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Staff Photo by Katie Lucia
Jeff Thomas holds still while cosmetology instructor Kathy Estudillo describes how to cut his hair to student Vivian Grissom. Each month Barstow Community College cosmetology students visit Desert Manna homeless shelter to cut hair for residents and staff.

Cutting with care: College students cut hair for homeless

BARSTOW • It had been six months since Jeff Thomas had his thick, white hair cut. He preferred his hair to always be short and neat, but the now homeless 50-year-old would have to give up a meal or the day’s cigarettes to pay for a barber shop cut.

“I wouldn’t go hungry or anything,” he emphasizes. “But I’m not living fat city.”

His eyes became red as he described his gratitude. Now, he doesn’t look like a slob, he said quietly.

“It’s pretty embarrassing,” Thomas said. “I’m 50 years old and I couldn’t pay to get my hair cut.”

As he told the story of how he became homeless for the second time in his life, Barstow Community College cosmetology student Vivian Grissom listened attentively while trimming inches off his wavy locks.

Every month cosmetology students from BCC visit the Desert Manna homeless shelter to cut hair for about 25 Desert Manna residents and employees. The program, approaching its second year, gives students cutting experience while benefiting those who can’t afford hair cuts, organizers say.

“I like the feeling of giving back to the community and helping people who can’t help themselves because we’ve all been there,” Grissom said.

That’s how she ended up in Barstow, she said, because she couldn’t afford the rent in Los Angeles.

“We’re all here for different reasons,” she said.

“Thank you,” Thomas said, touched by her understanding.

Steven Agcaoili, Desert Manna supervisor, said many of the visitors of the homeless shelter wouldn’t get their hair cut if it weren’t for free.

“When they were done with their hair cut — the smiles on their faces were unbelievable,” Agcaoili said. “The joy of getting a hair cut ... because they’ve gone so long without a haircut.”

Having untrimmed hair not only affects a resident’s ability to obtain employment but can mar an already damaged self-worth, Desert Manna Executive Director Sheri Randolph said.

“For men, if your hair is long and unsightly then it’s going to be more difficult for people to take you seriously as an employee or just around town,” Randolph said. “It’s kind of a fact of life.”

Thomas described how he wanted his hair cut to Grissom and her instructor, Kathy Estudillo — short on the sides and thinner in the back, with sort of a tapered look to it.

“So, you want a distinguished look?” Estudillo asked.

“Yes,” Thomas said. “A distinguished look.”

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