It's an old stereotype that women talk incessantly while they're at the beauty salon. But, in Tanisha Akinloye's experience, it's a stereotype based on truth.
The Trumbull resident opened a salon in 2008 and attracted a clientele of women who saw the spot as a safe place to share their deepest troubles. This wasn't idle gossip they were unloading as they got their hair cut and styled, Akinloye said. These women were talking about real pain and real problems.
"Some of these women were going through divorces," she said. "Some had AIDS and were dying. They would come in and say 'Just make me look good.' It got to the point where I started to feel selfish. I wanted to give back."
About a year ago, she started Empowering Through Beauty, a service through which she and a team of volunteers provide salon services to women at homeless shelters throughout the region. Originally called Beauties of Charity, the program offers almost everything you'd get in a beauty parlor -- hair, makeup, facials and nails. "I also teach them how to maintain their styles, so when they go to look for jobs, they'll know what to do," Akinloye said.
So far, she's worked with a handful of shelters in the region, including Bridgeport Rescue Mission, Spooner House in Shelton and Malta House in Norwalk. In the coming months, she's hoping to expand to programs in Stamford, Westport and New Haven.
There's a connection between looking good and feeling better about yourself, Akinloye said. She saw that in the women she served in her beauty salon, and she sees it in the women at the shelters. "They love, enjoy and want what we offer," she said.
Eventually, Akinloye said, her goal is to offer Empowering Through Beauty at shelters in every town and city in Connecticut. However, she needs help -- in the form of monetary contributions and volunteer staff -- to make that happen. Right now, she largely depends on the assistance of volunteers from the Paul Mitchell Beauty School and Cosmetology School in Danbury and North Haven. But she's always looking for more people to help serve her cause.
Tony Vellucci, development officer at Spooner House, said Empowering Through Beauty is a hit at the shelter -- though it took some getting used to. Spooner began offering Empowering Through Beauty services in October and Vellucci said there was initially some apprehension from residents. "People are always nervous to go to a new stylist," he said.
Vellucci recalled one woman who was anxious about having Akinloye give her a new look. But, after her first session, she became a fan of the salon program. "She was walking around, so proud and so happy," Vellucci said.
Like Akinloye, Vellucci said good grooming is intimately linked with self-worth. A lot of the residents at the shelters are discouraged and unhappy. Something as simple as getting a new haircut or learning makeup skills they can use on their next job interview can mean a lot to Spooner's clients, Vellucci said. "Sometimes, a good, nice, new haircut is like a suit of armor protecting you against the world," he said. "(Akinloye) really is making people feel better through beauty."
For more information, visit www.empoweringthroughbeauty.org or call 203-767-9264 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 203-767-9264 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 203-767-9264 end_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting or 888-622-8977 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 888-622-8977 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 888-622-8977 end_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting.