When Megan Williams’ daughter was diagnosed with hearing loss, the challenge put her confidence to the test.
“Sometimes kids are cruel,” Williams, a local hair stylist and salon owner, said of concerns her family faced as they sent the 5-year-old to school with hearing aids neatly tucked around her ears.
Knowing full well the taunting and teasing she might endure, Williams was quick to turn to her talent and trade as a way of rebuilding her daughter’s shaken self-esteem — and hoping to send a message of positivity and acceptance.
“Fast forward and she’s 14 now — and very confident,” the mother laughed, noting most trends with the teenager now revolve around trying on the trendiest hairstyles, cuts, and colors.
The experience ultimately led to the Smiles and Kuts Foundation — Williams’ mobile salon service, designed to serve children with special needs and provide access to services for families experiencing hardship.
“When a kid isn’t feeling good, and they’re not feeling like themselves, there’s just something about getting a fresh haircut,” she said. “There’s something about looking good on the outside that really works on the inside of these kids.”
Having witnessed such impact firsthand with her own daughter, Williams felt called to extend her gifts to the Kansas City community in 2017, when her family “adopted” a neighboring family in-need at Christmas.
“When we met the family, their little girls were just so in awe of my daughter … but they didn’t realize the journey we had to build her confidence,” she explained. “I turned to my husband after that and I said, ‘I want to do their hair.’ And he was like, ‘Megan, let’s just give them a wonderful Christmas that they can remember and go from there.’”
But the feeling of knowing she could contribute to more kids and more families was nagging, Williams recalled.
“I bought a composition notebook and a pen and I started writing down ideas of how to give back to our youth [in ways that] build confidence — because it’s all about making them feel good and look good — outside and in. My purpose was to create smiles!”
The Smiles and Kuts Foundation soon developed.
“I knew that this program was successful when I could see a kid smile after their haircut and know that they’re going to be okay, that they had a sense of belonging,” Williams said, noting the foundation’s impact and elaborating on its work with local school districts.
Help behind the scenes
“I joined the E-Scholars program at [The University of Missouri-Kansas City] and it really helped me with my marketing and transitioning Smiles and Kuts [into a sustainable business,]” Megan Williams said, noting the UMKC-run program ultimately pushed her to think beyond the obvious and expand that organization deeper into the world of community service.
“I established my mission … to strengthen a child’s health, mind, and spirit with a positive self-image. It helped me truly transition from an idea into a full functioning organization. From that I built more partners with schools and more connections in the community than I ever thought I would.”
Work with the schools Enactus team also helped build Williams entrepreneurial toolkit, she added.
“I am so thankful for UMKC and what they did for the foundation and for me personally as an entrepreneur and nonprofit founder.”
Click here to learn more about the UMKC Bloch School of Management and its entrepreneurial support resources.
“On the forms that I send home to parents, I ask ‘What are you looking for, for your child? Are you looking for them to smile more? Are you looking for them to talk with their peers? Confidence? They’re checking all of it, they’re checking all the boxes,” she explained.
“When I can fulfill a purpose and do something — without getting paid — I know this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m supposed to be [investing] into these youth so they can walk away smiling and go back to their friends feeling that confidence.”
With 23 years of entrepreneurial experience under her cape, having first owned her own salon, the nonprofit and its life lessons have overhauled Williams’ mindset, offering her a new perspective on the true definition of entrepreneurship.
“I learned to stop being stubborn — and I learned to stop being selfish. You realize that it’s not all about money. It’s about [investing] into our future, our future leaders, our children, our youth, and building them up,” she explained of her altered perception and the value it brought her personally.
“I have a son who graduated from college. I have a daughter who is going into high school — [the reason we] started this journey. I knew — seeing what I did with them — and what our society is [facing] and how some kids are struggling with finding who they are, I knew my purpose was to build them up,” Williams said.
“I know I can’t save them all, but if I can just save a few and make them feel good, to want to do more, to want to succeed at anything that they do … that’s a great feeling in itself.”
And for parents facing a similar situation as Williams and her family, she’s hopeful they’ll too look at her experiences and find a message of hope.
“Never give up on your child. Stay confident. I don’t believe in negative talk. Whenever my children would say something negative, I would reverse that and bring positivity into their lives,” she said.
“It can be hard sometimes, to always stay positive, but you have to remember — they’re listening, they’re watching. And if you want to see them succeed in life, you have to continue to keep at it and keep them going.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.