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Vanessa Howard’s Very Good Hair Days

Next Tribe haircare homeless


Maybe we humans are vain, but it’s hard to feel good when we know our grooming is not up to par. Perhaps no one understands that as deeply as Vanessa Howard, owner of Tampa’s Giving Hands Hair Salon.

Two decades ago, Vanessa (now 62) was a single mom escaping domestic violence — and contemplating suicide. With a mere $1.75 to her name, she pulled herself together, gathered her daughters and went searching for a place to live. She met with a landlord who saw something special in Vanessa; he took a chance and rented her an apartment. “He was like, ‘I feel like you should have this place,'” she recalls.

From that moment on, “I found hope and restoration,” Vanessa says. To make ends meet, she started picking up jobs here and there at local hair salons. She learned her craft and fast forward to today: She now has her own thriving business — which she named Giving Hands for good reason. Once a month, Vanessa and her five daughters, who all proudly work alongside her, offer free haircuts (as well as facials and manicures) to homeless women and their children.

“I just wanted to pay it forward,” Vanessa says. And while a new ‘do and nice nails may look pretty, Vanessa’s pro bono beauty treatments are more than skin deep. They help her clients — some 275 and counting — feel compassion and rediscover their self-worth during troubled times. “I believe that we should use what we’ve been through to help others,” Vanessa says simply. “I know the struggle. That’s why I give.”

Nina Malkin

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