Volunteer Spotlight: Daystation Haircuts

Posted On August 8, 2013 By | 1 Comment on Volunteer Spotlight: Daystation Haircuts

You’re probably pretty familiar with the concept of the haircut. Everyone needs them from time to time. I didn’t think there were any more surprises to be had from a visit to the stylist. Sure, every once in a while you walk away with a bad haircut, but the experience itself is fairly predicable.

You sit down, explain the cut you want, and have a little chat with the man or woman trimming your bangs. And indeed this was much the same at the Daystation, a space for members of our community who are homeless to connect to services and shelter during the day. As it turns out, the stories these men and women were sharing weren’t so different either. What was different was the woman wielding the scissors, and speaking with her about why she cuts hair is when the predictable routine stopped being so predictable.

Jenni Demont has been cutting hair at the Daystation 10 a.m. – noon every other Wednesday since February. On a really busy day, she’s had as many as eight guests sit in her chair for a cut. She sets up in an alcove off the kitchen, sandwiched between the fish tank and the side door, and carries her combs, clips, and scissors in a narrow plastic container.

Jenni first got involved with COTS as a Community College of Vermont intern, shadowing Daystation staff on intakes, but she’s become a regular volunteer since her internship ended. She makes her living as a stylist, but she’s returning to school in the fall to realize a creative vision of helping people through a combination of hair care and social work.

“I don’t feel like cutting hair is doing enough for the person, that’s why I decided to go into social services,” Jenni said. “I don’t feel like this deserves a paycheck because I’m giving them a smile when they look in the mirror, but it’s not helping all the other things that keep them down in their life.”

After watching her cut the hair of four Daystation guests, I can see why she might feel that way. The guests were sharing a lot of personal details during the cuts — everything from childhood memories to personal family dynamics to past and current traumas.  It was particularly troubling to hear one woman speak of a malicious incident when she was sleeping on the street that left her with severely damaged hair.

Jenni seemed accustomed to these kinds of personal conversations, though, and later said her salon clients confide private struggles with her on a regular basis. “I get satisfaction out of being able to help people. We all get happy from it, I guess.”

“My long-term goal is to be able to open a salon where I can give free services to those in need. It’s not really realistic to have a free salon, but it is realistic to find open doors to volunteer, and then I’m going to school to be a social worker.”

Jenni has big dreams, and she’s optimistic about what’s possible in the future: “My target population are those in need, and if I go into case management, I think it would be really awesome if I could spend the first half an hour of the appointment when I’m getting information about the person just offering them a free haircut.”

Jenni does wonder what a balance between social work and hair care would look like, though. When people sit in her chair, they feel comfortable sharing their personal stories, and she admits that there’s still an important question that needs to be answered: “If I were to combine the two, would people still spill their hearts out?”

She doesn’t know the answer yet, but she’s not too worried about how it will all play out: “Maybe I’ll never be able to [combine social work and hair care], maybe I’ll always do social work full-time and just work in the salon on the weekends, but for me personally, I have to keep my goals because that motivates me to keep going at my current realistic targets.”

In the meantime, we’re happy to have Jenni volunteering at the COTS Daystation. And the guests are pretty happy about it, too.

Categories: COTS Shelters, Homelessness, Volunteers
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One response to “Volunteer Spotlight: Daystation Haircuts”

  1. Barbara Anne Trowbridge says:

    Jenni is already doing “social work” by listening to her clients. We all need the lift of looking nice and a good hair cut is one way to make eveyone feel great! I thank her for doing for people what I can’t. Keep up the good work! BA