Kids Get Free Haircuts—If They Agree to Read the Fine Print

An Iowa barber is giving haircuts free of charge to kids who read to him.

(Photos: Facebook/Spark Family Salon)

Aug 18, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Ali Swenson is an editorial intern at TakePart. She is editor-in-chief of Loyola Marymount University’s news outlet, the Los Angeles Loyolan, and has worked in nonprofit media.

Back-to-school haircuts can seem like just one item on a laundry list of expensive chores to prepare kids for the fast-approaching school year, but with Courtney Holmes, they’re a cut above the rest.

That’s because Holmes—a barber in Dubuque, Iowa—is offering free haircuts to kids if they agree to do one simple thing: read to him from the salon chair.

A parent, Holmes works two jobs and still makes a point to read to his kids every night before they go to bed—the Berenstain Bears books are his favorite.

“Some of the kids were not that great of readers, but for the most part, they at least put forth the effort,” Holmes told TakePart. “If kids couldn’t read, I helped them with the words. Some kids actually helped other kids.”

He’s also aware that many kids don’t have opportunities to practice reading. Among low-income children in the U.S., 61 percent have no children’s books to read at home, according to the national Campaign for Grade Level Reading.

To reach those kids and encourage reading in a setting that also reduces the financial burden of going back to school, Holmes is offering a trade: If the kid clients read with him, he’ll give them a back-to-school do for free.

Anderson Sainci, a volunteer for the Dubuque Black Men Coalition, originally suggested the idea as part of the group’s second-annual "Back-to-School Bash"—a community event in early August focused on education.

“The incentive is, of course, they’re going to have a nice haircut and get ready for school,” said Sainci. “But this is our opportunity to connect with the kids and parents and tell them, ‘Hey, here’s why reading is important.’ Courtney was more than willing to participate in the event.”

At the Bash, 20 children participated in Holmes’ deal. They picked books donated by nonprofit organizations and Holmes’ own collection—from the life story of Babe Ruth to Hot Wheels: Thrill Ride. Holmes asked children to talk about the cover of the book first, then read aloud to him as he trimmed, clipped, and buzzed.

Looking ahead, Holmes’ salon—Spark Family Salon—plans to keep the free cuts going. Fostering Holmes’ volunteer spirit, the salon will offer cuts free of charge to boys and girls who read to their hairstylists the first Tuesday of every month.

“A lot of kids are not reading at grade level…. That’s sad on our part as mentors in our community,” said Holmes. “If I can help out in any way, I’ll do that.”