Kathleen Murphy (KM): Meet Rebecca Beardsley (RB)!
KM: Rebecca, I heard about you through Next Door. I also saw your Jefferson Award video, which tells your story. Can you retell the moment it hit you that you could start with what you do best – cut hair?
RB: Yes, but first, thank you for this interview! I appreciate your creativity in so many ways, and applaud your desire to connect within your community and support my work. In some way, I feel my life has been leading to this moment all of my life and clearly I feel a real sense of mission to do what I can to alleviate others suffering. I always thought there was something more grand than cutting hair, and yet when I wanted to drop out of beauty school, my instructor said, “Stay with it, you’ll do well at it.” In the beginning, hairstyling felt like a job, but at some point I decided to completely throw myself into my career, to become the best that I could be by styling hair for photographs, New York Fashion Week, traveling the country to educate others to be the best they could be. I was at the pinnacle of my career, or so I thought. Something still gnawed at me. I knew that there was more to hairstyling than cutting hair, but what?
It became clear that I needed to be working on my own, so I opened ShineForth studio with the support of my clients. Not long after that, I became keenly aware of the increasing number of unhoused people in my neighborhood. I had to do something. I didn’t have money to give, so I asked myself, what could I give? Haircuts! Haircuts would be my act of compassion. After a conversation with a client, Haircuts with Heart was born.
KM: What is your mission?
RB: To support the underserved communities in the Bay Area to recover a sense of identity by providing haircuts, manicures, and makeup services at monthly Haircuts with Heart Pop Up Salon events.
KM: What is your vision?
RB: I envision creating a personal care program for our underserved that then could be replicated around the country. For now, I see creating team leaders that can lead events in different cities, every day of the week.
KM: What immediate change did you see in people?
RB: Through my 30 plus years of styling hair for thousands of people, it is that touching of the head that is a very personal, intimate experience. While facing a guest in the mirror, a guest who has lost touch with the most basic of self-care, touching them, consulting with them as I would any client, asking what they would like, and offering my skill, the impact is immediate. Through conversation, or not, they are allowed to be, and as their hair comes off, they begin to see themselves again.
KM: What about yourself?
RB: For me, this work has demystified people who are living on the street. Before, I would pass them and not want to look, and now I want to give them a flyer and tell them where we will be for haircuts. The walls come down. The discovery that “They” becomes “Us”, and our interdependency becomes clear.
KM: How has Haircuts with Heart changed for that first event to now?
RB: When we first began, I called on the people I knew in the industry, and cold called stylists to come out and help. Now, we field weekly emails and calls from organizations and volunteers to support our work in the community. People want to give. Everybody has a skill set that they can contribute. Whether is is bookkeeping, music making, writing, share your gift. Organizations yearn for that gift that only you can give.
In terms of the work, we have 19 partners in the community, and we are growing. In the beginning, our work was simple. Now we bring everything to make it a salon from styling stations, tablecloths, mirrors, hot towels, and personal hygiene kits and bags. We are literally growing beyond the capacity of the trunk of my car and looking for a van! We want to do so much more.
KM: What is your biggest challenge?
RB: Connecting with people who would like to join our board and who have the wherewithal to volunteer their time and who have the expertise that will help us meet the need, like social media planning and posting, community outreach, volunteer coordination, on-site management, event planning, and fundraising.
KM: And the greatest moment?
RB: At a recent event, a woman kept coming to the door of our event and observing, but was very shy. She was very interested in what we were doing, but couldn’t get herself to walk in. I kept inviting her.
Finally, she stepped through the threshold and like lightening, she sat in the stylist chair. The stylist could braid, and she wanted braids. She knew exactly what she wanted. When the stylist was putting the finishing touches on her top knot, another stylist across the table said, “You look like the queen you are.” She burst into tears. The stylist came over and gave her a hug and her braider comforted her. And this sort of experience happens all the time.
KM: You have a network of volunteers. How did you create this powerhouse of professionals?
RB: My team was created by networking, calling people I know in the industry, and social media. I believe that are lots of people that want to give, but they don’t know how, or it seems daunting to try to organize. I try to make it as easy as possible for busy stylists, barbers, manicurists and makeup artists to show up. I bring everything they need.
KM: Can you describe for us how you create the Pop Up Salon at a location?
RB: We bring everything to our guests. Tablecloths, mirrors, supplies, warm towels. We set up a table for cutting with two wardrobe mirrors turned on their side, so you get a horizontal mirror. We set four chairs around the cutting table and plug in all our tools. Then we have another table for cutting supplies, another table for hygiene kits for our guests, and if we are offering manicures that day, we set up a manicure table. We also would like to start offering games and art supplies to engage with our guests while we are on site. We bring community to them.
KM: How can people help you?
RB: We appreciate individual donations that can be made via our website www.haircutswithheart.org. One event costs $1400 so every donation helps tremendously. Local businesses can sponsor specific events that are all listed on our website. People can host a fundraiser at their home or place of business. Many employers also have matching gift programs to strengthen the causes that their employees support.
KM: What else would you like to share?
RB: Come out and volunteer your time. We are creating a volunteer program for non-stylists to assist at events. Your readers can sign up on our website.
KM: Thank you Rebecca. You inspire us!