice it, and I feel like I am better equipped to become a counselor one day because of it,” Swilley said.
“Girl Matters: It’s Elementary!” needs junior and senior undergraduate intern applicants for the fall 2013 semester to meet the growing demand of the project. Additionally, it is recruiting for two calendar-year-long graduate fellowships, one in research and one in program administration. Both internships and fellowships offer stipends, Rose said. 
“You just love on these girls and take care of them. Their stories break your heart, but you know that they are really getting something out of what you have to tell them,” Swilley said.
Students interested in internships or fellowships with “It’s Elementary” can contact Rose at brose@thevoiceforgirls.org.
“If you’re looking for an internship, there’s a great need, and there are girls who are just patiently waiting to be assigned to an intern who is going to love on them and invest in teaching them to be awesome girls,” Swilley said.