"There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about."
– Margaret J. Wheatley
How do you integrate yourself into an unfamiliar community?
For Lafayette native and Houma Beauty co-owner Monique Menard it was by getting to know the community’s needs and doing what she could to make it a better place.
It all started when Monique came to Houma for Mardi Gras 2017 to help her brothers Askar and Moe run the corner store located at 7472 W. Main St. She visited the store here and there, but it wasn’t until around that time that she started getting to better know the local people and help her brothers cater to their needs.
“Originally it was just a corner store that sold just liquor, beer and not too many food items,” she recalls. “And then when we stepped in; we slowly but surely put all of our little ideas together.”
One of the first needs of the community the family addressed was the lack of hair supplies accessible for the people in the area.
“When I had come back Askar was like, ‘I want you to help me with hair.’ And in less than six months, I pretty much knew everything that needed to be known about this hair,” Monique says. “This area really didn’t have a hair store where they can walk up and get their hair supplies; they have to get rides. This is just easier for most of the people that cannot drive.”
“We don’t raise our costs up because it does cost too much,” she continues. “Everyone deserves to be beautiful.”
Monique says that since the store opens as early as 6:30 a.m., it gives the barber shop across the street a chance of having its chairs full earlier than normal, therefore it started opening earlier. In fact, she says all the surrounding businesses are starting to work hand in hand.
Houma Beauty is also working with Live Healthy Houma, a part of LSU AgCenter’s Healthy Communities initiative, a work group consisting of various local entities. Live Healthy’s mission is to “improve the quality of life for all citizens of Downtown Houma through policy development, environmental change and lifestyle programs that promote healthy living.”
Last year, the corner store became a Live Healthy’s Stock Healthy, Shop Healthy location, introducing healthier grocery goods into the community. The grocery store is now equipped with fresh produce, healthier snack alternatives and signage to help educate its patrons on the benefits of eating healthier.
“Because I like kids,” Monique answers on why she decided to partner with Live Healthy. “I see a lot of sad cases in this environment. With Live Healthy, if we can help control the obesity rate, that healthy lifestyle is going to trigger a better educational choice because they’re going to mingle with different kinds of people. They’re going to be more inclined to go to the gym...That right there in itself is just a completely different atmosphere.”
Amanda Gibson, a nutrition agent with the LSU AgCenter and the facilitator of Live Healthy Houma, says she was looking for a great location for Stock Healthy, Shop Healthy when she stumbled across the store after noticing they sold groceries, too.
“I was going into different convenience stores, but people are always skeptical of a free thing...Then we came in here and presented the idea to Monique, and since then it’s been wonderful,” she says. “This is the perfect location because across the bayou is the High Rise, so it’s a good resource for them. Also, the store helps the lower-income community that surrounds it.”
Monique aims to expand the store, too, adding more groceries and any other supplies the community might need. “It’s about giving people those options because if you come downtown, there’s lack of access,” Amanda says. “There’s nowhere to get produce within this area. And especially since it’s a low-income area, it’s hard for people maybe to get a vehicle to even go to the nearest grocery store. So, Monique wants to be that community grocery store and just really a general store for people to get everything they need in one location.”
Her passion and care for the community drives Monique to help in any way she can, whether it’s holding free cookouts in the store’s parking lot, listening to her customers’ problems and consoling them, rewarding nearby children for good grades or giving those in need food when they’re hungry or coffee when they’re cold. “You’re not just $1.10 in this store,” she says. “You’re human.”
Growing up in poverty, Monique was helped by people in her life that showed her possibilities and opportunities outside of what she knew. She now hopes to pay that forward.
“I grew up in a house where you had to move the bucket whenever it rained because the drip moved with the wind. But I had people who if didn’t show me anything other than a broken home or poverty, I probably would still be stuck in my own broken home and in poverty,” she shares. “And at the end of the day, it only takes one person to change somebody’s life.”