Inés Acosta, owner of Habibi's Salon in Menlo Park, is something pretty special. A petite, hard-working, energetic woman, she is constantly trying to improve her business and figure out how to "give back" to others. During a recent visit to her salon, when I asked her how she spent her day off, I was not surprised by the answer: she spent it giving makeovers to veterans being treated at the local Veterans Affairs (VA) campuses.
The Peninsula Veterans Lions Club, a service organization focused on helping veterans being treated at the Menlo Park and Palo Alto VA campuses, approached Acosta with the concept. The organization's president, Edmund Bridges, came up with the idea for makeovers for female vets after noticing there were few specific services available to them because almost 95% of the 300 patients being treated locally are men. Acosta was happy to donate a portion of her time, products and services for something she sees as a wonderful opportunity to say "thank you" to vets. She opened her doors to color, snip, curl and blow-dry some well-deserving women not just a "new look," but also a new outlook. "Many of these veterans are being treated for post-traumatic stress and depression", says Acosta. "Being able to do something on the outside that helps them to start a new chapter on the inside is an honor".
This makeover project is just one of multiple projects to help veterans that the Peninsula Veterans Lions Club is involved with. The organization, Bridges points out, gets a lot of support from other local Lions Club chapters. One of their other primary service projects, the "Veteran's Move-In Basket" program, is designed to help previously homeless or indigent vets who have secured a housing voucher create a place to truly call "home." "We see a lot of veterans who are essentially starting over and moving into a new apartment with nothing. We present them with baskets containing just about everything you can think of that they'd need to get started in a new place: pots and pans, toiletries, dishes, utensils, and cleaning supplies," explains Bridges. Because these new tenants often don't even have furniture, the organization even provides air mattresses to help them get started. The program is only in its third year of existence but has already disseminated over 150 of these baskets to local vets.
Two other key programs include sponsorship of over 200 disabled veterans to take part in a sailing program, and a Christmas event that the organization hopes to make an annual affair. According to Bridges, there are approximately 40 veterans in a psychiatric lockdown unit on the Palo Alto campus. The Peninsula Veterans Lions Club decided to make sure those patients did not miss out on the holidays last year, so they hosted a Christmas dinner (complete with a visit from Santa) and made sure that each veteran got a specific Christmas gift that he or she had the opportunity to request (e.g. a new pair of shoes, a new blanket, etc.).
The funding for these programs comes from the hardworking members of the Peninsula Veterans Lions Club, other local Lions Club organizations, and generous donors. The 27 members of the Peninsula Veterans chapter, almost all of whom are veterans themselves, work concession stands at local Stanford sporting events to fundraise for the goods and services they know these vets need.
What started off as a simple trip to the salon resulted in a new, humbling, and inspiring awareness of a group of very special people in our community; generous individuals working hard to make sure that our veterans are supported in some very tangible ways.
For more information on donating or supporting the work the Peninsula Veterans Lion Group is doing, visit the group's Facebook page or contact Edmund Bridges directly at [email protected]