by Len Lear
Mt. Airy resident Cleo Smalls has a lot going for her. She is young (29), single, attractive, articulate, well educated (an Arcadia University graduate with a degree in print communications) and has her own marketing and administration business, Precise Marketing. So you might think her after-hours time would be spent in an active social life — clubbing, dating, networking, social media-ing, glamorous vacationing, etc. Who could blame her?
But Cleo has other priorities. In July of 2014 she started a non-profit organization called Precise Princess which provides adult mentors for girls aged 4 and up in North Philadelphia who may not have much in the way of role models.
Cleo has recruited six other women — Erika Britt and Nicole Burns of Northeast Philly, Shannon Johnson of East Oak Lane, Michelle Schofield of Upper Darby, Markia Grant of Mt. Airy and Patrice Gaymon of Elkins Park — who all spend their own time and money taking the girls on fun events like tea parties as well as teaching them about etiquette, respect, compassion and skills like cookie decorating and pillow making. In other words, they bring out the creativity and good hearts one would hope are there, even if dormant, in all kids.
“I started Precise Princess,” Smalls explained last week, “because I was inspired by my goddaughters Gabrielle, 5, and Kiersten, almost 3 (a good friend’s daughters), to become a mentor and role model, and I figured, ‘Why stop there when there are so many other girls in the community?’ I wanted to be able to give back to the girls in the community by providing resources, advice, encouragement and so much more.”
Smalls, who has lived in Mt. Airy for a few years (“I really like the neighborhood resources and family-friendly environment. I love Mt. Airy Day and the other fun festivals in this area!”), grew up in Logan and attended Lincoln High School. She could have definitely used some mentoring herself when it came time to apply for college.
The adults she knew had no experience with college applications, choosing a major, etc. But Cleo was resourceful. “I used to admire the Arcadia campus (in Glenside) when I drove by, and after doing some research I realized they had a very good academic reputation and that they would be able to assure me employment after graduation.”
After graduating from Arcadia, Cleo obtained an internship at NBC TV-10 and later ran her own consignment shop called Cleo’s Closet at 6353 Germantown Ave. in 2011 and 2012. She currently has a marketing and administration business and also works as a troop support and experience specialist for the Girl Scouts of Central & Southern New Jersey.
However, “I felt there was a need for mentors in our community because there are so many negative role models and stereotypes, so I decided to start Precise Princess.”
Cleo currently spends about seven to nine hours a week and more when the group has an event such as a trip to the Pennsylvania SPCA to teach compassion or on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, when the children were taught about Dr. King and when they created and mailed inspirational notes to members of the U.S. military.
Precise Princess is currently utilizing a room at Calvary Fellowship Church in North Philadelphia for its indoor events. Smalls originally advertised the organization’s events on social media and put up signs in the Joseph E. Coleman Northwest Regional Library in Germantown, where the first three events were held. The first month, 15 girls showed up; the second month, 20. The group’s programs typically last two to three hours.
One thing Precise Princess is very strict about is proper language. The mentors are referred to as “queens” and the girls as “princesses.” Slang words that are sexually suggestive or even blatant — the kind of words that are routinely heard from young people these days in public — are strictly prohibited. “We are there to empower and encourage one another,” explained Cleo. “Negative words hold back, limit, offend and possibly predict failure. Negative words can shape your life, and we want to shape the girls’ lives in positive ways, not negative ways.”
Cleo’s ultimate goal professionally is “to become a philanthropist,” and her ultimate goal for Precise Princess is “to cultivate girls to become assets to society and betterments to the world by providing educational programs, educational support, social skills development, community involvement, self-esteem/identity activities and additional resources.”
Someday Cleo would like to be married herself and have her own children, but “right now my focus is on the girls of Precise Princess.”
More information about Precise Princess is available at 267-415-6758, www.precise4unow.wix.com/princess or firstname.lastname@example.org. The organization accepts donations via Paypal at email@example.com. They also accept craft supplies, gift cards, other usable items and, of course, more volunteer mentors.