Show of hands – who has ever indulged in a little beauty pampering?
A mani/pedi? A haircut? A shave?
Sure, that was a trick question – who hasn’t?! And that’s the point – we’ve all appreciated those lovely moments; a little pampering does a lot of good
And so perhaps those living with a serious illness may need it the most?
That is the cornerstone philosophy of Beauty Bus, a non-profit organization that provides “dignity through beauty services and compassionate support to chronically or terminally ill patients and their caregivers.”
Honoring Melissa Marantz Nealy
The inspiration for this wonderful organization has a bittersweet source.
Melissa Marantz Nealy developed a degenerative neuromuscular disease at the age of 27, and she passed away within a year.
But Melissa’s penchant for living her life on her terms has cast a long shadow, sparking an idea that would become Beauty Bus.
Melissa’s sister – and Beauty Bus co-founder – Wendy Marantz Levine recalls:
“Melissa was total a girly girl. And [when she sick], she was really missing getting her hair cut, getting her nails done, – things she did all the time. So we said to her ‘We will find someone to come to the house.’”
This practice became a regular routine and Wendy and her family and friends realized how much strength and joy those moments gave Melissa.
Wendy recalls the struggle it was to find someone to come to Melissa – so it didn’t take long for Wendy to found the organization that provides a well-needed service that was missing.
So what exactly does the Beauty Bus do?
Beauty Bus provides the following:
–In-Home beauty and grooming services, free of charge to caregivers and people whose illness or condition prevents them from accessing a salon.
–Pop-Up Salons, where patients and caregivers receive a variety of complimentary beauty and grooming services at hospitals and social service partners.
–Beauty Series, which brings Beauty Bus into hospitals and social service partners on a weekly basis to provide client services and volunteer engagement in a consistent location.
–Bags of Beauty, which are filled with donated, full-size beauty and grooming products to every client, so the pampering can continue after the visit, valued at up to $150!
The most personal– and cornerstone– service of course is the in-home beauty work, which can be soul-replenishing.
Sometimes, patients may be too ill to be able to visit a salon or perhaps their health equipment or treatment procedures make travel away from home particularly difficult.
And while of course there are beauty salons or individuals who offer ‘house call’ options – these can be – and often are – tremendously expensive.
Another obstacle– which Wendy and Beauty Bus are keenly sensitive to– is that sometimes beauty service providers are uncomfortable or feel emotionally unequipped to cater to someone who is ill.
Beauty Bus not only vets and ensures that beauty professionals are up to the task of providing these services but they also provide an intensive training. Volunteers who are not beauty professionals are called “Beauty Buddies” and they accompany the beauty professionals on home visits as well as at the Pop-Up Salon events to help create that “salon atmosphere” .
“I really think it’s about self-esteem and taking you out of your disease; and making sure you look good on outside, even if you don’t feel like it on the inside.”
Wendy also recognizes the importance of making sure caregivers get their pampering time too – not just because caregivers are great sources of help for their sick loved ones and therefore need to feel replenished – but also because they are human beings too.
“When someone is at home sick, caregivers do so much for their loved ones, and are often isolated at home. So this is an an opportunity for a great patient-and-caregiver bonding experience at home.”
An unexpected success
Upon launching in 2009, Wendy figured she’d get a maybe 5-6 patients a month. And never has she been happier to be this wrong.
Beauty Bus has just serviced its 15,000th client! Which roughly translates to over 138 clients a month!
Wendy even had to step down from her law practice to devote herself full-time to Beauty Bus. And as much as she loved her previous profession, she doesn’t regret investing her time into Beauty Bus.
“We had a cancer client, and her cancer prevented her from sitting. So our beauty professional provided her a haircut you wouldn’t get a salon, to cater to her needs. She felt so dignified, so beautiful. Beauty Bus is about being creative.”
What fills the hearts of Wendy and everyone at Beauty Bus is the feeling that they are making a difference in people’s lives; both in making them smile and maybe even improving their health.
And to that latter point – there may be science to that!
Providence Saint John’s Hospital in Santa Monica is in the beginning stages of conducting a study to determine if there is quantitative evidence of these beauty services affecting health.
Wendy and co. have heard countless anecdotes from their clients about how Beauty Bus’s services have renewed their strength, so they are hoping some of those anecdotes turn into scientific findings.
Call to action
Feeling inspired?! Here’s what you can do to help!
Lastly, monetary donations are always appreciated, if not preferred. The good work Beauty Bus does is of no charge to their clients, so fundraising is key to making it work.
Making a difference in Melissa’s name
Wendy shares two contrasting examples that represent the same truth that makes Beauty Bus an extraordinary organization; with a manicure at the center of both.
Wendy recalls providing manicure services to a client in hospice care – and after she passed away, her daughter shared with Wendy how much that meant to her mother; so much so she was buried with her red manicured nails.
On the other side, Wendy remembers a young client named Courtney whose medical prognosis indicated she wouldn’t live to see her ninth birthday, so Beauty Bus threw her an 8-and-a-half manicure birthday party for her.
Two years later– Wendy happened to run into Courtney and her mother! Courtney beat the odds and was back at the hospital just for a check-up. Wendy says it was “magical” to see them again, and to learn how much that manicure party meant to Courtney.
This is why Beauty Bus works as hard as they do – and we suspect Melissa is looking down and smiling– no doubt with brightly colored lips to match her sparkly eye shadow.
“I hope Melissa would be proud that from our family’s tragedy, we have been able to help other families when they need it most.”
When asked what else might Melissa say about all this, Wendy couldn’t help but add –
“And she would probably also tell me to wear more makeup!”