Kaylee Scanton, left, and Ashley Roberts enjoy a craft activity with mentor Serena Carlson during a recent after-school Little Toasters session at Evergreen Elementary School. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

A stream of 15 energetic Evergreen Elementary School girls filled the classroom with smiles, laughter and anticipation.

Last month, during one of their Little Toasters after-school gatherings, these girls learned to stand up, to be proud and to speak their mind.

The Little Toasters program is designed similar to Toastmasters International, an organization dedicated to communication and leadership development.

The students start their activity with the “word of the day,” a hands-on craft project, followed by each girl writing her own speech based on a kid-centric topic of the week.

Coordinator Debbie Fisher said the program works well “because the girls have so much fun, they don’t even realize they’re learning.”

According to Fisher, who works for the Children’s Home Society of Washington, statistics show that teachers reported more than 60 percent of Little Toasters actually learned to speak up when bullied, and 90 percent of them raised their hands when asked to participate during regular school classes.

Last year, Jud Morris, Pierce County community director for the Children’s Home Society, asked Serena Carlson to become a volunteer “big buddy” for the growing program.

Carlson, 14, first became involved with Little Toasters in fifth grade. Now in middle school, she enjoys mentoring younger students involved in the popular program.

Carlson said she was encouraged by the leadership, had fun playing games and enjoyed working with the kid-generated weekly topics. Singing in Little Toasters helped her to overcome stage fright and speaking in the classroom. She also attributes her self-confidence to being involved in the program, she said.

During the all-girls sessions, they engage with each other full of curiosity, imagination and beam with pride throughout the hour-long program.

“It’s really fun. We write speeches, play games and eat pizza,” said Drace Nesbit, 7.

Lilly Hampton, 9,  said she thinks the program is both fun and educational.

“I like to draw, and I get to do that. It’s a place to hang out with friends in a safe place, and it boosts up my confidence,” Hampton said, smiling.

At the end of each program, each student stood in front of her peers and read her speech of the day. Afterward, each girl was given a round of applause for a job well done.

Little Toasters is now offered as an after-school activity at Minter and Evergreen Elementary.

Fisher is working on developing the program curriculum in hopes of bringing other schools onboard in the near future, she said.

The Little Toasters program has been nominated by the Association of American University Women (AAUW) for the Ellen Roosevelt Award.

For information, call 884-5433.

Vaughn man creates wooden toy treasures
New KP grooming business is primping pooches