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Beauty school treatment designed to polish self esteem for Lanham-area homeless

Angela Silver of Lanham wanted to replace the chipped, bright orange color adorning her long nails with opal, "a color that goes with everything," she said before her free manicure Monday through a partnership between a beauty school and a Lanham-based organization that assists mentally ill homeless people.

A client of the Volunteers of America Chesapeake’s Shelter Plus Care and Community Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program, Silver also was scheduled for a haircut, a pedicure and a facial at the American Beauty Academy in Wheaton for the first beauty day organized to pamper the program’s clients.

"It’s good to boost their self-esteem and their self-confidence," said Victoria Karakcheyeva, the program director for Shelter Plus Care and the rehabilitation program. "We always try to do something special for our clients because they come from difficult life circumstances."

Shelter Plus Care provides permanent housing for mentally ill people who are chronically homeless, Karakcheyeva said. The rehabilitation program offers support services to the mentally ill to improve their functioning in the community and to help them reach their educational and employment goals.

Silver and about 20 other program clients took advantage of the free spa services provided by the academy’s students. For some, this was their first time to have a manicure, pedicure or facial.

"It makes me feel better about myself, have a more positive attitude," Silver said. "It makes you feel good when you look good."

Several academy students also receive services such as assistance in finding housing through the Volunteers of America Chesapeake’s programs, and this helps the students stay enrolled in the academy, Gillespie said.

Student Brianna Gathers of New Carrollton, who was styling hair Monday, said she needed help finding housing for herself and her two children. Shelter Plus Care stepped in to assist and offered her a counselor in Denise Price, the rehabilitation program coordinator for Montgomery County.

"I feel like I’m giving back because so many people gave to me, and it took me so far," said Gathers, 24. "Just to know someone’s paying attention to them, to feel pampered is great."

The event didn’t benefit only the program’s clients, said Alana Gillespie, the academy’s campus director. The academy is able to give back to the community, and its students are excited to have more clients on whom to practice their barbering and cosmetology skills.

"It keeps the students busy, which enhances their skills," Gillespie said. "They get to deal with different types of people, different conditions that they normally wouldn’t service."

Gillespie said she would like to have the free beauty day the brainchild of Price and Shayla Wilson, the academy’s career services counselor once a month.

James Ridley of Greenbelt has been in Volunteers of America Chesapeake programs since 1999 and was getting his first manicure Monday.

"I’m hoping a miracle will happen, something that will make these nails look better than they ever have."