Laura Reed has found her fulfillment in helping others. After going through a divorce and feeling a gap in her own life, she reached out to the homeless community and finally found the missing piece.
You can find her on her days off, on any given street in Frederick and the surrounding areas, pulling out a stool and her equipment, giving people a fresh start. A mother of two from Mount Airy, MD and a hairdresser in Rockville, she began her campaign of helping others six years ago by providing free haircuts for the homeless. This wasn’t her first experience with volunteer work, but fate seemed to point her in this direction. When she first began looking for opportunities to help others, she reached out to organizations and establishments that aid Autistic individuals. She ran into roadblocks with the administrators who didn’t understand what she was offering, and she wasn’t receiving call-backs. After dealing with her frustration at these circumstances, she read an article about Mark Bustos in New York City, who was taking his one day a week off to go out on the streets of NYC to provide cuts to those in need. That article was what she needed. She’d found her calling.
As she points out, people who are in these situations have a difficult time communicating with people around them, applying for jobs, or doing what is necessary to put their lives on track; something as simple as a haircut and taking the time to have a conversation with them may be just what they needed that day. “I’m trying to build awareness for those who are less fortunate and I always tell people, every one of us is unique”. To that end, Laura has started taking down the stories of those people she speaks to and posting photos from their time together on her Instagram page. Whether you’re reading about 20-something Antoine from Florida and how he ended up homeless in D.C., or Katie, whose 2 young daughters asked for their mother to be taken care of instead of them, reading the stories Laura shares will humanize the homeless; the people behind the faces that we may not necessarily notice on the street.
What has been the hardest part of your experience?
“Getting kicked out.” Surprisingly, Laura has had more of a difficult time dealing with law enforcement than with the homeless community. Her work is done on any sidewalk where she finds people in need, but she has been asked to leave multiple times by local officers. She actually finds that it’s easier to do the work when she’s taken trips into larger cities, rather than in smaller, suburban areas. However, she’s found that after approaching people and making their acquaintance, she’s had a very positive response from those who’ve been displaced; they are generally welcoming, appreciative, and willing to share their stories.
Why the homeless?
While she has never experienced homelessness, Laura describes how she spent a period of her teenage life in a program for at-risk teenagers, which taught her how people can end up in a situation where they feel desolate and hopeless. When asked how people respond to her offering her service, Laura replied that “sometimes all people need is a… hello.” She recognizes that, for someone who is living on the street and not necessarily feeling the best about themselves, a fresh haircut and exposure to another person can help their self-esteem tremendously to help them take on their battles. “What I’m able to provide is so much more than a haircut,” she said.
What has surprised you about your experience?
“How many people have taken an interest.” While this started out for her as a way to find fulfillment and to be able to give to those in need, she has been delighted to find that her work has inspired others. She’s found herself as a center of several news pieces, and has had both friends and strangers alike ask her for advice on how to become more charitable in their own lives. “If I can help restore some humanity to this world by being an example, then that’s a surprising bonus”.
You inspire us – who inspires you?
Laura replied, without hesitation, “my daughter”. Her 17 year-old daughter, Heather Reed, is inspiring because she shows such selflessness at such a young age and is passionate about helping others, both at school and in the community. Her other inspiration… the man whose own act of charity gave her the wherewithal to start her project: Mark Bustos. She is following in his example and hoping to give other people the same sort of inspiration that he gave her.
What advice would you give someone who wants to make a difference, but doesn’t know where or how to start?
“Find your passion”. For Laura, as an established hairdresser, this was something she could easily pick up. She has also been able to sponsor clothing drives out of her salon in Rockville. Once she’d realized that she could give using talents that she loved, the rest fell into place. Everyone has their own abilities and gifts, and finding them is half the battle.
“This was the sweetest story! I was busy cutting and these kids were waiting patiently for over an hour to receive haircuts. They were jumping around playing with a spinner toy they were sharing. I was running out of time unfortunately and they knew I could do one more haircut. It was very hard to have to pick between the two kids so while I was finishing my cut before them they came up with a plan. They said we want our mom to get a haircut because our dad can pay for ours. What was so remarkable to me was that at the age they are respecting and putting their mother first. Katie their mom has been homeless and living in shelters for 8 months. She lost her job due to a DWI and then ended up with a record for assault trying to protect her young daughter. People don’t realize how easy it is to become homeless. When you’re trying to stay on top and already struggling and then you have series of events its very easy to slip into that. I took both kids aside and told them how proud I was for what they had done for their mother and how special it makes them. Not many kids would think to do that.”