Cutting a break
Local cosmetologist Monique Woods is giving free haircuts to guests at the Ashland winter shelter. She and her friend, Maxfield Angel, set up two chairs Sunday night in the Presbyterian Church to provide hair washes and cuts during the hour of socializing and dinner before bed.
"I'm just there to help," Woods said. "This is what I'm supposed to be doing right now in my life."
Woods said the guests have been grateful to receive this type of care they don’t usually get.
"Everyone is there for a different reason and they get to share their story with me just like any other client in a chair in my salon," Woods said. "Just getting to sit down and be taken care of is a great human interaction. This job is super personal if you think about it, getting to touch someone's hair and talk to them."
Shelter volunteer Dalya Ralston, with some enlisted help, sought to photograph these individuals before and after their haircuts to provide them with a portrait of themselves. But many shelter guests did not want their picture taken.
Wally Beckwith sat down for his haircut after playing a song on the piano.
“Sometimes you get to where you feel like a tumbleweed and look like one, too,” Beckwith said. “Funds normally go to other places like trying to find bus fare.”
He chatted with Woods as she trimmed his hair, and then he bestowed upon her one of his famous origami flowers on a wooden stick.
Ralston and her friend, Jean Francois, both longtime photographers, snapped away after Beckwith said he didn’t mind the cameras.
Ralston said her goal was to capture some great photos and then give them to the individual to send to loved ones or use for employment.
“Through photography we are offering an opportunity for the guest of the shelter to see themselves in new ways: their uniqueness and dignity,” Ralston said. “It makes it tangible in the moment for them.”
She said she wants to share her photos with the community to inspire them to volunteer.
“Photography is an art that allows people to see and be seen,” Ralston said. “We also hope to use images and video to share with the wider public so that those of us in this community that are often passed by can really be seen.”
She said there have been winter nights with no food to give to the guests and she knows the community can do better. And that is the inspiration she hopes to invoke — involvement.
“I think there’s a real opportunity for this community here in Ashland for opening our hearts and eyes to other people in our community,” Ralston said. “And that by doing so we can all lighten the load by volunteering, by contributing and by supporting local government that is making more things possible for people who have found themselves in this situation to rise again and become integrated in their own lives and the community.”
Francois has traveled the world as a photographer and cinematographer. He’s shot for National Geographic and worked as a conflict photographer in Africa.
He said professionals with whom he’s worked often focused on the negative sides of the story.
“It’s good sometimes to focus on the positive and to see the beauty in it,” Francois said. “It’s kind of the same here.”
Woods and Angel both graduated from Imani Institute within the last couple of months. Woods now works at the Four Oaks Day Spa in Central Point as one of her four jobs.
She said her schedule is quite hectic, but when she’s asked to help out at the shelter, she makes it happen.
She said she’s grateful that she was able to earn her certification and land a job right out of school, and so she wants to give back to her community.
“I have been blessed with this ability and blessed with the jobs I’ve gotten and that’s where I find the energy and motivation,” Woods said.
Woods said she saw a posting for a cosmetologist to work at the Salvation Army she passes on her way to work and although that role didn’t work out, she found this one in the process.
She said she was also inspired by Shirley Raine’s Instagram account @Beauty2TheStreetz. Raine’s Instagram is filled with pictures of her and friends providing showers, meals and makeovers to vulnerable individuals on Skid Row, L.A.’s largest stretch of homeless.
She said Raine works with up to 400 people on Saturdays.
“What an easy way for me to give back,” Wood said. “For me it’s just a few hours.”
“People are super grateful,” Woods said. “I’ve learned some really amazing things from these people.”
Sunday night coordinator Alex Reid said the shelter season has gone well so far.
“It’s a new system we have and what I hear a lot of is that people feel safe and more relaxed,” Reid said. “Forty percent of our guests are women, last year it was 25 percent.”
According to Kristin Dilling-Conand, who helped facilitate the haircuts, police calls are down 92 percent from last year.
The winter shelter still has about a month left.
To get connected with a volunteer opportunity for homeless services in Ashland, contact Options for Helping Residents of Ashland at 541-631-2235 or see its website, helpingashland.org/. Or contactlnfo@WinterShelters.comor 702-518-8756 for more information about the shelter and volunteering.
Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at email@example.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.
(March 13: Story updated to correct the name of the overnight host who helped facilitate the haircuts, Kristin Dilling-Conand.)