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By Nicole Villalpando

You slip into the shampoo chair, and instantly you are transported to place of relaxation. Essential oils to relax or invigorate you (your choice) are rubbed into your temples. The heavenly scent of lavender or orange begins to tickle your nose.

Soon the warm water is running over your hair; the stylists hands are massaging shampoo into the scalp and gently lathering it through your hair.

You are in heaven. This hour is about you and the pampering you will receive as you and your stylist choose a fresh look. It is relaxation and transformation in one.

That is the feeling Janet St. Paul of Janet St. Paul Studio for Hair wanted to create for eight at-risk youths. She recently teamed up with LifeWorks, a nonprofit organization that specializes in helping young adults become self-sufficient, to recognize some of the achievements of its clients.

Gabby Ramos, 18, found her way to LifeWorks after running away from her foster home in Houston at 13. She dropped out of seventh grade and stayed with friends or in vacant homes. She had been in the foster care system since she was 3, after her parents lost custody. Then, when she was 17, she turned herself in and found LifeWorks.

“I knew I needed help,” she says. “I did not want to be homeless.”

She has lived in transitional housing and was able to get her GED through LifeWorks. She now has an internship at Goodwill.

“I did not ever think I would be able to finish high school,” she says.

LifeWorks is helping her get ready to have her own apartment.

St. Paul first spent time getting rid of the glue from old hair extensions Ramos had put in herself. Then they talked about what kind of look Ramos wanted and how to work with her existing asymmetrical style and peroxided stripe.

St. Paul created an easy, low-maintenance style that plays off Ramos personality.

“She is not looking for natural,” St. Paul says. “She wants funky.”

The color, St. Paul says, was the best part of the existing hair. She wanted to extend it and showed Ramos where to add blond to give a more complete look.

When St. Paul finished, Ramos was all smiles. She even pulled out her phone and took a self-portrait.

“I love to create a girls smile over a haircut,” St. Paul says.

Diana Fernandez, 20, mom of newborn Ilianna and 5-year-old Mallie, lives in LifeWorks supportive housing program for young families. She got a new hairstyle designed with her busy life in mind.

Stylist Ashley Van Dusen worked to give Fernandez the right amount of volume and shape to fit her face.

Fernandez has been trying to find day care so she can return to her job at Which Wich. “I love to work,” she says. Eventually, she would like to have a career as a corrections officer or a police officer. She is looking at different programs to make that happen.

After Van Dusen showed her how to style her new haircut with a blow-dryer, Fernandez stepped out of the chair with beautiful, soft, long layers.

“My head feels lighter,” she says, “like it is really, really clean. Like it is healthy. It was a really good experience. I have never been to anything like this.”

Destini Villegas, 18, just got her GED after years of trying to complete her freshman year. Each school year someone close to her would die and she would stop going to school. First it was an uncle, who was her best friend, then her grandfather, then an aunt who helped raise her.

“I let myself go,” she says.

Through LifeWorks, she completed her GED in three weeks and is planning to start beauty school this month. She is also helping her mom get her GED.

St. Paul showed Villegas different techniques such as how to curl her hair using just the heat of a hairdryer and a brush.

She also convinced Villegas to go shorter with layers that framed her face instead of relying on the security of the clip-on extensions she had been wearing.

Villegas stared at herself in the mirror as St. Paul showed the results of her work. Soon Villegas was all smiles and putting on makeup to complete the look.

Robert Adedipe, 20, came in wanting a fauxhawk like he had seen models wear on the runways. His hair was a round ball on top of his head, desperate for shaping, but not long enough to truly get the hawk going. St. Paul worked on training it to make a fauxhawk once the top is long enough but trimmed the sides to give it shape.

Adedipe was almost 15 when he was removed from the care of his father. He finished high school among the top of his class and is now working at a clothing store and going to Austin Community College. He dreams of hosting an MTV or VH1 reality show. First, he is working on being able to support himself and move out of supportive housing.

“It is scary,” he says, “trying to be on your own and get an apartment.”

St. Paul has not experienced what many of that days clients have experienced. She says she grew up middle class and would not have been able to do the things she has done without the help of her family.

“I feel so grateful every day that I get to come here,” she says. “It is an incredible lesson for anyone who is feeling a little self-pity. Every person in here is happy and filled with excitement about a haircut.”

Austin American Statesman, September 2013

LifeWorks fundraiser

On October 18th 2013 from 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., the salon and Kiss N Makeup will be offering mini-makeovers with 10 percent going to LifeWorks. Make an appointment by calling 512-474-5000.