Barber Anthony Cymerys is retired, but he still wields his clippers on a highly select clientele, for a price. His customers are members of the homeless community or those experiencing tough times, and his fee? One hug per haircut. You can catch him every Wednesday in Hartford, Connecticut, playing his trade in the heart of Bushnell Park.
In his Huffington Post profile, he discusses what led him to start offering free haircuts. Like a lot of older adults, after retirement, he found himself at loose ends. He was inspired one day by a sermon in church on homelessness, thinking that he could put his job skills and years of experience to a good cause. Once a week for more than twenty years, he brings down his tools along with a battery and inverter to power his clippers, and sets to work on whoever is willing to trade a hug for some time in the barber’s chair.
The haircutting sessions dovetail neatly with free meals provided with a nearby church, giving his clients a chance to clean up and get some food in the same spot, and they illustrate what can happen when communities come together to provide homeless services. Many members of the homeless community, as well as people between jobs who are struggling to find work, find it difficult to be accepted socially because of their appearance. They may not have the funds to get haircuts, dress well, and take other measures to make themselves presentable for job interviews and other opportunities.
Individuals like Cymerys, along with social justice groups, provide direct services to help people access better nutrition, clean clothes for interviews, haircuts, and more so they can have a chance at getting up off their feet. In some cities, these services are also coordinated with government-run housing, medical services programs, and more to help people who need a little more assistance than their community alone can provide. The delicate balance between state and privately-provided social services illustrates a growing tension in the United States as the responsibility of caring for the most vulnerable is increasingly thrust on communities rather than being taken up by the state.
For people like Anthony Cymerys, a little direct service goes a long way. He helps out his community, has a chance to get out of the house, and, critically, makes homeless people in Hartford feel like someone’s on their side and ready to help out. His service also sets a fantastic example of a concrete way in which volunteers can help homeless people, and the hug at the end seals the deal; it might seem like a paltry price to ask, but for people who are used to being shunned, a moment of human contact like a hug is an empowering affirmation.
He says he does his work out of love, like many volunteers with faith-based backgrounds, and you could think of him as the forefront of an army of love ready to take over the world.
We raise our hats to you, “Joe the barber!”
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