Natasha Kirsch’s The Grooming Project helps families in KC become self-reliant through pet grooming

The Grooming Project Kansas City
Photography by Natalea Bonjour.

The next time you see an impeccably groomed dog, it might be the work of a graduate from The Grooming Project, a program founded by Natasha Kirsch. 

The Grooming Project is expanding into a new headquarters this year, and just in time: The program received more than three hundred applications but can currently only accommodate fifteen students at a time, Kirsch says. 

“We’re renovating a building two doors down from our current location which has triple the square footage,” she says. That means triple the number of students grooming triple the number of animals—plus an on-site doggie daycare. It will help train people in underserved areas for available jobs.

“Our new location will also attract more new clients and business to the east side of Troost, a historically red-lined part of Kansas City,” she says. “At any given point, there are more than one hundred openings for grooming or pet care jobs in Kansas City.” 

Most for-profit job-placement organizations charge students for their programs. That’s not so at The Grooming Project, where students are given free tuition and a monthly stipend. Special attention is also paid to outside skills like financial literacy and customer service.

We talked to Kirsch about her work and starting The Grooming Project, her success and the students she’s served around the city. 

What drew you to this work? I started working with homeless families in Kansas City about twelve years ago, and every day I left work devastated because I couldn’t help. Yes, they had a shelter to live in, but they also had no way out. The bigger problem, which I finally understood clearly for the first time in my life, was generational poverty.

How do you choose students from the applicant pool? Students accepted into The Grooming Project are parents with multiple barriers to employment such as trauma, unfinished education and homelessness. They receive hands-on, individualized training in the trade of pet grooming. 

Why do you think The Grooming Project has taken off the way it has? The Grooming Project is successful because we coordinate fulfilling basic family needs like housing, childcare, food and mental health wellness with training in a high-demand, high-wage trade. 

We have trained our grooming instructors in trauma-informed care and support them with a team of social workers. We work more than forty hours a week with our families for seven months before placing them in a job and helping them navigate off of welfare.

 We problem solve with parents who are overwhelmed with so many obstacles that they cannot see a way out. We can see the way out. Our job is to get parents to trust us and let us walk alongside them for support. 

And it turns out that pet therapy is no joke. Grooming has been very therapeutic for our students who have survived severe trauma and abuse.

How has the community helped with the project? Donations help with student stipends and emergency assistance. We pay each student a stipend of $500 a month so they have some money to live on while they are in our program. This is not much at all, especially for a mom with two or three kids, but we are able to do it because of people in the community that contribute to this fund. 

You can schedule an appointment for your pet at The Salon, our Lee’s Summit Location. The Salon is entirely run by graduates of our program who earn fifty percent commission or more, and the rest of the profit is funneled back into our school on Troost. 

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