By Elsie Puig for TCAJOB
A catalyst for change can take many forms. For the homeless women sheltered at Union Gospel Mission, the catalyst is a simple haircut at Fellas Hair.
Korey Barber, owner of the Kennewick barbershop, approached UGM in December 2011 with a special offer.
She and her husband have a long history of being involved in community service projects at UGM. As part of her church’s youth group, she takes a group of middle school students on a regular basis to UGM to sort clothes, wrap presents and “whatever jobs they need us to do at the time.”
This time, however they wanted to do a little more. Every month, they offer the women of the mission everything from haircuts, wash, dye, hair styling to facial waxing, free of charge.
“We wanted a way to give back to the community,” said Barber. “Our clients are only men, and so we thought it would be nice if we were able to do this to help women.”
Most of the women at the mission have been victims of domestic violence, are homeless and “haven’t been able to afford salon treatment for a long time,” said Chariss Warner, a case manager at the women’s shelter.
“Fellas helping women” is the tagline guiding the Barber’s efforts.
For Barber and her team it’s not about any of the publicity their goodwill might garner. On the contrary, Barber and her team have taken great measures to respect the privacy of the women, Warner said.
“Fellas Hair has been phenomenal,” said Warner. “Our women need privacy.”
Fellas Hair, which is open weekdays at 10:00 a.m. and Saturdays at 9:00 a.m., has been opening the shop two hours earlier on a set day each month at 321 N. Columbia Center Blvd. in Kennewick exclusively to service eight to 10 women and their children from the Mission’s women’s shelter.
And the change can be transformative, said Barber, especially for the women’s self esteem.
“Their outlook completely changes,” said Barber. “They come in really guarded and not sure, it’s hard for them to believe we are doing this for free.”
At the end of the session, the women leave feeling better about themselves.
“When you look good, you feel good,” said Warner. “They’re also more motivated to seek employment.”
Warner said companies like Aeropostale and Chico’s have created clothing drives to donate to UGM, but Fellas Hair is one of the first local companies who have come forward to offer free services.
And the generosity has resulted in several success stories — women who have been able to find jobs and buy a home of their own, Warner said.
Jill, whose last name is not being used to protect her privacy, found shelter at UGM after losing her job caused her to become homeless. Jill said she felt “warmth” when she visited the barbershop to get her hair done. She said she now has more confidence to go out and find a job and in the future she would like to own her own business.
“It gives our women their humanity back,” said Warner. “When you are out on the street, you’re an object, you’re not a person anymore.”
At Fellas, Hair helping the women is all about teamwork. Barber pointed out that the experience is equally gratifying for her stylists and strengthens the bonds between her employees.
“It’s just as satisfying to see my employees being a part of that experience,” said Barber. “It really makes them feel that they are part of a team.”
She encourages local businesses to reap the benefits of being involved and donate their time to a special cause.
“We need to keep our local economy strong and in order to do that we need happy and motivated employees,” Barber said.
Warner hopes other local companies come forward and offer to partner with the mission. Although UGM tries to remain self-sustaining, Warner said they depend on charities for essentials and supplies, even for things that boost the women’s self-confidence, like a simple haircut or dye.
The mission can shelter 32 women at a time, but it doesn’t have the space it needs, Warner said.
“We are filled above capacity,” she said.
The mission turns away two families weekly, on average.
“It feels good to make a difference in someone’s life,” said Barber, “it can be as simple as a haircut, and then they can go and find a job or conquer any problems they might have.”