By Brandon Dumsky

Some Independence women are getting down and dirty for a good cause.

The Junior Service League of Independence, an organization whose mission is to connect and empower local women to positively impact their community, is having an "Extreme Apartment Makeover." They are doing extensive cosmetic renovation on two studio apartments for girls at Steppingstone, a transitional living campus for children ages 6 to 21, located just a few blocks south of Independence at 5100 Noland Road in Kansas City.

From installing appliances to adding beadboard to the walls, this is the JSL provisional class’s service project. Two teams comprised of first-year members, called "Actives," and members who have served seven or more years, "Sustainers," are pitted against each other to see which team can provide the best overall makeover to their designated apartment that will be determined by a third-party interior designer, says first-year JSL member Eden Dowler.

Dowler said the two JSL teams have a little less than a week, from March 31 to April 5, to totally revamp the apartments. Dowler said JSL members are coming to the Steppingstone apartments immediately after work to do even more labor that varies from painting walls to staining cabinet doors to adding new ceramic tile to the apartment floor.

And the aim in the "Extreme Apartment Makeover: Steppingstone Edition" is not only to have the most attractive apartment but also to ensure all added refinements are sturdy.

"We want these apartments to be long-lasting as well as pretty," said Dowler. "Durability is always important."

The Steppingstone campus has been serving homeless and runaway children in Jackson County since 1978, said director Lynn Durbin. He said that half of the residents are from state custody "that are too old for foster care," and the remaining half are from private referrals, such as churches, school districts and even the kids themselves.

And the demand for Steppingstone residency has increased, Durbin says.

"Last year we had to turn down 330 kids due to funding," he said. "We can serve a lot more in the community, especially in our community apartment in Raytown. But our only restraint is funding."

He added that nearly 30 children live at Steppingstone, and the Jackson County Children's Division has reported an influx of children needing housing.

Besides providing independent living for older teenagers, Steppingstone's goals are to teach these children "without a safety net" life skills, such as budgeting money, cleaning their living quarters and overall preparation for the real world, plus to make sure they continue their education in some way after high school graduation.

"Our first goal is to make sure they (Steppingstone residents) are employed," said Durbin, "and to ensure they continue their education, whether attending college, a vocational or technical school."

The idea of doing a hands-on service project instead of the typical fundraiser for the JSL provisional class was suggested by members who were educators or work with children during a recent roundtable discussion, says Dowler.

"It was a pretty unanimous decision," she said.

JSL has raised $7,500 in both monetary and material donations for "Extreme Apartment Makeover," she adds.

"We also reached out to the community by getting discounts at Lowe's and contractors to do the electrical work free of charge."

And JSL is still accepting donations throughout this week. However, they want people to donate directly to Steppingstone by visiting their website at

"We would like people to think about what you would need for your first apartment in terms of donations," said Durbin. Small appliances, cleaning supplies and other similar furnishings are ideal, he added.

Either the Actives or Sustainers, where each member will probably be spending over 40 hours of work for the apartment renovation event, will earn a trophy for Best Remodeled Apartment on Saturday, Dowler says. But she adds the trophy is just symbolic on what the real prize is for all JSL members who participated in the event.

"Personally it's a passion of mine to give back to the community."