- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) - For Anita Johnson, it’s more than just a place where people learn how to care for customers’ hair.

“We want to change lives,” said the assistant director of Avenue Academy of Beauty and Culture.

A Peorian who’s been teaching at area cosmetology schools since 2001, Johnson is excited - not just for the opportunity to develop a new generation of hairdressers - but to make a difference in the community.

“Our plan is to make sure that students have what they need. The biggest thing is life skills. We know we can teach people how to do hair. Anyone can have a skill. But it’s how you treat people that makes the difference,” she said.

“It’s about professionalism. It’s a matter of taking care of anyone who comes through that door - no matter their age or ethnicity,” said Johnson.

That’s also the philosophy of the shop’s owner, LaShawn Jones of Chicago, who operates two beauty colleges under the Avenue Academy name in the Windy City.

Jones credits Johnson for encouraging her to establish an outlet in Peoria. “(Johnson) was a Godsend. I couldn’t do it before I met her,” she said.

The single mother of four daughters, Jones was a successful salon owner before deciding to open schools that she said have now graduated 125 students who work in the beauty industry. She looks to open another school soon in Carbondale.

“I’ve offered scholarships because it’s important to make a difference in people’s lives. I also want to offer scholarships to students in Peoria,” said Jones.

“Last year we ran a campaign in Chicago to put down the guns and pick up the clippers. We had 10 young men come forward who are now taking classes with us,” she said.

Reaching out to the community in Peoria is also important to Johnson. “We want the students who fell through the cracks. I want students - men and women - from all walks of life,” she said.

“I want to work with caseworkers, probation officers and counselors to provide an alternative for people. There are a plethora of things I can pull from. I’m excited about what (this school) can do to change people,” said Johnson.

“We’re partnering with the Snatching Souls from the Flame of Fire Ministry, 312 S. Merriman St., to provide counseling for people,” she added.

“I know it’s going to be a lot. My head isn’t in the sand but I know it can be done,” said Johnson.

The academy offers courses in cosmetology, barbering, nails, make-up certification and hair braiding, she said. A full course costs $1,750.

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Source: (Peoria) Journal Star, https://bit.ly/1lxfVEv

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Information from: Journal Star, https://pjstar.com

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