One of the first things youth notice when they walk into our employment centre is a barbershop chair and desk with haircutting tools. Aleks, our employment counsellor who assists youth to prepare applications and find work, is also a barber. He had the idea to provide a weekly barbershop when he saw that many of our youth had difficulty accessing quality haircuts.
Before a youth goes to an interview, Aleks feels it is especially important to have a confidence-boosting trim. “It’s more than a haircut,” he explains. “It’s about building self-esteem and learning the importance of presenting yourself well.”
Jonah, a youth from our shelter, struggles with severe mental health issues. He suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and he has developed a tick where he swings his arm and moves his head back and forth. His hair was long and unkempt. He shyly approached Aleks and asked for a cut.
When Aleks asked Jonah where he usually get his haircuts, he replied hesitantly, “I never go. I just can’t keep my head still.” Aleks asked him if he was able to anticipate when he needed to move his head. Jonah was able to say “stop” when he needed to move and “ready” when he was done. He was surprised and delighted that Aleks calmly accommodated him.
The haircut was a striking transformation. Afterwards, Jonah asked Aleks about how his day was going and then proudly joined the other youth to chat. He had been extremely withdrawn before and this was the most social Aleks had ever seen him. The trim, along with the caring exchange, let Jonah see himself as he once did before his health declined.
Because getting a haircut is very personal, it is an act of service and care that creates a different dynamic for Aleks to connect with youth. Youth open up to him like a confidant about their challenges, fears, hopes and goals. He is able to provide support and guidance when their trust and openness is uniquely strong.
Aleks’ barbershop is very popular and youth have shared with us that the sessions mean a great deal to them.