Lee's Summit Journal

Nonprofit ‘grooms’ grads to succeed in pet businesses like The Salon in LS

Christine Banks, of Kansas City shared a sweet moment with her client, Lily Bella. The Salon is managed by Banks and other graduates of The Grooming Project, a professional dog grooming school and pilot program of the Kansas City-area nonprofit, Empowering the Parent to Empower the Child.
Christine Banks, of Kansas City shared a sweet moment with her client, Lily Bella. The Salon is managed by Banks and other graduates of The Grooming Project, a professional dog grooming school and pilot program of the Kansas City-area nonprofit, Empowering the Parent to Empower the Child. Special to the Journal

Like most “beauty parlors,” The Salon in Lee’s Summit isn’t just about grooming. It’s about love and hope – for professionals, patrons and their pets.

Managed by graduates of The Grooming Project in Kansas City, The Salon celebrated its grand opening on May 4. The Project, a pilot program of the Kansas City-area nonprofit Empowering the Parent to Empower the Child, is the vision of founding CEO Natasha Kirsch.

The Grooming Project is a 23-week, state-certified program that requires 644 classroom hours, along with three internships in local grooming salons. The Project financially empowers students by equipping them with a career and provides a holistic focus on families through parenting and budgeting classes, mental health support, life-skills courses and medical services.

The approach is two-generational: Break the cycle of poverty and ensure parents have time, especially at night, with their children.

Christine Banks graduated from The Grooming Project in 2016 and is now working full time at The Salon.

“I wanted to get out of poverty, change my life and my children’s futures,” said Banks, a single mother with two children, ages 4 and 8.

“I wanted to support us and not rely on assistance,” said the Kansas City woman. “Now, I can provide food and clothing for my kids, and be with them when they get home from school.”

After years of working with organizations that served those in poverty, Kirsch, the CEO, realized the solution to helping people change their lives and break the cycle required a multi-tiered approach. In 2011, she began developing her vision for The Grooming Project.

She launched the school and its affiliated services in 2016.

“When I first came up with the idea, I thought we needed housing, childcare and career training — and that all of those services should work together,” Kirsch said. “I found families in need were getting one piece of the puzzle, but not everything they needed.”

Though Kirsch knew job training was a key element of that puzzle, she struggled to find the right field for clients. Her goal was to find a career students could learn in under a year, and then earn a living wage. While searching, inspiration came from Kirsch’s mother, Linda Teagarden, who owns a dog grooming business in Iowa.

“My mother told me the availability of trained groomers was really low and she continually had difficulty finding employees,” Kirsch said. “I researched and discovered that the demand is high in this field, but the training is not readily available.”

In addition, Kirsch noted that dog grooming is a profession in which individuals with barriers to stable employment – such as past addiction, criminal records and incomplete education – can find employment.

Grooming Project graduate Lindsey Massoth, of Gladstone, is one of many success stories.

She struggled to raise her daughter through low-paying jobs before training for her current career as a dog groomer.

“I’m 25 and had my daughter when I was 16,” she said. “I don’t have the stress now that I did trying to live on those small paychecks. And I get to work with dogs. I’ve been a dog lover since I was a child.”

After completing training, Grooming Project students have opportunities to work in one of the area’s 200 pet salons. Many, including Banks and Massoth, also have sights set on starting their own grooming business.

In 2018, Kirsch and her team developed a plan to help their entrepreneurial-minded students achieve their dreams. The Lee’s Summit Salon is key in that effort.

“Last year, we revised our business model to include multiple salons,” Kirsch said. “These will be a training ground for students who want to learn to run their own business and will also provide us with a revenue stream to help pay students’ tuition and fees.”

Since the start of 2019, several new opportunities have expanded Kirsch’s vision for The Grooming Project and its future growth.

Several weeks ago, the Project was one of 14 organizations across the country selected to participate in a six-month Catalyst Program by Stand Together, a social change organization dedicated to supporting and investing in nonprofits that tackle poverty in innovative ways.

Stand Together will train Kirsch and her team to work on a viable plan to replicate the Grooming Project school and salon model in other cities. Once that training is completed, Stand Together will assist with funding to help launch the Project in other cities.

Currently, Catholic Charities’ Neighborhoods of Hope is in the process of constructing homes for the program’s student near the Troost Avenue school.

“The housing partnership is a key partnership, and now I believe more organizations are going to partner with us,” Kirsch said.

“People in Kansas City have been willing to help me who didn’t know me,” Kirsch said. “We had to raise $500,000 to get this started. I met some of the top business owners and philanthropic people here.

“They helped me grow so much, and that’s been the coolest part. I started this to help homeless families and all of these people have helped me to help them.”

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