A fresh haircut provides a new perspective, a personal connection and a boost of self-confidence after leaving the salon. A local hair stylist volunteers his time and talents extending that same dignified experience to people in need at St. Vincent de Paul.
Ben Ko is a professional hair stylist who works at The Bespoke Salon in Scottsdale, Arizona, and travels Phoenix to cut hair for the homeless.
He has amassed over 35,000 followers on Instagram for his hair styling business, after starting his career in Arizona 17 years ago.
Ben always wanted to help, but never knew where to start, until one Christmas he grabbed his tools and set up shop on a downtown street corner.
“I plugged into the outlet I had on the bed of my truck and grabbed the first person on the corner,” Ko said. “I asked if he wanted a haircut, he said, ‘Yes.’ Two minutes later there was a line of people.”
After multiple haircuts on the street corner, a client of Ben’s who donated to SVdP recommended that he get in contact with the nonprofit to continue his cutting contributions.
Ben came to volunteer in the barbershop that is part of SVdP’s Resource Center for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. He’s volunteered there for two and a half years since and formed relationships with people who he would not have met outside of SVdP.
“I started doing this because I was looking for an outlet to share my craft and to cut hair for some clients I may not normally see in my shop,” he said. “I’ve met a great group of people and developed friendships through this. It’s really become a fun outlet for me, to do something I love to do, and I share that with other people.”
Ben aims to practice beauty and compassion in all his work and views volunteering at SVdP as an extension of his craft at the Scottsdale salon.
“I hope they like their hair when I am done,” Ben said. “That is what drives me to do what I do. I hope that people come here and leave happy.”
Jackie Solares, SVdP supervisor of homelessness prevention services, helps organize the tradition of cutting hair for people in need at SVdP, and she loves to see Ben volunteering.
Jackie, who first came to SVdP to cut hair before joining staff, is also a licensed barber and continues to invite students from vocational schools to cut hair for SVdP guests.
“I notice when Ben comes because he pays attention,” Jackie said. “I am sure he is very successful because of his people skills. He doesn’t just save those for his paying customers, he does that for people in need.”
The importance of having intimate human connections, especially with those going through homelessness, can make a difference in a person’s life, Jackie said. Haircut interactions can help provide them.
“I think for people who are experiencing homeless and don’t have their families, 15 or 20 minutes of your time can be the perfect gift,” Jackie said. “People who go and get their hair styled have a connection to their stylists and they are able to talk about small things.”
Ben brings those needed interactions as a stylist because he is a good listener, creative and brings a unique calm energy to the shop, Jackie said.
Experiencing the self-confidence which a person receives after a haircut, can launch new opportunities along with a new appearance for someone.
“Hair stylists and barbers in the time of depression were the only people that made money because people need to get their haircut,” Jackie said. “One of the ways hair stylists and barbers helped, was by making people look good so they can go get that job or feel better to function.
Jackie said cutting hair helps add to the overall community experience that SVdP aims to build.
“People need people, especially in Arizona, where it is so transient,” Jackie said.
Joel Rodger Kenneth, 46, received a haircut at SVdP after he visited the Phoenix campus, and overheard someone talking about the barbershop in the Resource Center.
Joel visits SVdP monthly to receive services such as clean clothes, a meal and a place to shower. Now he also visits to get a new haircut.
“It made me feel better, I was getting gray hairs,” Joel said. “I looked better. The process was perfect.”