Dog Grooming Training Aims to Break Poverty Cycle in Kansas City
by Mary Sauer Contributor
For many single mothers living on the street with their families, breaking the cycle of homelessness in their lives isn’t as simple as finding a full-time job or an affordable place to live. There are many factors at play that complicate any steps being taken to change and stand between these mothers and their search for stability for their families.
Natasha Kirsch, a social worker who founded The Grooming Project in Kansas City, Kansas, watched mothers face the same problems time and time again as she tried to help them find work. Many women couldn’t move on from their past, with felonies from when they were young or a lack of education from growing up on the streets that kept them from securing employment. When they did secure work, their troubles were far from over.
“If they were making minimum wage or making 10 or 12 an hour they would often lose their state benefits,” Kirsch explains. “Things like any child care subsidies, any housing subsidies, and food stamps and then they couldn’t afford to work anymore.”
This dilemma sent Kirsch searching for trades that paid a living wage. She knew that the demographic she served needed jobs that paid well with training that could be completed in less than a year’s time. Potential jobs also needed to be flexible enough that the mothers could be home after school to raise their children.
A phone call from Kirsch’s mother, who was desperate for dog groomers to work at her grooming business in Iowa, set the wheels in motion for The Grooming Project, now a pet grooming training program for homeless mothers. Through plenty of research, Kirsch discovered that the demand for groomers was huge and that businesses like PetCo and PetSmart reported paying their groomers between $35,000 and $70,000 year, including a health and 401k package. Additionally, these businesses were completely open to hiring people with felony records and didn’t require applicants to know how to read in order to be employed as groomers.
In January of 2016, after returning to school herself to get a Master’s degree and learning how to run a nonprofit, Kirsch launched the first semester of The Grooming Project. In the program’s first year, 10 women have graduated from The Grooming Project’s six-month, full-time training program. Of these 10 women, all 10 were placed in jobs after their graduation and eight are still employed. The two who are struggling are being brought back into the training program for further help retaining employment.
At The Grooming Project, the services offered to the homeless population in Kansas City go well beyond simply outfitting women with the skills they need to find work in the pet grooming industry.
“We’re a comprehensive program. Once we get a homeless mom that comes into our doors, we help her find housing, help her find child care, get her dental care, get her an eye doctor or glasses if she has poor vision,” says Kirsch. “We help her get on food stamps and really lean on the welfare systems that are out there right now to stabilize her with the hope that in two years, after completing our program, that she will be completely off of welfare with her children.”
While in the program, students are paid a $125 a month stipend, allowing them to move their family into a motel through the duration of the program. These stipends are funded by the reduced rate grooming services being provided at the training program. The Grooming Project, doesn’t just benefit its trainees. Typically, the program offers grooming services to members of the community who can’t afford to have their dogs groomed at full cost. Some clients’ dogs, through The Grooming Project, are receiving care for the very first time, which is just one more way the organization gives back to the community.
In addition to serving ten mothers over the last year, The Grooming Project served 29 children. Kirsch and her team worked with a program called Parents as Teachers to make sure their students’ children attend school and the mothers are well equipped with the resources and skills needed to parent well.
As for the future of The Grooming Project, Kirsch has big hopes for expanding the service to other cities. It has become apparent that the demand for grooming schools is needed throughout the country, so Kirsch has begun to develop partnerships that will allow her to play a role in replicating the model of The Grooming Project and breaking the cycle of homelessness in other cities in the United States.
To learn more about The Grooming Project and how you can support their cause, visit their website here.