Children sit in an elevated chair, the razor buzzing as hair clippings fall to the floor. Some linger off to the side and watch, begging their parents that they want a haircut too.
But this trip to the barbershop is not just about getting a haircut.
Before the appointment begins, children run over to the bookshelf in the corner of the room and choose from books that vary from “Sesame Street” to “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” While the barber cuts their hair, the children read aloud to him, and he helps them with words they may struggle with.
At the end of the visit, they get to keep the book and also receive $2 and a sticker.
The Books and Barbers program was started by Simon Vanderpool, a high school special education teacher and football coach. Vanderpool opened his first location about a month ago at Prince Cuts Barbershop in his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky.
On Friday night, there was a kickoff party at Korporate Kutz in downtown Cincinnati for the opening of the second Books and Barbers location. Children were able to choose a free book to have signed by Bengals players Trey Hopkins and Josh Tupou. Hamilton County judge Ted Berry was also in attendance.
Vanderpool founded the program to give children a male mentor. Reading opens the door for conversation while children are having their hair cut, he said.
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Vanderpool previously taught at an elementary school where he was one of only three male teachers. He noticed that a lot of the students didn’t have fathers or other males to look up to and wanted to do something to provide mentors for children like his former students.
Vanderpool also grew up in a father-absent home, so he said he can empathize with these children.
“I know what they’re going through, and I know sometimes it’s just good to know that someone’s in your corner and that someone’s got your back,” Vanderpool said.
Male mentors can make a difference
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in four children live without a father in their home. Research by businesses like the National Fatherhood Initiative shows that children are negatively affected by not having a father involved in their lives and are more likely to commit crimes, face poverty and drop out of school.
Books and Barbers aims to counter this and to make a difference in the lives of the children who get their hair cut at its locations.
“Being a mentor and being that guy, that figure and positive role model in their lives is a crucial thing, and what better place to have it than a barber shop, somewhere every man has to go,” Hopkins said.
Program helps kids build confidence in reading skills
Books and Barbers also offers a way for children to practice literacy and become more confident in their reading skills, especially during the summer months where oftentimes children don’t read and therefore have problems retaining what they learned in school, Vanderpool said. The program is open to any child from kindergarten to fifth grade.
Charles Steele Jr., owner of Korporate Kutz, has held community service events at his shop before. He said he was immediately on board when Vanderpool approached him about Books and Barbers.
“When he told me it was about the children, it lit up a lightbulb,” said Steele Jr., father of three.
Founder hopes to plant more Books and Borders sites in Cincinnati
Vanderpool hopes to expand the business further and is in talks about opening more locations across the country in cities like Atlanta and Knoxville. Before going national, though, he wants to focus on his two current locations.
He is also working with Adam “Pacman” Jones, an ex-Bengals defensive back who announced his retirement from the NFL this week, to start a nonprofit. This would include more Books and Barbers locations in the Cincinnati area but would also involve other forms of giving back to the community.
The nonprofit is not finalized, and Vanderpool is not sure exactly what it would entail. He does hope to start another mentorship program unrelated to barbershops.
“I think this is just a stepping stone to things we’re going to do in Cincinnati,” Vanderpool said.
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