Published 12:00 am Friday, November 29, 2013

SALISBURY — David Abbott walked out of Salisbury Salon and Spa feeling like a new man.

Homeless for the past two years, Abbott lives at Rowan Helping Ministries and said he rarely can afford to have his hair cut. He was thrilled to learn that salon owner Leslie Stopper was offering free haircuts, manicures and pedicures to shelter guests all day Wednesday.

“I couldn’t wait to get over here and do it,” said Abbott, one of more than a dozen shelter guests who crowded the salon Wednesday morning. “Maybe with that, I can get a good job.”

Men, women and children who call Rowan Helping Ministries home while they get back on their feet visited, laughed and gave the occasional contented sigh as Stopper’s staff pampered them.

“We want them to feel good about themselves,” said Stopper, who provided 72 coupons to the shelter for free beauty treatments.

Salisbury Salon and Spa, which opened recently at 210 E. Innes St. in downtown Salisbury, isn’t the only salon giving back by giving free hair cuts.

Barber Tracy Yelverton and his wife Vickie Yelverton pack up their scissors, clippers and combs at least once a month and go to the shelter to keep guests looking good and well-coiffed.

Tracy has been cutting hair since he was nine years old and made his passion an official career this summer by graduating from barber school in Greensboro. He works at Addison’s Barbering & Styling, a new barber shop owned by Edward Addison at 1953 Jake Alexander Blvd. W., and said he was moved to volunteer at Rowan Helping Ministries.

“It’s just something that I wanted to do, as far as giving back to the community,” Tracy said. “I’m just doing it to give back and inspire people. If they have low self-esteem, this can help them.”

Looking good and feeling good about yourself can make a difference, said Jessica Grimes, who lives in the shelter with her two children. Grimes enjoyed a pedicure Wednesday while 8-year-old Gage had his hair cut and 5-year-old Keeleigh marveled at her newly polished nails.

“I live paycheck to paycheck,” Grimes said. “I can’t afford to do anything like this for myself and my kids. This is a treat and luxury that we can’t afford.”

Grimes, who will turn 29 in a few days, doesn’t have a car and walks from the shelter to her new job at Wendy’s. The school bus picks up her kids at Rowan Helping Ministries and drops them off.

After being evicted from their home in February, Grimes said she has done “a lot of growing up” while staying at the shelter and plans to move into an apartment in January.

Another mom who enjoyed pampering Wednesday at the salon said she’s getting closer to living independently as well. Tara Updike said she ended up in Salisbury while fleeing the father of her 3-year-old daughter, Arianna.

A New York native, Updike said she likes Salisbury and hopes to make the city their first permanent home. She starts a new job today at a nursing home and after collecting two paychecks, plans to move into an apartment with Arianna and a baby on the way.

The free beauty treatments at the salon were “pretty cool,” Updike said, while helping distract Arianna during a mini-manicure.

Abbott turned to Rowan Helping Ministries two years ago after he lost his job as a heavy equipment operator and then his trailer, when he didn’t have enough money for lot rent. Never before homeless, Abbott said moving into the shelter was difficult, but he had nowhere else to turn.

Rowan Helping Ministries has turned his life around, Abbott said.

“I was a mess when I showed up there,” he said. “They give me hope and make me feel whole again.”

Abbott is doing so well, he’s now in the Journey Forward program and lives on his own in the Eagle’s Nest, which provides transitional housing after guests leave the shelter. He earns $75 a month working for Rowan Helping Ministries, helping move 5,000 pounds of food a day from trucks to warehouse to distribution in the food pantry.

Abbott pays rent — $5 a month — and must maintain a savings account. He’s earning a GED from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College while taking on more responsibility at Rowan Helping Ministries.

He will temporarily fill a staff vacancy, working in the overnight shelter until RHM hires a permanent employee, and said the experience he’s gaining could help him land a full-time job.

“It makes me feel good to see I can do other things than just moving dirt and operating heavy equipment,” he said. “I’m compassionate, and I’m good with people.”

Abbott, who entered the salon with hair hanging in his face and over his ears and shoulders, showed Stopper a 2001 photograph of himself at a bowling alley and asked her to recreate the hairstyle he wore in happier days. After listening and asking a few questions, Stopper put her scissors to work and unveiled a more professional look that retained some of the length Abbott wanted but cleaned up the front and sides.

When Abbott has his first interview, Stopper said he can come back for a free trim. She complimented his appearance and encouraged him to feel confident in his job search.

“When people come in here, it doesn’t matter who they are, we treat them all equally,” Stopper said.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.