Turning a Bad Hair Day into a New Attitude

Building Community

Our Story: LSMNJ 2016

Turning a Bad Hair Day into a New Attitude

Bad hair days are tough enough, but how about a bad hair life?

You know that feeling… Maybe your hair just won’t comb out the way you want it, the humidity messes with its texture, or the shampoo leaves it dry or oily? If you don’t take care of it, things can spiral – changing how you see yourself, how others see you and maybe, whether you can get a job or an apartment.

Okay, a bad hair day isn’t the slippery slope to homelessness… but a good cut could be an important step to get back on track. After all, who would you rather rent your apartment or give a job to? Someone with scraggly, unkempt hair, or a person with a clean, attractive trim?

Marlene Laneader gets it, and so do her volunteer barbers and hairdressers from Friends of Fairview Give Back, a team of volunteers meeting the needs of Camden’s homeless with food, clothing and more – specializing in haircuts and styling. “We come to New Visions about every six to eight weeks,” she says.

LSMNJ 2016 Annual Report

They Bring Life

Marlene and her team don’t just bring clippers, they bring life. While it’s great to see them show up at the New Visions Homeless Day Shelter for “Makeover Mondays,” it’s their energy and enthusiasm that everyone looks forward to. The haircuts are just an expression of the love and genuine concern Marlene and her volunteers have for the homeless men and women at New Visions.

“Isn’t this great?” she says with a broad smile. “C’mon over here and give me a hug.” It’s easy to oblige.

“To build a community, you need a community builder,” Kevin Moran, director at New Visions reminds us, “Marlene’s an important part of the New Visions community.” And with her enthusiasm, Marlene’s done what few accomplish in our world of electronic acquaintances and virtual friends – she’s turned Facebook Likes into live people, taking real action. Maggie from Swedesboro, Karen from Sicklerville and Karen from Bellmawr¾all talented, experienced hair stylists who found “Friends of Fairview Give Back” on Facebook.

So with scissors, combs, and razors in hand, they come on Makeover Monday ready to get to work.

But not everyone, even with talent, is comfortable reaching out to serve. For many, getting up-close and personal with someone labeled “homeless” is intimidating, and let’s face it, even scary, but not to the “Friends” team.

“I have no hesitation,” Karen from Bellmawr tells us. “You do what you can do.” Karen from Sicklerville chimes in, “getting your hair done is all about self-worth. It’s the opportunity to look in the mirror and be proud of yourself.  Add some basic toiletries and/or new clothes—available at the New Vision’s clothing closet or brought by the ‘Friends’ team­—and it’s a real boost.”

2016 LSMNJ Annual Report

Plus, like any community, the homeless guests at New Visions can be wary about outsiders. That’s where New Visions’ proven track record of helping the homeless, is key. Elizabeth, one of the day’s clients was quick to point out how much she’s come to trust the New Vision’s staff, and the Friends of Fairview Give Back team. “It’s amazing here,” she beams. “they do so much to help.”

Satisfied Customers

And with that, Elizabeth was the first in Karen’s (from Bellmawr’s) chair. Her satisfied expression said it all as she felt Karen gently pull a comb through her thick, black hair. Elizabeth’s a long way from the 24-year-old homeowner with two college degrees and a bright future in front of her. When two car accidents left her disabled and in constant pain, she started the long slide into drug dependency. Now, years later, her goal is simple: get her own place and find a job. Getting a trim can really make a difference. “Not only do I see myself differently, others see me differently, too.”

After Elizabeth came Ed, a self-taught blacksmith who applies survival skills honed in back-woods Maine to his life in urban Camden. He’s a repeat customer. “The first time I got my hair done, it took two girls three hours to get the ‘gook’ out,” he recalls. “I was living under a bridge at the time.” Now, with the help of his girlfriend who braids it regularly, Ed just gets a comb-out, and maybe a short trim to keep his hair healthy.

Zavon is another returning client. He worked building houses while he went to Temple University, but an accident left him with substantial memory loss. Even though he’s been homeless for two years, he’s a dedicated poet. He hopes to get published someday. Karen from Sicklerville gave Zavon a close cut that’s easy to clean for someone on the street.

LSMNJ 2016 Annual Report
John's Before and After

Soon after, John took his turn. The 71-year-old Army veteran and former snack-food delivery driver had a transformation that may only have been matched by the day before he went into the service, and the day after! “You look very corporate!” Maggie teased.  “I feel 20 lbs. lighter,” he quipped back.

Feeling Good About Yourself

On the average Makeover Monday, 20-25 men and women are clipped, edged, trimmed and combed. Who knows how many pounds of hair littered the floor? Who can guess how many inches came off the top and sides? Plenty… and more than enough to make a difference in both appearance and attitude.

Our hair sends a message to the world, whether we intend it to, or not. It can tell people whether you feel good, if you care about yourself, and even if you have some money. A good cut implies cleanliness, and attracts people to you. It could be just the spark someone needs to start life again… with self-respect, with friends, with an apartment, with a job, and before you know it … back into the community-at-large.

That’s why Marlene and her volunteers from Friends of Fairview Give Back keep coming back to New Visions.  “We come back because we want to make a difference and that takes persistence,” she reminds us. And besides, who knows where a good hair day will lead?