Haircuts from the Heart PDF Print E-mail
Written by Amy Scalia   
Friday, 28 May 2010 08:36

Haircuts from the Heart
A new haircut can make all the difference in your look and self-confidence. So one local woman's organization offers hair care to help the homeless get ahead and have a fresh sense of dignity.

She's probably the only Roman Catholic nun who's been in a bathroom stall with 10,000 men.


But Sister Bonnie Steinlage is not your typical nun. She's the 66-year-old iPhone toting, Macbook using, hairstyle savvy, self-proclaimed "Foundress" and salon manager of Franciscan Haircuts from the Heart. This non-profit organization, which she started 20 years ago, provides professional hair care to poor, homeless or disabled men, women and children.


Steinlage now provides these services at a facility in Over the Rhine by Findlay Market, but she didn't start out there. It all began when Steinlage, a Franciscan Sister of the Poor, heard the Ash Wednesday gospel: "When you pray, wash your face and comb your hair." She immediately felt called to provide hair care to the poor and homeless.


After quickly enrolling in and going through cosmetology school, Steinlage began living up to that call. She provided hair care services wherever she could — including bathroom stalls. In 1995, she opened a hair salon in Over the Rhine on Main Street and recently moved to her new facility at 1800 Logan St.


"I saw I was one of few people who was physically touching the homeless. I could see that I was not only changing them on the outside but also on the inside," Steinlage says. "People told me they felt human again."


In 1997, Franciscan Haircuts from the Heart created a Hair Care Voucher Program to reach out to needy clients. Through this program, clients can receive a hair care voucher from a participating school or social service agency and redeem it at a partner salon. Franciscan Haircuts from the Heart reimburses the salon for their services at no cost to the client or social service agency.


The organization serves 1,700 in the salon and 1,200 with the voucher program, Steinlage says. Operating costs are covered through various grants and fundraisers such as the Hair Affair to Remember, a hair fashion show that took place on April 17.


In addition, the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor support Steinlage financially. "They are the wind beneath my wings," she explains. "The first couple years, I did it for free. I just volunteered."


Now she has approximately 10 volunteers helping her, one of which is a 79-year-old volunteer stylist who's been helping out for the past two decades. But Steinlage loves being the heart and soul of the organization. "I'm very hands-on. I do shampoos, haircuts, sweeping, office work, everything. I'm hitting the streets too."


It's been a rewarding venture, Steinlage says, as many of her hair care clients are now success stories. She says people stop her on the street and in restaurants and they recall needing her services. "They will sometimes pull me aside and thank me and tell me they are doing better now. Some are going to college!"


One success story in particular came full circle. One man, who first came to Steinlage in the depths of a serious drug problem, is now a business owner and serves on the board of Franciscan Haircuts from the Heart.


"A haircut doesn't sound like much," Steinlage says. "But if you haven't had one in a while it changes your life to have one when you need it most."




Photographer: Neysa Ruhl

Model: Sister Bonnie Steinlage

Location: Lofts@4120


Amy Scalia -


Amy Scalia, a Cincinnati native, is the editor in chief and publisher of Cincy Chic. Send her an e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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