South Bend beauty school’s first scholarship shares culture of strength

NOW: South Bend beauty school’s first scholarship shares culture of strength

SOUTH BEND, Ind.—Inspiration School of Beauty Culture owner and instructor Kintae Lark says he isn’t just graduating cosmetologists.

He’s graduating leaders.

That’s what Kintae and his wife, Tanika Lark, who serves as the school’s director, are working to do.

The making of “Inspiration”

In 2015, the Larks opened Inspiration School of Beauty Culture to not only teach students a skill, but to improve the quality of living in the area.

“In addition to somebody coming to learn the basis of haircutting, styling, skincare and doing nails and things like that we also work to increase the quality of living in our immediate surroundings, particularly those who are economically deprived and disenfranchised, whether that be elderly, veterans, young people, individuals from low income homes,” Kintae said.

Students at the school complete a full-time cosmetology degree, through both textbook and hands-on learning.

“We actually have one textbook with over 1,000 pages. We teach anatomy and chemistry, too, to give students a base in what they’re doing,” Kintae said.

The school, located on Chapin Street, functions like a regular beauty shop four days per week, inviting the community in for services so that students have a real-life look at the career they’re pursuing

When the students aren’t at the school learning, they’re out serving the community.

Kintae says the school gives around 450 free haircuts in the summertime alone.

The name “Inspiration” was chosen in honor of Tanika’s mother, who inspired both of them.

Gretchen Marie Ellis’ mark on South Bend

Tanika Lark and her six sisters were born and raised in South Bend by a single mother, Gretchen Marie Ellis.

Gretchen ran her own daycare out of her home to support her seven daughters.

“Yep, we had one bathroom. Seven of us girls. But we were close and we still are,” Tanika said, crediting her mother for the bond she shares with her sisters.

Tanika calls her mother the “backbone” of the family and remembers her mother pushing her in life.

“She was my strength, my joy, my heart,” Tanika said.

Kintae met Tanika’s family through their church while going through struggles with his own family, even experiencing homelessness for a time as a child.

“She has seven awesome beautiful daughters she took awesome care of them, a very awesome mom but she took time out for people like me. She didn’t have to love me, but she did. She didn’t have to cover me, but she did,” Kintae said.

The Larks lost Gretchen in 2009 to breast cancer. In her memory, Kintae and Tanika, along with her sisters, put together a scholarship out of their own money to give a student half off of tuition.

To announce the opportunity, Tanika and her sisters put together a series of videos sharing their mother’s story. The videos were posted to the school’s Facebook page, culminating in an announcement about the school’s first scholarship: the Gretchen Marie Ellis Memorial Scholarship.

“We laughed, we cried, we told stories. It was amazing coming together as adults to honor her,” Tanika said of making the videos with her sisters.

Applicants were required to write a 350 word essay about why they deserved the money as well as submit a two minute video.

Kintae says the hope was to give the scholarship out to someone who had struggled in the past but was trying to create a better future for themselves.

“We are planted right here, right off of downtown South Bend, Indiana and that is to say if South Bend is going to change, it’s not going to be because someone comes in with a helicopter to rescue us, we have to rescue ourselves. That’s what this scholarship is about, it’s about rescuing ourselves and being able to empower, to build,” Kintae said.

Inspiration awarded the first Gretchen Marie Ellis Memorial Scholarship to 20-year-old Lashaun Johnson in January.

From high school dropout to aspiring entrepreneur

Lashaun Johnson has lived in South Bend her whole life. She says she knew she wanted to style hair from a young age.

“As a kid, around 13, 14-years-old, I started watching Youtube videos and doing my own hair and makeup and on my family and I decided this is what I want to do, I want to have my own salon,” Lashaun said.

After heading back to Penway in Mishawaka to finish her high school diploma, Lashaun officially completed the degree in December of 2018.

After graduation, Lashaun applied to Inspiration, and put herself in the running for the school’s first scholarship.

And she won.

“I’m beyond grateful, they’ve taught me so much already, I haven’t even been here that long and I just know that they’re going to change my life. I’m so ready to see who I will be 11 months from now,” Lashaun said.

By the time she’s 23-years-old, Lashaun says she wants to open her own beauty salon, possibly in Texas.

“It was just a joy to give it to a candidate that was determined and dedicated and has goals. She’s young and she just wants the best out of life. She reminded us so much of our mom,” Tanika said.

Tanika says she tried not to cry when they awarded the scholarship to Lashaun, which they did over FaceTime.

Inspiration will award a second Gretchen Marie Ellis Memorial Scholarship in April. They hope to continue to provide two per year moving forward.

Both scholarships are funded entirely by the Larks and Tanika’s sisters' own money. In the future, they hope to bring on outside sponsors to create even more scholarship opportunities.

Currently, the school is asking the community for help in purchasing new salon and barber chairs, equipment and products as well as contributions for creating new scholarships.

Anyone interested in helping Inspiration should call (574) 340-2649 or message them on Facebook.

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