Cleveland Business Connects

For immediate release (October 6, 2017) Media Contact: Judy Abelman Email: Phone: 440.725.8861...

By Lauren Sable Freiman  |  Photo by Jim Baron

Jen Koch worked across the financial services industry — as a CPA, in investments, and then in insurance. Her sights were set on continuing to climb the corporate ladder, when, in 2012, she lost her managerial position in corporate America. The news was crushing. “I was so tied into my career,” Koch says. “My career was my identity.”

In the midst of the executive MBA program at Case Western Reserve University when she lost her job, Koch realized she had to make a big decision about her future.

Although her intention had been to pursue a C-level position, in reality, she wasn’t happy with her hectic lifestyle. To fill her days, Koch began volunteering at Akron Children’s Hospital, a decision that would soon prove to be life altering.

“Doing makeovers fell in my lap when a woman who had been braiding hair moved away,” Koch says. “I continued doing what she was doing, and I got the hospital to dedicate a cart for makeovers, and I started adding more stuff.”

The visible joy and the palpable sense of airiness in the children’s rooms after their mini makeovers left Koch feeling ecstatic.

“The change after the makeover was so dramatic, and it was so inexpensive to do,” Koch says. “I started to think about how I could grow it and do it for all hospitalized kids.”

Just six months after beginning her volunteer work at Akron Children’s Hospital, Koch filed to incorporate Smiles with Style. A year later, and delayed by the government shutdown, Koch received nonprofit status for the organization.

In partnership with hospitals and other healthcare organizations, such as the Ronald McDonald House, Smiles with Style goes room to room in four cities around Ohio with special carts — one for boys and one for girls — to visit patients and perform mini-makeovers, transforming kids into pirates, princesses, and superheroes. Koch and her team of volunteers aren’t cosmetologists, but they are intent on providing a few minutes of carefree fun for kids who need it most.

“When we knock on a child’s room and come in with our carts with our smiley-face logo, they recognize that we are fun,” Koch says. “A lot of time we see kids with physical changes because of their treatment, and we help them feel better about that. We give them a voice when things are out of their control. We ask their favorite color, their favorite super hero, and we give them a choice of things to pick from so they feel like they have control over the situation. We also provide a few minutes of respite for the caregivers.”

As the sole employee of Smiles with Style, Koch runs the organization with the help of four board members and nearly 100 volunteers, many from Smiles with Style chapters at Ohio State University, John Carroll University, University of Dayton, and Walsh University. She is currently working to expand Smiles with Style to Toledo and Chicago, and her long-term goal is to expand into every major pediatric hospital in the country.

Although her days are now filled with learning the ins and outs of social media, creating website content, fundraising, blogging and expanding the reach of Smiles with Style, Koch says she feels just as challenged, and more fulfilled, than she did in the corporate world.

“I was in the midst of that hamster wheel where I didn’t know how to get off, but in my case I was thrown off,” Koch says. “There were a lot of bumps and bruises, but I’m much more balanced now, and I’m happy I’m on a different path.”

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