As founder of Compassion Salon, hairstylist Mary Ecker brings the gifts of compassion and beauty to clients who cannot visit a salon due to a health or mobility issue. She spoke with Beauty Changes Lives about how winning the Vidal Sassoon Professional Beauty Changes Lives Advanced Scholarship in 2014 helped inspire her calling as a hairstylist and entrepreneur.
How did you find out about the Beauty Changes Lives scholarship?
I had heard about the Sassoon Academy’s advanced programs and planned to attend a haircutting course when my budget allowed. I saw an article about the scholarship in Behind The Chair and was inspired to share my story in an essay. Winning the scholarship not only improved my cutting skills, but it also gave me the strength to go forward with a new endeavor – Compassion Salon, which serves elderly, disabled or immobile people.
How does Compassion Salon fill a unique need?
After my mom passed away, I wanted to help people who were confined to a wheelchair, unable to drive or for some other reason could not get to a salon. Compassion Salon serves clients who are housebound and every beauty service is customized for the patient. For example, some patients need to have their hair cut while they are lying in bed or propped up in a certain position. Sometimes I have to stop a haircut so a patient can rest before resuming the cut. No service is ever rushed. Often I can’t look over the client’s shoulder into a mirror as I would in a traditional salon. But the end result is the same – a client who enjoys some attention and the dignity and confidence that comes with a haircut or hair color.
How have clients responded to this service?
Four years after founding Compassion Salon, the business is continuing to grow and it has become an amazing adventure. I cut hair in client’s homes, nursing homes and hospices. Besides cutting their hair, I provide the little luxuries that come with a salon service – like a relaxing neck and scalp massage. But what’s really special is that while I am able to give so much to my clients, they have given me so much more in return. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.
Can you share an inspiring story?
There are so many! Clients want to be treated like people, not patients. I visited a cancer patient who had fallen and broken her neck. As I styled her hair, we connected and talked like girlfriends. When she passed away four weeks later, her daughter sent me a note saying how much her mom had enjoyed the attention and pampering. I also visited a hospice where a gentleman acted very irate and made me wait a long time, before saying “I’m just a grumpy old man.” I said, “No, you’re just someone who doesn’t’ feel very well.” His demeanor changed because all of the sudden someone was seeing him as a person with dignity. He gave me such a heartfelt hug after the service.
How has beauty and receiving the scholarship changed your life?
Beauty, has certainly changed and enriched my life in ways that I never expected. My clients’ smiles and gratitude mean the world to me. I am so grateful for the scholarship. Not only did it improve my cutting skills, but the fact that my essay won, gave me the confidence to launch Compassionate Salon.