March 2009

What is Our Real Calling?

By Matthew Fairfax, James Alan Salon, Shoreline, Wash.

Sometimes you wonder if things happen for a reason… people chalk it up to coincidence, but if you are the one involved, the one whose life is touched, you can’t dismiss it that easily.

Several weeks ago we were approached by civic-minded community members asking if the hairdressers in our salon would be willing to cut hair for the residents of Tent City.

[Tent City is a group of homeless adults who share cooking and bathing facilities and sleep in tents. Most of the residents have jobs and are temporarily in need of housing. Their length of stay varies, but many residents stay only a few months or less. The typical stay is about six weeks, but there is no limit, and persons can reside in Tent City for as long as they have need.]

I’m ashamed to admit now, my initial reaction was, “Homeless people in the salon, really?”

And then I thought, “Will my team even want to participate in this event?” I forwarded the email on to Keri who heads up a lot of our Community Outreach work and asked what she thought.

Without hesitation she said of course we should do it. We’ve done homeless teens, why not Tent City. And with that, the ball was rolling.

Within a week, we had our former co-owner, Keith McGlashan coming out of retirement for the day, along with 11 other team members, front desk team members and even an esthetician was ready to participate.

Shoreline Top Foods gave us muffins, Starbucks sent over coffee and treats, and Salon Services & Supplies NW donated Brocato shampoo to send home with the participants.

As we prepared for the event, many of the clients verbalized some of the same internal feelings I had felt. Surprisingly, some verbalized what most of us only thought: “What about lice?” and “Should we be worried about theft?” Amazing what fear of the unknown can conjure up in our minds.

All of that disappeared in the first five minutes of the morning. The first shuttle of Tent City residents showed up just before 10 a.m. They came in saying, “Thank you so much for doing this - it means so much to us.”

One after another these unfortunate people expressed their gratitude to the team. I was hooked.

Then a lady named Faye came. She walked in with her hair matted and looking as though she had just woken up. She took the cup of coffee offered, sat down and drank in silence, her head bowed.

Her fellow Tent City neighbors kidding her, trying to wake her up. Eventually, she was ready to go with Andrea to get her hair done, refusing to have her picture being taken.

Forty minutes later, out came Faye, radiant with silky smooth hair. The reaction in the lobby was awesome. Friends, stylist and Barb, the coordinator of the event, collectively ooo’d and awed over her hair. And the tears flowed down Faye’s cheeks as she hugged Barb.

At that moment it wasn’t just Faye who was leaking tears. I was reminded once again in this business we are not just doing hair; we are touching lives and building esteem.

This wasn’t the only emotional experience of the day. Time and again, the grateful Tent City residents left with a smile on their face and feeling just a little bit lighter. And each time my team felt gratitude for the opportunity to give back to our community.

It seems so easy to dismiss those members of Tent City as people who have chosen to live that way; for the rest of us to turn away or pretend it is not there. It’s uncomfortable to have to face things we don’t understand. I am so grateful for the experience I had that day that gave me a new perspective on my fellow citizens and new friends of Tent City.

Several years ago while talking with my minister, I told her I had always felt called to the ministry but for some reason just never really pursued it. She asked me, “What makes you think you are not already doing your ministry?”

Today, I get what she meant. Every day, my team and I minister to people. We don’t do hair, we touch lives and for that I am grateful.

Reprinted with permission from the Brocato February 2009 Newsletter.