By Hannah Stevens @Hannahshewans
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Videographer / director: Gerrit Messersmith
Producer: Hannah Stevens, Ruby Coote
Editor: Sonia Estal
After leaving an abusive relationship, Vanessa Howard was homeless for nearly two years and moved from shelter to shelter with her three children.
Now that she’s found her feet again, Vanessa, 48, from Tampa, Florida gives monthly free beauty treatments at her salon Giving Hands Beauty Salon to homeless women, domestic violence survivors and women fighting cancer.
Vanessa told Barcroft TV: “Some of the women that come here is never being called beautiful before, so with just the affirmation of calling them beautiful and just, you know, welcoming them with loving arms the walls begin to come down.
“They just leave here just transforming from the inside out.”
The mum-of-three has run the salon for three and a half years and treats up to seven women a month to a catered lunch, hair treatments, facials, a make over and manicures.
She said: “I came up with the idea for doing a free session for the salon through a vision that God had given me to start giving back once a month to homeless women who were broken as I was.
“I was homeless for almost two years and I had tried to commit suicide on several occasions. I became homeless through my children’s father.
“I had to leave that abusive relationship and so I left him, and that was the start of my homelessness.”
One of the salon’s homeless clients, Minde Short, 56, was terrified of allowing someone to cut her hair after having all of her cut off by an untrained hairdresser at a shelter.
She said: “One of the people there chopped all my hair off. I had really long beautiful hair. I was pretty devastated because it had taken me my whole life to grow my hair.
“I went through an actual panic attack when I sat down because I was reliving the nightmare of what I went through, and it took her to act with kindness and love help me through that panic attack before I could actually let her touch me.
“Because she took the time to let me talk to her about what happened, I was able to let her cut my hair, so I just want to say thank you very much for helping me.”
Vanessa’s daughters Sharde Brooks and Precious Stokes also help their mother with the free beauty days.
Sharde said: “What prompted me to be a part of Giving Hands Foundation and to help these women is where we came from, being homeless before.
“What I remember the most, is how people made you feel, how they treated you, like, you were less than and not equal to them.
“Just making a difference in that one person’s life is more than enough for me.”
Her sister Precious added: “My mom she would always talk about one day giving back to women that went through similar situations and to see, whatever their issues are, to see the actual salon and to see it in action is, you know, it’s life changing.”
Vanessa says 98 percent of the homeless women they have given beauty treatments have found jobs and homes after attending the Giving Hands Beauty Salon.
Minde added: “Considering that I have been feeling rather down, it put a little faith and hope back in me.
“I never heard of a salon helping people, in today’s society they would rather step over you than help you up off the street, and that’s the truth.”
Vanessa added: “The women when they come in, they come in with walls up, they come in broken, they come in also not knowing what to expect and so we greet them first of all with warm arms and just welcome them, making them feel loved.
“For me, it’s easy to love all these women because it’s a place that I come from.
“I just get overjoyed to see when women gain their confidence, gain their self esteem back and feel whole again.”
Find out more about the salon at: http://givinghandsfoundation.com