Above: Jess (left) and Kincade work with a customer.
Walk into Old Town Barbershop in Florence, Oregon, on any given day and you’re likely to see three enthusiastic, sharply dressed young men working behind the chairs, doing their best to make their community look good.
Like all good barbers, they love chatting with their customers, hearing their stories, and soaking up advice.
It makes them feel normal, they say — a feeling that’s been hard to come by in recent years while they’ve been in Oregon Youth Authority custody.
Two of them, Jess and Kincade, currently live at Camp Florence Youth Transitional Facility. The third, Tyler, recently paroled from camp and still works at the shop.
All three are graduates of MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility’s barbering program and were grateful for the chance to practice their skills in the community before transitioning out of custody.
“It’s a good opportunity because it’s giving us the job we actually went to school for,” Kincade says. “Communicating with different kinds of people is awesome. It’s good that we make money down there, but getting the experience is what makes it worth it.”
Shop owner Geraldine Prociw connected with Camp Florence several years ago through Marc Barnum, the facility’s Vocation and Education Services for Older Youth (VESOY) coordinator. Tyler started working at the shop first, and when Jess and Kincade moved to camp, they joined the business.
“I got to work side-by-side with Tyler a lot and watch him develop into this really good barber,” Prociw says. “It’s been exciting to see his transition (back to the community) most of all.
“It’s encouraging that the State of Oregon allows a barber program at MacLaren. What a great way to turn a bad situation into a wonderful situation. It’s such an amazing trade to have in your back pocket.”
Camp Florence is one of four transition programs at OYA where youth have the chance to work in the community and gain extra skills to help them prepare for moving out of custody.
Prociw was so happy with the young barbers’ work that she has let them run the entire shop while she’s been on maternity leave.
“It’s cool when I go to (the grocery store) and people come up and tell me, ‘Those boys are really professional and giving great haircuts,’” she says. “There’s really great things to be said about them in the community.”
Jess says that in addition to giving great haircuts, they’ve learned how to do everything from opening the shop to answering phone calls to addressing complaints to cleaning the supplies.
“It’s funny how much the community wants to help us,” he says. “It’s really cool that we are becoming kind of like the face of Camp Florence. We have people from other cities coming to us to get their hair cut. We have our own business cards and everything.”
People from a wide variety of backgrounds and generations have sat in their chairs. The young barbers say that learning from their customers has been one of the best parts of the experience.
“I didn’t imagine it would be so much more than just cutting someone’s hair,” Jess says. “I’m cutting someone’s hair who is a full-time dad, or someone who was in trouble when they grew up, or someone who once went to war.
“You wouldn’t think cutting hair in the community for three months would mean that much, but I’m definitely not the same person I was two months ago.”
Kincade and Jess say they also appreciate the chance to have a fresh start with their customers — getting to know them person-to-person without the lens of their past.
“It’s good to have community people that don’t even know where we’re from or what we’ve done when we first meet them,” Kincade says. “A lot of people have been helping us figure out how things work in society. They’re trying to teach us right now so we can move on and get better.”