By Trista Thurston
Consumers can say a lot with their dollars. We can even make our values clear with our spending by supporting businesses that give back to causes close to our hearts.
Giveback campaigns are commonly associated with national brands, with charitable efforts benefiting an unidentified someone in need. But one local company is hoping to help fight homelessness, one bottle of shampoo at a time.
The Geno Levi Salon, with its adjoining academy, sits in the corner of the Lakeview Square Plaza along Route 19 in Peters Township, just north of North Strabane Township. The team sets a standard unparalleled in this region and arguably across the country, creating innovative techniques that complement upcoming trends. Geno started his salon in the basement of his mother’s home in 1983 and has been in business since.
Though the Geno Levi name and brand is familiar, the underlying charitable arm is likely not. That’s how Cindy Levi likes it. She co-owns Geno Levi Salon with her husband.
“I joined Geno, gosh, 18 years ago as operations director for the salon and left my career as a municipal finance officer for us to partner together to grow the salon,” Cindy recalls.
The salon has been at its current location for almost a decade, and the product line was in the beginning stages at that time.
“We wanted to establish a vehicle by which we could involve our clients and our staff, and later high school volunteers, in very specific giveback in the community to homeless men, women and children,” Cindy says.
Thus, the Beauty Restores Foundation was created in 2010. Customers can help others in their community through a simple transaction – the salon donates two percent of the gross sales on all Geno Levi brand hair products to Washington City Mission and Light of Life Rescue Mission in the north end of Pittsburgh.
Since its inception, the foundation has given just over $50,000 to both organizations. Volunteers have served 11,000 meals. Local students have received almost $7,000 in scholarships.
“The missions use the money for restorative programs, for drug and alcohol programs, for work-related training. Whatever they feel the greatest benefit to using the donations that we give them, we allow them the freedom to do that. There are so many components to getting somebody back up on their feet, and we don’t want to be too specific about what that looks like,” Cindy says.
But numbers and financials are just a part of the picture. As they began to consider charitable causes for their giveback campaign, previous experiences motivated Geno and Cindy Levi to dedicate their philanthropic support to homelessness.
“It was in our hearts,” Cindy says.
Hope for hopeless
In his 20s, Geno himself was homeless, living in a bathroom at the Penn Commercial Beauty Academy in Washington for two years. By day, he was attending classes and teaching. At night, he cleaned the academy. Drugs and alcohol forced him into homelessness, but he has since been sober for more than 20 years.
“He had that background of knowing what it was like to be homeless and have really no hope, wondering how to be able to become free from that,” Cindy says.
These challenges motivate him to provide hope to those that may have none and return the favor to a community that has been so kind to him, embracing him and his business.
Cindy grew up in Bridgeport, W.Va., and recalls weekly post-church visits to a neighbor, providing him with food and supplies. The home’s construction was cobbled together from lumber and scraps of metal collected along the river and railroad tracks nearby. Those early memories inspired Cindy to feed, clothe and shelter those in desperate need.
“Our foundation exists to provide initiatives for our clients, our salon team and high school student volunteers to impact homeless men, women and children in our community through financial support and service opportunities. Knowing that most people have a heart to serve but don’t have the time for hands-on service experiences, we created a way for them to participate in giveback with each Geno Levi product they purchase,” Cindy says.
Clients are consistently surprised to learn about the Beauty Restores Foundation. It’s not about the recognition, though. The work can be at times overwhelming, but Cindy is energized by doing, moving, acting and helping.
The Kaleidoscope Experiment
High school students have opportunities to earn scholarship money through the Beauty Restores Foundation by participating in service projects at the two benefiting missions.
Students have helped set up the Washington City Mission Hidden Treasures store in Peters Township, sorted clothing donations, delivered bagged lunches, planted flowers and served hot meals. Each teen can earn up to $500, depending on their service hours.
Currently, the only participating school is Hillcrest Christian Academy in Bethel Park. The goal is as the product line grows, more high schools will partner with the Kaleidoscope Experiment. Relationships with other organizations would also help support scholarships, too.
“I’d really like to expand it to multiple schools in the area. If I could get into every school district, I would be so thrilled,” Cindy says. “We’re hoping to light sparks in their hearts that will ignite a fire of compassion for others.”
The students gain more than just scholarship dollars and volunteer hours. Their confidence grows. Their perspectives shift as they learn that they’re helping people they may have had incorrect or misguided assumptions about, that these are people just like them.
“The fragmented, broken pieces of glass, a kaleidoscope, if it’s aligned properly, allows those pieces of glass to become a beautiful image ... (The students) are part of that process, to be able to take broken people and in some small way, be a part of helping them to have a beautiful outcome.”
How to help
Awareness and compassion are essential. A neighbor, a coworker or a friend could be struggling in unimaginable ways. They could need a helping hand, a kind word, a warm meal, a mowed lawn or a simple smile.
For more information about the Beauty Restores Foundation giveback and student volunteer opportunities, or for help finding assistance with addiction or homelessness, contact Geno and Cindy Levi at 304.281.3078 or firstname.lastname@example.org.