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Once Destitute Herself, This Salon Owner Pampers Homeless Women

Once a month, Vanessa Howard offers free haircuts, facials, and manicures to homeless women and their children at her salon in Tampa, Florida. "I know the struggle," she says. "That's why I give."

Editor’s Note: In times like these, when we are wondering if our country can heal its divisions, it’s good to hear about people who have dedicated themselves to doing good, especially to those most in need. Here, we are re-publishing a popular story that showcases an impressive example of paying it forward. 


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, who provides grooming care for the homeless.

Two decades ago, Vanessa (now 64) 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.

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Sheer (and Shear) Goodness

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.”

A version of this story was originally published in December 2017. 

By Nina Malkin


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