One of the things that continually strikes us at Mommy Poppins is how many people DO find time to give back to the wider community. In the Bronx we found one such business owner who, inspired by news and television reports that unveiled the horrors of childhood slavery practices in Ghana, took action. Interestingly, her business outwardly had nothing to do with global issues --she owns a local children's hair salon-- but she feels a commitment to all children and acts on her understanding that we are all connected. We hope you enjoy our Community Spotlight interview with mother, enterpriser and activist Suzanne Axelbank, and are inspired by her true global community service project!
Tell me a little bit about your background in hair? What drew you to this profession?
I started cutting hair over 20 years ago after dropping out of college! I always felt bad about that and got my degree in 2000... first an associates in accessory design (I made shoes and bags) and then a BA in studio art. I was a para for awhile in classes for autistic children, and loved it, but was shocked at how badly some of the children were treated by some of the untrained paras, so I left that job. Through it all, I kept cutting hair because I really enjoy it.
When, why and how did you open your first kids hair cutting place?
I worked downtown at a famous kids place for 5 years, saw that I loved it, and april 3rd, 2002 I opened my store, Someplace Special . I just thought I'd stop talking about it and start doing!
When did you get involved Ghana children slave problem and why? How did you take that leap into activism?
I saw an article on the front page of the New York Times magazine and I was so touched. Then I saw the same story on Oprah and there was a former hairdresser on Oprah who worked out saving the little boy whose photo was on the front page of the NYT magazine. The little boy in the boat. I said to myself, I can do that! So I do my best to save kids too! I have two of my own, and I just thought no child should go to bed crying, or worse, too hurt to even cry.
Tell me about the recognition you received from Oriental Trading Company and the organization you are supporting that helps these children?
In my efforts to rescue children that have been sold into forced labor in Ghana I won a $10,000 price from Oriental Trading Company for a contest they call “Make the World More Fun”. Another $10,000 goes to the organization in Ghana trying to help these kids called the International Organization for Migration (IMO). IMO is helping hundreds of children who have been trafficked for forced labor in fishing villages along Lake Volta in Ghana. IOM seeks to rescue these children and to provide them with rehabilitation and reintegration support as they return to their home communities.
What are you doing now to continue your work on behalf of these children and how do your costumers become involved?
Our shop sponsors two children who have been rescued by IOM and have been reunited with their families. She has already sent both children and their families fun toys from Oriental Trading Company and is excited about using her prize money to visit Ghana to help even more children.
I also sell rubber bracelets I had made with the name of one of the two boys I sponsor. I sell plaster figures to paint and also donate that money. I had a party where my customers paid to do art projects knowing that the money would go to Ghana. I sent toys to the kids, and have photos of them with the toys. I am getting a local college involved in helping and the students are very into it. I never thought I'd be able to organize like this. I love it...
Describe Someplace Special?
We make it fun to get a haircut, with videos and playstations at every chair! We have special education experience and have the ability to work with any child. For whatever reason if a child can not sit in a chair, we move with the child, making them as comfortable as possible. We offer first haircut certificates, kosher lollipops, balloons and we even have two Thomas the Tank Engine play tables to play with anytime, even if you are not getting a haircut! We also sell toys.
The most rewarding thing, on a day to day basis, is when I get a child in my store who is terrified of haircuts and I can make them comfortable. I can't always do that as well as I'd like, but nothing pleases me more than getting down on the floor and playing with a child while I cut their hair! I have developed a lot of different methods over the years, and I am always trying new things. As I always say, I love what I do!
How can we find Someplace Special?
Since this salon's old location, Kidaroo, closed, Suzanne is currently looking for a new space in the Bronx. In the meantime, she is cutting hair at Kidville in the Financial District on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Friday. Call 212-566-2020 and ask for an appointment with Suzanne.
To find out more about donating money and what is really going on in Ghana read her blog.