young boy smiling after getting his hair cut

‘It’s such a small thing, but it’s not’

Moline elementary school partnership builds student trust and empowerment.

When a 10-year-old boy is more excited about something at school than his upcoming birthday, you know it’s big.

Isaiah, a fifth grader at Moline’s Washington Elementary, can’t wait until his hair grows out enough that his favorite volunteer barber can help him start to grow dreadlocks.

It’s what he wants more than anything.

“I look good with dreads,” said the talkative boy, who’s just days from being 11 years old. “I can’t wait ’til my birthday. Even more, I can’t wait until the barbers come back.”

It won’t be long.

A network of trust.

student getting high fives from volunteers

Once a month, a group of barbers from the community provide mentorship and a fresh cut for students at Washington and Madison Elementary in Davenport.

The no-cost haircuts come with real barber chairs, mirrors, music, treats — and a book. The treats are popular, naturally, but adult-child interactions and the resulting self-confidence are apparent, even to the young recipients.

The thinking behind the program, part of United Way QC’s new United for Schools initiative is simple: By surrounding students with a network of trust, we empower them to confront and overcome personal challenges and structural barriers.

One volunteer in particular has impressed Isaiah and classmate Shaun, also 10.

“The bald dude, he communicates,” Isaiah said. “I like communicating. And he does good work.”

Shaun knows who he’s talking about.

“I keep forgetting their names, but there’s a bald guy who always wears Nikes, and he’s really good,” he said.

Shaun elaborated on his endorsement, saying, “I was nervous to go the first time. Then when I went, it was fantastic — fantastic! The barbers said they’re professionals, and they weren’t lying.”

For this month’s cut, Shaun is considering replacing the S that was designed into his haircut with his mom’s initials.

“It’s just like a real barbershop. You get in line, but there’s no money to have to pay for it,” he said. “It’s really fun there too. You should probably go sometime.”

Difficult problems. Seemingly simple solutions.

Lindsay Owens has been in education for 24 years, including 14 as a counselor at Washington Elementary.

She knows that many children have adult-sized struggles, and low-income families frequently have more than their share.

When difficult problems meet seemingly simple solutions, the end result can be moving.

And that’s how Owens and others at Washington regard United for Schools its Books & Barbers program — as a way to lift children up.

“When you know a kid — know their personality and are with them day-in-and-day-out, you can read the impact on their faces,” she said. “When they’re getting their haircut, some of them for the first time, you watch their face and you see them coming into their confidence and how they feel about themselves.

“It has been, hands down, in the top three moments of my career, seeing that impact.”

It’s not just the results — the new haircuts they proudly take back to their classrooms. It’s about the process, she said.

“Most barbers happen to be male, and our boys’ interaction with them is incredible to watch,” Owens said. “They’re engaging in conversations that take my breath away.

“I wish everybody could see it.”

And feel it.

“I’m a counselor, so I’m trained to listen differently and not cry. With the barbers, I was crying,” she said. “It’s such a small thing, but it’s not.”

United for Schools: a growing partnership.

student getting high fives from volunteers

An education initiative that focuses on literacy and self-confidence, Books & Barbers was launched in recent years as part of United for Schools. The program started at Madison Elementary and just this spring expanded to Washington Elementary.

United for Schools’ approach is simple: Surround students with a community of support and access to people and resources they need when they need them. The results have been more than encouraging.

And with help from the community, we at United Way plan to expand these resources into other challenged neighborhood elementary schools, where more students like Isaiah and Shaun can connect with caring adults to transform their experience and their self-confidence.

Together, with the support of our communities’ most caring — folks just like you — we are charting a new course for an entire generation.

When kids succeed in school, they succeed in life. Join us.

Give today to become part of life-changing impact through United Way and its United for Schools initiative. When you give $25 a month your generous gift can erase obstacles for kids.

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