The room is bustling—chit-chat over hair dryers, the smell of nail polish remover, hairspray and massage oil. It’s a Monday night at the weekly Beauty Night Life Makeover Program held at the PHS Community Services LifeSkills Centre, a lively makeshift spa substitute that’s free to women in need of a haircut, a light shoulder massage, a yoga class or a just an evening of socializing and pampering.
“What do you think?” one participant asks as she laughs and wiggles her fingers to show off her fresh French manicure, nicely shaped pink and sparkly green tips.
Approaching its 10th anniversary this December, Beauty Night is now held up to three nights a week and provides an opportunity for women to get together to experience beauty services in a upbeat and safe atmosphere. Organizer Caroline MacGillivray has seen the event feed many women’s self-esteem and provide some well-deserved relaxation.
Ten years is a long time for any event but Beauty Night seems to have taken on a life of its own. Like many things, it started with a simple encounter: MacGillivray was volunteering in the kitchen at the WISH drop-in centre when she noticed a woman struggling to style her own hair. “I told her I’m not a professional hairdresser but I’d be willing to try,” MacGillivray says.
She curled her hair with a curling iron, then did her make up and nails. When the woman gave her a big hug in return, MacGillivray saw that the small gesture had a big effect. From then on every time she went in to help out in the kitchen there were women asking if she could spend time instead doing hair and make-up instead of washing dishes.
Recognizing the demand and imagining the potential that an organized night of professionals could have, MacGillivray set out to organize the first Beauty Night. She gathered 14 volunteers with a variety of professional skills—hair-dressers, estheticians, massage therapists—and 73 women showed up to make use of the free services. The event was a huge success but there was a lot to learn.
“We blew out the power because of the amount of hairdryers,” MacGillivray says laughing. The night has grown steadily for the past decade, all on volunteer support and donations. These days women are invited to bring their children (free child minding is provided) while they do a gentle yoga class, have a light massage, get their eyebrows shaped, have their hair cut and styled, or make a card or craft with the art supplies available.
While it’s easy to see that the women with fresh haircuts have big smiles on their faces, the night isn’t just about aesthetics. MacGillivray is doing orientations with UBC health care student volunteers that will be providing foot massage and pedicures while at the same time checking for foot abscesses, a sign indicative of Type 2 diabetes. The women will then be referred to a health clinic for further consultation.
“We’re trying to provide a way for people to have access to tools to keep themselves healthy and feeling good about themselves,” MacGillivray says.
Another initiative is the Walk Run program that will give participants access to personal trainers that will help them to prepare to participate in the annual Sun Run—last year there were seven participants and MacGillivray is certain there will be more this year.
As the night grows, so does the need for partnerships and increased community support. This year, their annual Christmas fundraising drive coincides with the 10-year anniversary and the goal is to fill 1,000 stockings that will help supply the program for the year. Office drives bring in things like Clinique bonuses and similar items while some health care providers like dentists will donate toothbrushes and the like.
In the community or in the neighborhood, MacGillivray sees the need for like-minded people and groups to work together and is forging innovative partnerships with companies around the city, like local make-up manufacturer Ilus Elu who is making a Beauty Night lipstick and donating the proceeds.
“We’re all working on the same issues so it’s important that we all work together,” MacGillivray says before we’re interrupted again by a woman wanting to model her new hairstyle.
Photos by Ken Villeneuve
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