Cassie Bratton, graduate of The Grooming Project, grooms a dog at The Salon in Lee’s Summit.
The real beauty of The Salon—a nonprofit “beauty shop” for pets in Lee’s Summit—is the fresh opportunity it provides its groomers.
All employees—managers, groomers, bathers— are graduates of The Grooming Project, a professional state-certified pet grooming school located at 58th and Troost that is a project of Empowering the Parent to Empower the Child (EPEC). Together, the school and The Salon work to break the cycle of generational poverty by teaching students the in-demand career and life skills they need to succeed in the well-paying pet grooming industry. The students, who are primarily single mothers, are dealing with difficult life situations such as poverty, homelessness, or overcoming a criminal record as they search for a job.
After spending most of her career working with families experiencing homelessness and poverty, The Grooming Project CEO Natasha Kirsch recognized that a pet grooming school might provide the solution to the multigenerational cycles she witnessed. Kirsch’s mother, a pet salon owner in Iowa, told Kirsch about the growing need for skilled pet groomers—and the fair wage the industry pays.
Kirsch officially launched the school in 2016. The program takes a holistic two-generational approach to empowering parents and children to live stable, independent lives. In addition to pet grooming skills, students and their children are offered wraparound programs such as medical assistance, parenting and budgeting classes, life coaching, and mindfulness. The holistic approach bolsters self-confidence and students’ ability to control their life situations as they prepare for a career in pet grooming.
Graduates complete a 23-week program consisting of 644 classroom hours and grooming instruction at the school before seeking outside employment. One hundred percent of graduates find employment immediately after graduation.
One opportunity available to graduates is an internship at The Salon in Lee’s Summit, which opened at 1650 Southeast Blue Parkway in May 2019. Christine Banks, who graduated from the school in 2016, is the current salon manager. She was part of a team of graduates involved in The Salon’s launch.
“When The Salon opened, it was for our graduates to learn how to open and manage their own business so eventually they could start their own grooming business or manage other salons,” Banks said.
The Salon pays all employees a fair, livable wage and helps them gain valuable industry experience. The Salon’s net proceeds go back to the school, to support its mission. As such, the customers who patronize The Salon are helping to fund the life-changing work of The Grooming Project.
Banks, who has always loved animals and has a true passion for helping them, oversees a staff of four full-time groomers and a full-time dog bather. They offer services ranging from basic baths and brushing to ear cleaning, hand-scissoring and nail clipping.
But they offer so much more.
“The Salon is different because we care about the pets,” said Banks. The customer’s pet is like our family, our friend. A lot of times we don’t remember the owner’s name, but we remember the pet’s name! We’re going to take care of the pet as if it was our own pet. We say “bye” and “hi” to them. We give them love and play with them a little bit, and we make sure they’re clean and nice looking. We even tend to tell them they’re cute as we’re grooming them.”
And thanks to the meticulous services Banks and her team offer—and the love and attention they shower on their furry customers—The Salon is growing. With that growth comes the opportunity to offer jobs—and hope—to more of the school’s graduates. Currently, The Salon can accommodate up to 40 appointments a day, but they are gearing up to add a shift and hire more of the school’s graduates, knowing they are changing lives one grooming appointment at a time.
Banks discovered The Grooming Project through Operation Breakthrough, during a time when she was trying to hold down two jobs while raising her two children as a single mother. Despite working long hours, she still needed public assistance to pay the bills and put food on the table.
Banks said it felt good to “get off of food stamps and government assistance and be able to buy food every week.”
Cassie Bratton, a groomer at The Salon, appreciates the way The Salon staff lifts each other up. “Working at The Salon with the other graduates gives us a chance to talk with each other and share our experiences. We derive strength from each other, and we support each other in our mission to be independent,” she said.
Christina Lough, an Iraq War veteran who graduated from the school in January 2022, says what she learned at the school and the experience of working at The Salon is preparing her to open her own dog grooming business, which she hopes to launch within the next year.
Banks, too, aspires to having her own business one day—a mobile grooming center that allows her to care for the pets of the elderly and others who cannot drive to a bricks-and-mortar grooming salon. But, she said, those plans are on hold.
“I’d rather take care of The Salon right now,” Banks said. It is my baby right now. I started there—I was the first person there—and I really care about the place. I decided to stay and become a manager here because I care about the customers and the employees and the young ladies who come there. I care about what they can achieve. I want to show them what they can actually do.”
Interested in booking a groom at The Salon – A Grooming Project? Visit www.groomingprojectsalon.org to learn more.