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Friends, classmates, and now, business partners

IU Northwest education led two MSW grads to build a successful therapeutic service agency

Monday Mar 31, 2014

Longtime friends Kelly Jackson and Jennifer Cowger, of St. John and Dyer respectively, went their separate ways after high school, each pursuing their undergraduate degrees at different schools – Jackson at Ball State University and Cowger at Purdue University.

But they came together once again at Indiana University Northwest when each returned home to pursue their Master of Social Work (MSW), both specializing in mental health and addictions therapy. Jackson and Cowger graduated with their MSWs in 2006 and 2008, respectively.

After working in their field to provide therapeutic services to adolescents and families, the pair decided to pool their skills. They had seen clients falling through the cracks and they felt they could do something to make sure that didn’t happen. Now, the two young therapists are business owners.

North Star Services, LLC, began six years ago in Jackson’s basement. The agency has since grown to two locations in Dyer and Merrillville. Working primarily with the Department of Child Services and the Department of Probation to provide court-ordered services for abused and neglected children as well as at-risk families, they provide individual and family therapy, counseling services, casework services, parent-aid services, parenting classes, tutoring, mentoring, drug testing and more. They utilize a strengths-based perspective to enhance the lives of the families they work with.

The endeavor, one that many told them would never make it, is going strong and recently earned them the title, “Emerging Small Business of the Year” presented to them by the Indiana Small Business Development Center (ISBDC) at the 22nd Annual Entrepreneurial Excellence E-Day Awards.

The pair attribute their success largely to word-of-mouth communication, and specifically, by “doing things right.”

“Always be professional, ethical and honest,” Jackson said. “These traits will make you an asset to the people you work with and people will be excited to work with you more in the future. And that is what makes you successful.”

They would be remiss if they didn’t give a shout-out to their alma mater, IU Northwest, for providing an education that set them up for this success. Jackson said the evening classes worked very well for her life and schedule. She added that the relationships she and Cowger formed with IU Northwest faculty were particularly invaluable.

“We have a handful of people from the MSW program there who work with us now, and there is one educator, Jennifer Anderson, who has shown us ongoing support as the company had been growing,” Jackson said. “She provided our supervision as we were working toward licensure, and has even since then been very supportive and encouraging of us.”

Cowger concurred about Anderson’s contribution.

“She prepared me for the ‘real life’ side of social work,” Cowger said.

As far as their future plans, Jackson and Cowger plan to continue making North Star the best it can be, with intentions to expand their services and open a variety of different programs for the state.

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