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Sim's Barbershops give free haircuts to kids for back to school

PITTSFIELD — The buzzword Sunday was "fresh" as between 250 and 300 city students received free back-to-school haircuts or cuts and styles at one of two Sim's Barbershops.

The cutting began at 9:30 a.m. at Sim's 524 North St. shop and at 10 a.m. at Sim's 103 Dalton Ave. location. By 10:30, more than 36 children had their hair buzzed or trimmed or cut and shaped at the North Street site, said volunteer Sherry Van Bramer.

"Appearance is important," Van Bramer said. "We all say, 'oh, looks don't matter' but everyone knows everyone judges. Looking good for school can be a big confidence boost."

This marked the third year of the haircutting event and the first year that two shops offered the haircuts. Both venues had lines of people waiting to enter the shops and get styled.

Barbershop owner Stephen Vilot said that the first year he delivered the cuts, the event was held inside a church.

The event went well, he said, but "It's hard to cut hair in a church."

"So the next year we moved it to the shop on North Street," he said. "This year we decided to open it up to the two locations, and we brought in stylists so we could help the girls, too."

Nena Valentine is a stylist at the Shear Madness Salon in North Adams. She was stationed at the North Street shop, combing tangles, cutting hair, and styling the tresses of young ladies.

"I like to see the smiles on the little girls faces," Valentine said. "I give them the little makeovers to make them feel like princesses."

At the Dalton Avenue shop, Nichole Calautti was the stylist. Additional volunteers included Shannon Bliss and Xiomara Ribera.

Erin Kodjo brought her 12-year-old daughter Paris to the North Street shop for a cut and style.

"It's amazing," Kodjo said. "I didn't even know about this and then I found out at a Third Thursday event."

Cameron Gates, 13, said he will be entering the eighth grade.

"I like it here," he said. "They don't ever mess up. And the free haircuts help people who don't have anyone at home who can cut hair or who don't have any money. You come here and you get free haircuts."

Matt Ketchum has been cutting hair for 17 years.

"I am doing this because I think it's important that everyone is looking good and fresh for back to school," he said.

"They do really good here," said Tydarius Torrence, 13. "This is the only place that I come to. I like the atmosphere."

Many of those receiving free cuts are regular customers of the shops, said the barbers.

"The best part of this is giving back to the people who help feed my family," said Richard Carnevale, who has also been cutting hair for 17 years.

At the Dalton Avenue shop, Diane Henderson was giving haircuts.

"I just want to help the kids out with getting them back to school," she said.

Barber Michael Eckert was busy cutting hair at the Dalton Avenue site as well.

"I like helping the kids," he said. "There are a lot of them that are regular customers and you meet a lot of new people, too."

David Dias, founder of the Youngchamp Foundation, provided free backpacks and school supplies to city students earlier this month. The foundation registered some students for the haircuts. Dias said he will be handing out more free school supplies with city police Officer Darren Derby later in the week.

"This is meeting a direct need," he said of his foundation and the haircuts. "For families, having to get backpacks and school supplies and then a haircut on top of that, it's a lot."