Christine Mastello was no stranger to helping people having bad hair days – metaphorically speaking.
The ABS area manager from Lake Macquarie had created a much-needed safety net for the community with her Cooranbong-based food and clothes bank Southlake Marketplace, giving struggling locals the relief they needed twice a week.
But in February last year, a new arrival at Southlake inspired Christine to start helping people who had hair problems in a literal sense.
“I had a lady come in… who wasn’t able to get her boys taken to school to have photos because she couldn’t get their hair cut,” Christine explains, “because she didn’t want them to remember they were poor, which just broke my heart”.
It prompted her to get in touch with some community organisations around Australia, to see if there was a demand from people doing it tough for free haircuts. There was.
In the months since, the Community Hair Project has helped boost the self-esteem of 147 people across NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland. Locals of Gosford, Woy Woy, Koolewong and Toukley are among those sporting new styles thanks to CHP.
“A person who wants a cut will express their interest to their local community group,” says Christine, explaining how the not-for-profit functions.
“That group will then contact me, I then contact the hairdresser (in that town), make an appointment and the person just rocks up.”
CHP's also teamed up with Homeless Laundry service Orange Sky, and sends hairdressers to the homes of people with mobility issues.
The majority of clients to date have been homeless or victims of domestic abuse. While on the surface bad hair might seem like a trivial problem to people in these situations, Christine says a new do can actually make a lot of difference to their lives.
“They (DV victims) have had their hair pulled out by their partner or ex-partner. We’ve got their hair bobbed and coloured, and they’ve then found the strength to go on and leave and get their children out of the situation they need to.”
“I don’t like that we live in a society where looks are a thing, but they are. Everybody likes to look their best and we do have self-esteem with that.”
“And that’s what we say with CHP: If we can give you that self-esteem boost, then maybe you can take the next step to bettering your life.”
Christine says she hopes to roll out the CHP to farmers in the outback later this year. While 2018 is also shaping up to be a big year on the Central Coast for her initial project.
Having just won the Lake Macquarie Australia Day award for community contribution (below), SouthLake is set to hold foodbanks to Mannering Park and Wyee in the next few months.
“And then in May,” says Christine, “SouthLake is going to have a service delivery day, so people have a chance to find out all the services that are available at Gwandalan. Then from there we’ll find out what services are not available and try to get them out to the area.”