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KC upholstery shop owner helping ex-offenders stitch up a new career

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Life can have its ups and downs, but one Kansas City man is using his down to bring others up.

“It’s something that you got to earn,” said Michael Smith, owner of Smith’s Upholstery. “You got to work for it.”

At the corner of 72nd Street and Prospect, culture is tucked away in a building.

“This is where we make it all happen at,” Smith said.

Smith’s Upholstery’s work is weaved into the Kansas City, Missouri, community.

“We do commercial upholstery. We do restaurant booth seats. We do barbershop/beauty salon seats,” Smith said. “We do it all pretty much.”

And Smith has been doing it all at this location since 2008, but his upholstery journey didn’t start then. It goes back to 2004.

“I served 18 years, and I got 44 hours toward an AA degree,” Smith said.

While serving time at Tipton Correctional Center, Smith learned a trade that not only changed his life but other lives, too.

“I like seeing things that’s old and making it brand new,” said Micheal Lora, an employee at Smith’s Upholstery.

Lora is the newest addition to Smith’s Upholstery. He just graduated from a program where Smith is helping ex-offenders tailor a new life at the shop.

“I could say I probably wouldn’t be as far as I am now, you know, with a whole career path,” Lora said. “Like I know a whole lot of people my age that don’t have a career path.”

Nearly a year ago, Smith brought a proposal to Steve Townsend with Kansas City’s Full Employment Council in hopes to start the program.

Former offenders on parole train at Smith’s Upholstery for six weeks while earning money. Townsend said the decision was an easy yes.

“It gives people hope,” Townsend said. “I think the big thing is sometimes people get lost.”

So far two people, including Lora, have gone through the program.

“I think when individuals come out of being incarcerated, Mr. Smith knows exactly what it’s about so they’re coming, they’re trying to learn a trade he can work with them because he’s been there,” Townsend said.

Whether it’s helping people revamp their life or their furniture, Smith is just thankful to stitch the way.

“I want to reach back and help some of the brothers, some of the sisters — you know to help make their transition a little easier,” Smith said. “Thank God for giving me what I need to help them to do what they want to do.”