Natasha Herdman (EMPA '14) is the founder and executive director of Pawsperity, a nonprofit that trains and mentors single parents living in poverty to pursue living wage jobs. The organization's first job training program is in animal grooming.
Early in her career, Herdman lived in Washington D.C., and faced the challenges of finding affordable childcare.
“It was nearly impossible,” she said. “So, I quit my job and opened a childcare center in my home. To become licensed, I had to go through a lot of training in early childhood development.”
In this training, she learned about brain development and the importance of verbal stimulation on brain development and future reading levels.
“In addition, I learned that high school dropout and incarceration rates can be predicted by those reading levels.”
When she began working in homeless shelters, she gained more knowledge about the effects of neglect and abuse including dropping out of school, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution and early parenthood.
“It was clear to me that poverty spanned generations and to break the cycle we needed to work with multiple generations at a time.”
Herdman started her executive master’s degree in public administration at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management knowing the challenges she wanted to address, but she had not formed a strategy yet. She began by researching programs that worked to help people get and keep good-paying jobs.
“I was clueless, but willing to help and learn, so I became friends with the clients we served,” Herdman said.
As she developed those relationships, her clients began to share the details of their lives and educate Herdman about the challenges of their situations.
“I would work to help homeless moms get full time jobs, only to learn they would lose housing, childcare and food subsidies because they were earning $10-$12 an hour,” Herdman said. “They’d end up quitting their jobs to go back on welfare so their kids could eat and have a place to sleep.”
As her professors allowed their students to choose their own topics for research paper and projects, she was able to tailor her assignments for a nonprofit business she wanted to launch, training single parents for specific in-demand jobs. That led to Pawsperity.
“As far as I know, we are the only nonprofit grooming school in the country,” Herdman said. “We are one of the few nonprofits that trains for a high-wage trade with social workers participating side-by-side with students and instructors.”
The money the organization earns through grooming supports each student’s $2,875 stipend.
“Most students are living on $3,500 a year while they are with us, so any little bit helps.”
Herdman’s focus and determination are paying off. Understanding the need to diversify revenue streams, Herdman has grown Pawsperity in big ways. She opened a market-rate grooming salon in Lee's Summit a few years ago. This salon is now completely staffed and managed by six program graduates.
Recently, Pawsperity launched two business in a new facility located near Troost Avenue. A dog daycare opened in February 2023, and a new market-rate grooming salon which opened in March. Profits from all three businesses feed the mission of the nonprofit grooming school. Over the next few years, the goal is for income from pet services to support 50% of the budget. Herdman anticipates that as the businesses grow, the number of families within the community that Pawsperity can help will also increase.
Herdman says her experience at the Bloch School was integral to Pawsperity’s success. Bloch taught her how to manage a nonprofit, read financial statements, build a team, partner with other nonprofits and most importantly, she says, it taught her how to focus, which ultimately led to her success.
“Originally, I planned to open a grooming school, childcare center and housing facility for students and their kids. In the EMPA program, my executive coach, Gene Dooley, suggested I pick one service, but not all three.”
Herdman says she cannot imagine her organization coming together without the support she received from her professors and classmates at UMKC, because she learned so much: how to write budgets for grants, how to conduct a program evaluation and why multiple revenue streams and earned income are so important.
“The greatest value of my education at Bloch was the access to my professors, including David Renz, Brett Never and Scott Helm, who helped me mold and shape the organization we have today.”