All across our country, there are single parent families who live in poverty. And, unfortunately, this is a way of life that has been repeated generation after generation.  These families need a hand up and a way out – and the grooming industry may be the answer that some of them have been looking for.

Lives and families are being forever changed in the Kansas City, Missouri area– and it’s all because of the EPEC Grooming Project. EPEC stands for Empowering the Parent to Empower the Child. The EPEC Program is introducing a new groomer education program.

Natasha Kirsch is the executive director of EPEC. Their goal is to train single parents in a marketable and transferable skilled trade that pays a livable wage. This will be achieved through job training, life skills education, and by finding practical solutions to end their cycle of poverty.

“My mom is a groomer in Iowa,” shares Natasha. “When I was growing up, she would drop me off at school, groom all day, and then pick me up after school. She always put her kids first. She would schedule her dogs around our needs, and it worked well for our family.”

Natasha thought that a career in pet grooming could be ideal for some of the single parents that are part of EPEC, and that’s where the idea of the Grooming Project came into being.

After much market research, they wrote a business plan, and then met with interested people in the community. That’s when things began to move forward. A local church liked the concept and wanted to help. The church gave them office space and helped them connect with others who could assist them.  Ms. Kirsch explains how the Grooming Project is progressing….

“Once we got the idea for the program, we found a building next to the Kansas City Spay and Neuter Clinic,” says Natasha. “It was a good fit. The Spay and Neuter Clinic serves low income families, and those families would also benefit from low cost grooming services provided by the students in the EPEC program. We partnered with the clinic and started to renovate the building. We received $100,000 from the city for renovations, and we have raised an additional $130,000. The construction and certification of the non-profit grooming school is nearing completion.”

“We have started recruiting students,” Ms. Kirsch continues. “Right now, all of the applicants are single mothers. We have interviewed women from Rose Brooks, a domestic violence shelter – and those who are clients of Operation Breakthrough, one of the largest head start and child care centers for families living in poverty. Their children will be eligible for free childcare while the parent attends grooming classes.”

Many of these women have three or four kids, and their employment record reads like a recipe for failure; some have criminal backgrounds, most have very little education, and they have no skills that would enable them to get a job that would pay enough to support a family.

“We have a couple of moms who are living out of their cars, moms from shelters, and a couple others living on friend’s couches,” continues Natasha. “Our plan is to give them six months training at grooming school – Monday through Thursday. The program consists of 644 classroom hours of training. It is a hands-on training program with approximately ninety percent of the students’ time actually working with dogs and cats. There are two instructors per class.”

The program will have a unique ‘cohort system’. There will be teams or cohorts of nine students. This teamwork system will help each student advance and learn the curriculum – and to gain confidence through mutual accountability.

On Fridays, the students get life skills instruction. EPEC uses the Love and Logic parenting program to assist and support parents with their most important job – raising their children.

This parenting program teaches the importance of higher education, family budgeting, how to get out of debt, financial literacy, parenting skills, and more. Each student will also have a mentor who will meet with them bi-weekly to help them with these family skills.

“The whole purpose of all of this is to teach the parent how to change the life cycle for their children,” shares Ms. Kirsch. “It’s a two-generation approach – if the parent can get themselves straightened out, they can pass it on to their kids – and give them a better life. There’s nothing that most parents won’t do for their children.”

The end result of The Grooming Project will be to permanently change and improve the lives of families who live in poverty. Parents who become qualified groomers will have a skill that pays a livable wage, and jobs in the grooming industry can be found all over the country.

Many times, grooming can be a career that has flexible hours allowing the parent to care for their children. And, when children see that their parent has learned a skill that has turned into a successful career, they are more likely to follow in their footsteps. An opportunity like the EPEC Grooming Program can help these highly motivated single parents turn dreams into a reality.

EPEC has many plans and ideas for The Grooming Project, but there is a major stumbling block. There is Federal and State money available for job training, and although Natasha has applied for it, the Full Employment Council has not released any money to the EPEC Program. They are not convinced that the grooming industry has a need for more groomers. That’s where we can help….

“What I really need is for groomers, salon owners, kennels, manufacturers, and others in the grooming industry to support this – and to say that there is a need for trained groomers, and that pet grooming would be a good job for single parents,” says Ms. Kirsch. “We need success stories from groomers about how and why grooming has worked as a career for many who have children. I’m sure there are lots of stories out there about how and why grooming has worked and has helped single parents take care of their children.”

Do you have a story to share? You can send your comments to Natasha Kirsch at EPEC Inc. 6401 Wornall Terrace, Kansas City, Missouri 64113. You can also email your story to [email protected]

Another way that you can help is to make a monetary contribution toward sponsoring a student. Because these single parents live in poverty, they are not charged for their training. The cost of the program is supported by donations. You can make your gift payable to EPEC Inc. – and mail it to the above address.

With your help, the future can be brighter for these EPEC single parents, their families, and the pets that they will be able to help.