Single Tennessee Mom Helps Other Struggling Parents by Braiding Kids' Hair for Free
Brittany Starks knows what it's like to struggle. She also knows what it's like to be the recipient of somebody's generosity.
And what happened when she found herself in between houses at the start of the school year last month, inspired her mission to pay it forward.
"Everything was in storage, I didn't have anything for my kids to wear to school, and I wasn't getting paid for a week," the single mother of two from Nashville, Tennessee, recalled.
That's when a family friend surprised her with two backpacks filled with clothes, school supplies, and shoes for her kids.
"It wasn't anything expensive, but it helped me so much. It made me so happy," Starks said. "I didn't have it at the time, and he gave it."
She thought to herself: "How can I give other parents that same thing? Well, I braid hair."
So, Starks, a professional hairstylist, took to Facebook with an offer for other struggling single parents: free hairwashing and braiding for their children, so they could go back to school feeling happy and confident.
The requests immediately started pouring in. Starks said she was expecting to do around five hairstyles but ended up doing 35.
"It took forever," she recalled. "A lot of kids wanted knotless braids, and each one takes four to six hours. It was hard."
Every day for two weeks straight, she and two other volunteers braided hair, sometimes to 1 a.m. Starks, who works three jobs, said she slept around three hours each night. But they got it all done. Seeing kids' frowns turn into smiles made it all worth it.
"It boosts confidence. Kids are going to school and feeling more confident," Starks said. "Even if they don't have new clothes, they have this new hairstyle. It makes all the difference."
It also helps their parents. Not only does it save them money (each style costs around $150 and sometimes as much as $400) it takes something off their plates, giving them more time to do other things with their kids, like homework.
"As a single parent who has gone through so much of the same struggles they did, I know what these parents are feeling," Starks told CNN. "And if I can help in any way, even if it's just putting a smile on their faces and easing this burden, I'm going to do it."
Starks said the first braiding event was such a success that she plans to do them once a month for free going forward.
Last weekend she and 16 volunteer stylists braided the hair of 39 kids. Thanks to a partnership with a literacy foundation, they also gave away free books.
Starks posts a link to a signup form on her Facebook page before each event. Her services are available to school-age individuals of all genders and races who need a little extra help.
Originally, she planned to fund the effort with her own money and products, but that quickly became unrealistic. So, Starks set up a GoFundMe page to help raise money for supplies, insurance, and a space for braiding.
Her initial goal was to raise $15,000, but donations have since topped $40,000. She's currently mulling starting a non-profit.