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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Opeletia Helton poses with one of her students, 7-year-old Ashby Aubret, during a photo shoot under the First Horizon Pavilion.

When she was a child, even before she could spin her thoughts into written sentences, Opeletia Helton drew pictures of the ideas that were constantly crowding her mind.

As she grew older, her drawings became written journal entries which often focused on business ideas.

"I have thousands of ideas," says the 23-year-old entrepreneur and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga graduate. "I'm the person people call when they need to brainstorm."

Unfettered energy is one of Helton's personality traits. She was enrolled in dance classes at age 6 but soon migrated to gymnastics and tumbling, which she continued into her middle teens.

"I didn't want to be slow and graceful," she recalls. "I wanted to flip and jump."

Even her choice of pets, a Jack Russell terrier mix named Ereya, reflects her preference for energetic companionship.

Now, as a young adult, Helton has turned her energy and ideas into a fledgling gymnastics and tumbling business called Power-Up Kids. She teaches private lessons and coaches group classes. The business is designed to be scalable, she says.

"My long-term goal is for it to be an after-school program for public and private schools," Helton says. "I'd like to build it out, expand and license it."

Eventually, she would also like to donate up to 50 percent of the profits of her business to good causes, she says. The business is designed to be more than a tumbling program, Helton says. It's meant to build both mental and physical strength as well as character.

Helton credits her father, William Helton, with giving her a passion for business and an ethical grounding in how to treat her customers. When she was small, Helton says she used to go with her dad, a computer technician, on repair calls.

She watched how he held himself to high standards.

"My dad is a strong believer in integrity," Helton says. "He is a man of faith and he believes in consistency. He has this thing, he treats the janitor like the CEO."

One of Helton's intuitions is that people skills are just as important in building an enterprise as traditional college business courses. For that reason, she majored in social work at UTC — graduating in May 2019 — even though she never really wanted to become a social worker.

She says her college major gave her experience in administrative leadership, interpersonal skills, presentations and advocacy work.

Helton has been teaching gymnastics and tumbling for the last six years, she says. She learned the activities through years of training at the Tennessee Academy of Gymnastics. She was also a high school cheerleader at Chattanooga School of the Arts and Sciences.

Helton has honed her leadership skills as part of the Protege program of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, where, among others, she met Kim White, former head of River City Company, and Rebecca Ashford, president of Chattanooga State Community College.

Helton says of Ashford: "She tells the truth about the way things are, and she is equally concerned about doing something about it."

Having worked her way up from dog-walking and baby-sitting to running her own company, Helton says she has learned the power of positive thinking.

"My motto is: Create what you want to see and be who you want to become. I'm big on personal development," she says.

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