Highland Park SOUP Winner – March 2013

Whether it’s an education in consulting and social work, teaching elementary school students, or in her current capacity as owner of the Princess Pamper Palace, the central focus of Ayi Roberson’s career has always remained kids. “I’ve always liked children,” she says. “I’m doing what I was put here to do.”

Princess Pamper Palace is Roberson’s passion project and a space where young girls, typically in Kindergarten, come to relax and learn through a variety of activities. The Palace, which operates out of a small commercial space on John R. in Detroit’s North End, are typically booked for birthday parties or other celebrations. The girls are literally pampered — they receive pedicures and manicures, get a massage, have their makeup done, then put on princess outfits and have pictures taken.

Roberson has witnessed time and again the positive effect this special treatment has on the children. “Kids are so wired these days. They come in here and know it’s okay to relax. You can see this change come over them. Sometimes they’ll even fall asleep while they’re having their feet soaked.”

While it’s important for the kids to feel they’re worthy of this extra care, Princess Pamper Palace is about more than just making them feel good. Having a background in education, Roberson considers it her duty to connect this good feeling with taking care of yourself. “I try to show them how it’s holistic, it’s all connected,” she says.

Roberson emphasizes eating habits and its effect on the physical and mental well being. She also schedules a variety of wellness classes like dance and yoga, and would one day like to hold more academic classes like anatomy.

“This is not a daycare,” Roberson stresses. “I’m an educator. The kids have to be learning something, doing something, or being exposed to something.”

The primary obstacle for Roberson is lack of funding. The occasional party isn’t enough to support the business, so she’s always planning functions and outings. Examples include tea parties, events called “Bling It On” and “Peace, Pumpkin, and Pamper,” and a field-trip to watch the musical Annie where the girls dress up like the title character.

Roberson won her micro-grant from Detroit SOUP, worth $260, in April 2013 at a Highland Park gathering. She spent the money on supplies: robes, crafts, and furniture. “The money made my life a lot easier,” she says. “Every little bit helps fill out the experience and add to the ambiance.”

The community also contributes what they can. One person donated an antique-looking brass-framed mirror that could have come straight out of Snow White and feels very appropriate amongst the plush, pink ornamentation.

Roberson wants to move beyond her current space and have an entire house, which would of course be pink, dedicated to all of Princess Pamper Palace’s many activities. “I’m constantly filled with ideas,” says Roberson.

Ayi wasn’t Roberson’s given name — she changed it because she liked the way it sounded. Only later did she discover that it means “Mother of Mothers.” It’s hard to think of a more appropriate name.

– Aaron Mondry