The Avara Family pose with a mural of the late Cy Avara at St. Vincent’s Villa

If you’re a child in residential treatment, you might already feel like your life is pretty different from many of your peers and schoolmates. Maybe you’re new at your school, having moved from across the state, or maybe the kids on your bus wonder why different adults wait for you at the bus stop on different days.

We know that an important part of treatment for children who have experienced complex trauma is to create safe spaces where they can just be kids, where they can play and be among peers without feeling like the odd-one-out or like they’re in survival mode. Many seemingly small factors come together to create this space for the child: a morning routine, predictable meals, verbal affirmation from adults, celebrating their birthday, etc. And these factors are built with things that many of us take for granted: clothes that express our personality, pencils, and pens to get our work done, or haircuts that help us want to be seen.

Since the 1960s, student barbers have been coming to St. Vincent’s Villa to provide hair cuts for children who may not have a caregiver able to take them out on the weekend and get them one. Sure, we could probably get staff to buzz heads, but we know that a neat and professional haircut can help a child feel safer and more empowered at school.

This relationship was spearheaded by the late Simon “Cy” Avara, a nationally renowned barber who cut the hair of the likes of Gov. Mandel, Rep. Paul Sarbanes, and Sen. Ben Cardin, while training 1000s of barbers across the country, including incarcerated persons and anyone looking for a trade. His barbering school in Dundalk, Avara’s Academy for Hair Design, continues to run under the stewardship of his son, Larry.

On March 8th, 2019, we invited the Avara family to the St. Vincent’s Villa talent show, and at the end of the evening, we were able to present an official Governor’s Citation to Cy’s wife Rita and their children and grandchildren. We posted a plaque dedicating the St. Vincent’s Villa barbershop – much of which’s equipment was donated by the Avaras – to Cy’s memory. As an additional surprise, we were able to unveil a stylized mural of Cy himself on a barbershop wall, skillfully designed and painted by Villa Maria School’s own art therapist, Melissa Sugar.

April is National Volunteer Month: take a few minutes to thank a volunteer or intern near you!