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Day of Hope: A day to pamper the homeless and give them ‘a reason to smile’

Matthew Young (center, red hat), 23, a student at Park West Barber School, gives a long-awaited haircut to Mark Cherry, 49, just a few days before Cherry turns 50. Cherry, who is homeless, says he wanted the haircut so that he could begin a job search. About 100 Charlotte area homeless people got haircuts, manicures and general health screenings at Camino Community Center, as part of the national Coca-Cola Serve Your City campaign, on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016.
Matthew Young (center, red hat), 23, a student at Park West Barber School, gives a long-awaited haircut to Mark Cherry, 49, just a few days before Cherry turns 50. Cherry, who is homeless, says he wanted the haircut so that he could begin a job search. About 100 Charlotte area homeless people got haircuts, manicures and general health screenings at Camino Community Center, as part of the national Coca-Cola Serve Your City campaign, on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

After a year without a haircut, Mark Cherry sat on a makeshift barber’s chair on Saturday and told student barber Matthew Young to “let ‘er rip.”

Cherry’s been homeless since he lost his job as a cook three years ago, living at the Men’s Shelter on North Tryon Street as he’s tried to get disability pay following two back surgeries.

The disability was denied recently, he said, so he caught a ride with about 100 other homeless people to the Camino Community Center in north Charlotte to get a “buzz cut,” manicure, health screening and eat a hot meal before he launches a job hunt.

It was the second year that the center has hosted what it calls a Day of Hope-Homeless Wellness Day, part of the Coca-Cola Serve Your Campaign in 34 cities, including eight in the Carolinas.

The company dished out $2,500 grants to organizations in each city to put on a similar event for the homeless, said Antonio Archbold, a Coca-Cola marketing manager.

More than two dozen volunteers, including student barbers from Charlotte’s Park West Barber School, served up meals, cut hair, manicured nails, pedicured feet and provided HIV tests and health screenings.

It came at a good time for Cherry, who couldn’t recall having his hair cut since last year’s event. When Young finished with him, Cherry’s salt-and-pepper hair was scattered everywhere on the floor in big mounds.

“I imagine there’s enough there to stuff a pillow,” said Cherry, 49, who grew up in Mooresville. “It had gotten out of control. I feel good; like I've lost weight. I'm ready for job interviews now.”

‘A way to show love’

The community center is attached to the Camino Church, with 1,000 members from 21 countries, that recently relocated to Concord from Stetson Drive off North Tryon, where the community center still sits.

The church is no newcomer to helping the homeless.

It’s our mission to try to bring hope and encouragement to the homeless, not just today but all year long.

Wendy Pascual, head of Camino Community Center and Bethesda Health Center.

“It’s our mission to try to bring hope and encouragement to the homeless, not just today but all year long,” said Wendy Pascual, executive director of the community center and Bethesda Health Center.

Every other week, the center picks up homeless people from the shelters and takes them for a meal at a restaurant. “It’s a way to show love and put a smile on people who don’t have a reason to smile a lot because of their difficult situations,” Pascual said.

The day put a smile on Astor Clark’s face.

He’s 51 and said he’s never been homeless – until three months ago.

That’s when he wrecked his car. He didn’t live near a bus line so he couldn’t get to his two jobs. He went to live at the Men’s Shelter on Tryon.

Saturday, he first got his fingernails clipped by Ashley Gongalez and then a pedicure – his first.

“It’s nice,” he said. “This let’s us know that there are people who give a squat, who care. These people have hearts. It lifts my spirits.”

‘A sense of purpose’

Gonzalez, a Camino Church member, works at a daycare, but went to school to learn manicuring.

She was glad to be putting her training to work and represent her church. “It makes me feel blessed,” she said. “It opens your eyes about the situations other people are in.”

As she spoke, 30-year-old Jabari Ramsey cooed while Gonzalez massaged his hands, cleaned up his cuticles and clipped his finger nails.

All this treatment makes me want to keep working at it and get back on my feet. I’ve started sending out resumes. I want to work – it gives you a sense of purpose.

Jabari Ramsey, 30 and homeless

His story was much like many of the others. He worked as a machinist, but lost his job five months ago. He ran out of money and had to give up his apartment, moving into the shelter.

After the manicure, he planned to go through the health screening.

He’s been working temporary labor jobs, but they pay minimum wage. Yet he recently opened his first bank account, which he saw as progress.

“All this treatment makes me want to keep working at it and get back on my feet,” Ramsey said. “I’ve started sending out resumes. I want to work – it gives you a sense of purpose.”

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