When people ask us about the “structure” of The Red Chair Project, the quick response is
“oh…if only we were that organized”.
Starting this project didn't come with a plan, it came with a hope. Our hope was (and still is) that we could help even one person feel less alone. Our simple intention has allowed this project to grow organically, and focus on the person in front of us, instead of a calculated formula.
A few weeks ago, we received an email from one of our Northeast neighbors. On her way to her job at 21st Century Bank, Cheryl had driven by us giving haircuts on Washington Ave. This was before appearing on Boyd Huppert’s Land of 10,000 Stories, so when she searched the web to figure out what was happening, there was nothing to find.
Once our story hit the news, Cheryl sent this email:
I saw you out on the corner on Washington with your red chair before the story hit the internet. I think what you are doing is great!
The reason I am contacting you is that we (the bank) recently did a sandwich project here at the bank and handed out 150 sandwiches to the homeless in downtown.
I work downtown but live in NE Minneapolis.
We have quite a few bags of deli meat leftover and wanted to know if you were agreeable to us making the sandwiches and then delivering them to you to hand out to the folks you are giving haircuts to.
If you are going to be out and about tomorrow or early next week, please let me know and maybe we can coordinate a drop off to you.
Thank you so much for all you do!”
After talking further with Cheryl, and her coworker Mandy, we were blown away by how involved they were in the community! 21st Century Bank wasn't only donating money to help support their neighbors, they were also showing up in person to connect and show value to people.
Giving haircuts is the way we show up, handing out sandwiches was the way 21st Century Bank was showing up, so we decided to join forces for the day!
Our day started out driving around Northeast connecting with people experiencing homelessness, and offering them lunch as well as a Red Bag filled with gifts and other items. During our unplanned route, we ended up in the North Loop, which is when we saw Taleesha, a familiar face that we had interacted with on multiple occasions. Each time we have talked to Taleesha she had politely declined a haircut (always with a “maybe next time!”).
This time was different.
Thankfully we got a red light, and promptly rolled down our windows and chatted with Taleesha about her day while handing out lunch and a red bag. Katie then asked, “Would you like a haircut?” to which Taleesha replied, “Yes!”. We quickly parked the car and carried the red chair across Washington Ave during the afternoon lunch rush.
Little did we know that 21st Century Bank was located across the street (promise this was not planned!), and that a few of their team actually knew Taleesha, and connected with her often. This whole experience felt serendipitous.
Taleesha’s last salon visit was six years ago, and we were honored to be the ones to break that haircut hiatus.
Taleesha is the oldest of her family and grew up taking care of her younger siblings. She has a 21 year old son and wants to give her children the best she possibly can. We have a few intentional questions we ask everyone who chooses to spend a few moments with us during this project, one of them being “People drive by you every day, what is one thing you wish they knew about you?”. Upon asking her about what she wants people to know about her she told us that she is signing because she needs to be, and that it is not a hobby. She wants people to understand her experiences, and that things were not easy for her. Taleesha is an incredibly strong woman who is valued and not invisible. She told us, “I feel like a mannequin”: which is something that The Red Chair Project wants to change, we want people to feel seen and valued. Taleesha has experienced so much loss and non-ideal situations yet she still manages to find a way to give to others, “If I can receive, I can give.”
Taleesha’s hair transformation brought back her confidence, and self proclaimed determination - she was beaming. “I’m starting over” she said as she looked at her new hair with the handheld mirror. Being able to talk to Taleesha truly made our day. She is so loved in the community and has many people in her life that care for her. It was great when people would roll down their windows to tell her she looked great, we even had someone get out of their car to learn more about what we are doing. In a very emotional moment (for all of us), Taleesha looked around at the people waving and sharing encouraging words and said “I’m not invisible! I thought I was invisible! Look, people see me!”.
Taleesha was so appreciative of what we were doing - and we were so grateful to have been a part of cutting her hair, “It’s a beautiful red chair - and I appreciate it. I feel like a Barbie!”
The Red Chair Project isn’t an effort to save people, but to SEE people..
Want to get involved? Mark your calendars for October 5th!
We are collecting donations throughout the month of September for a hands-on Red Bag packing event! Learn more by clicking our “Event RSVP” button below.
Help us raise the funds/items needed for the event! Click our “GofundMe” button to donate financially, and our “Wish List” to donate specific items!