A haircut may not seem like a big deal, but for Jody's clients, it's magical.

Jade Jordan wanted to put a smile back on her mom's face.

After 34-year-old Jordan lost her job, she and her mother fell behind on payments. They were both evicted from their Newark, New Jersey, apartment, and had to take refuge in a temporary shelter.

"Day by day, I watched my mom's morale just kind of [fade]," Jordan told me by phone. "Every day she was saying, 'Man, my hair looks a mess, my hair looks terrible.'"


She knew she needed to do something to boost her mom's spirits while she looked for a new job. "I was thinking, you know what? It would be great if there was a program that existed that helps women out that are in shelters ... with beautifying themselves."

She was in luck: a Google search led Jordan to Jody Wood, visual artist and founder of Beauty in Transition.

Jody Wood with volunteer barber Jerry. Photo by Nicola Benizzi.

Wood believes that providing beauty services helps folks with more than just looking pretty.

And she's right. Roughly half a million people across the country are homeless. Without permanent housing, day-to-day life can be a challenge for anyone. Beauty, then, might seem like an afterthought. But appearances can play a critical role. Studies have shown that prospective employers put a lot of weight on personal grooming and attire.

That's why Wood created Beauty in Transition — a traveling salon that provides services like hair washes, cuts, and coloring for those living in homeless shelters.

Beauty in Transition trim. Photo by Nicola Benizzi.

Beauty in Transition got its start in the basement of the Lawrence Community Shelter in Lawrence, Kansas, in 2006. "I refurbished a room inside [the] shelter ... for the residents there," Wood told me in a phone interview. "It became much more than a salon — it was a place to hang out and get away from the rest of the crowd." She spent over six months there, documenting stories, cutting and dyeing hair.

She wanted to change the way homelessness was perceived, all while bringing together people from different backgrounds.

"People who are homeless and people who are hairstylists, they don't necessarily get an opportunity to come together very often," she says.

It might seem like a small thing, to cut or style someone's hair. But it can have a real impact.

In a video detailing the experience, one woman described how a haircut provided a sense of hope during a difficult time:

"It restored my self-esteem. It gave me a little more hope that I could get through this. ... Image is important. Not only my own self-image, but how I present myself to others ... how I want to be seen and how I want to see myself."


A project participant checking out her new 'do with stylist Abbie Klenzman. Photo by Nicola Benizzi.

The best part? Wood has been able to take Beauty in Transition on the road.

In 2013, the RedLine Contemporary Art Center invited Wood to bring the project to Denver. With the help of Aveda volunteer stylists and a truck donated by Denver bARTer collective, her mobile hair salon was born.

Since then, Wood has been on a roll. After her time in Denver, Wood received support from A Blade of Grass and the Brooklyn Arts Council to bring the project to New York.

With funding in place, Jody decided she needed the perfect vehicle.

"I found a guy selling his old Chevrolet Grumman Step Van in Long Island," she said. The 1975 Chevy was far from its final form, but a month of construction help from an old boss and volunteers from the local Home Depot prepared the salon for the streets.

Beauty in Transition mobile salon! Inside of the van before and after renovations. Photo by Nicola Benizzi.

Jody is quick to point out that it's not her role, but rather the interaction between the participants and volunteer stylists that really makes a difference.

One of those people is New York City stylist Jose Montanez.

"It has nothing to do with makeover; it's more about self-esteem, and I think that's the most important part," Montanez explained in a short film about the project. "It's 'yes,' you look at yourself in the mirror, but that's the beginning of it. The rest of it is how you feel all the time, and I think that's what we're really trying to instill in them here."

Volunteer stylist Jose Montanez. Photo by Nicola Benizzi.

Part of the magic, said Wood, is how unexpected the experience is.

"It's almost like a portal," she said. "You walk into the back of a truck and you're in this salon. So I think it's used to transport people outside of their everyday experience. Even though it's happening on ... a very small scale, it means a lot to people who are a part of it."

Beauty in Transition participants post-haircut. Photo by Nicola Benizzi.

It meant a lot to Jade Jordan, who was inspired by Wood's salon.

Jade, who has been corresponding with Wood, is now planning to create a pop-up version of the project at a salon in Newark for people like her mom. As she says, "If you get too serious or get too downtrodden, then it can change your life for the worse. But if you find things to be happy about, to laugh about, to smile about, you can face life and its challenges a little brighter."

Already, Beauty in Transition has helped hundreds of people, and there are plans to take the project to even more locations.

With the help of the New York Council for the Humanities and the Esopus Foundation, Wood will be bringing a salon to an abandoned storefront in Kingston, New York, this January.

Watch a short video about the Beauty in Transition program:

More
True
Dignity Health old
LUSH

Handmade cosmetics company Lush is putting its money where its mouth is and taking a bold step for climate change action.

On September 20 in the U.S. and September 27 in Canada, Lush will shut the doors of its 250 shops, e-commerce sites, manufacturing facilities, and headquarters for a day, in solidarity with the Global Climate Strike taking place around the world. Lush is encouraging its 5000+ employees "to join this critical movement and take a stand until global leaders are forced to face the climate crisis and enact change."

Keep Reading Show less
Planet
Photo by Annie Bolin on Unsplash

Recent tragic mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton have sparked a lot of conversation and action on the state level over the issue of gun control. But none may be as encouraging as the most recent one, in which 145 CEOs signed a letter urging the U.S. Senate to take action at their level.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

The fine folks at Forbes are currently falling all over themselves trying to clean up the mess they created by publishing their 2019 list of 100 Most Innovative Leaders.

The problem: The list included 99 men and one woman. For those not so good with the math, that means according to Forbes, only 1% of the country's most innovative leaders are female.

Have you ever watched a movie that's so abysmally bad that you wonder how it ever even got made? Where you think, "Hundreds and hundreds of people had to have been directly involved in the production of this film. Did any of them ever think to say, 'Hey, maybe we should just scrap this idea altogether?"

That's how it feels to see a list like this. So how did Forbes come up with these results?

Keep Reading Show less
Innovation

There's something delicious and addicting about those trendy recipe videos circulating online. You've seen them before: the quick and beautiful play-by-plays of mouthwatering dishes you wish you were eating at this very moment.

The recipes seem so simple and magical and get you thinking, "Maybe I can make that five-cheese bacon lasagna tonight." And before you know it, you're at the store loading up on Colby-Monterey Jack (or is that just me?).

For some families, though, the ingredients and final product look a little different. As part of Hunger Action Month, the hunger-relief organization Feeding America is using our obsession with cooking videos to highlight the reality many food-insecure families face when they sit down for dinner: hunger, and no food in sight.

By putting a twist on the bite-sized food videos all over the internet, they hope to raise awareness that hunger is an unacceptable reality for too many families.

Keep Reading Show less
Family
True
Gates Foundation: The Story of Food