By Stacey Dresner
WESTPORT – A Westport businessman has opened a vocational school/children’s hair salon in Israel designed to train high-risk youth in a useful trade and to provide therapeutic services to children and families.
Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids Therapeutic Kids Salon opened in May in Hadera, Israel, the home of Talpiot, a non-profit organization that provides community-oriented programs for at-risk children, teens and their families in the region.
“It’s my mitzvah project – my lifelong mitzvah project,” says Scott Sharkey, co-founder and chief executive officer of Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids.
A former business executive in Manhattan, Sharkey opened his first Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids salon in Cos Cob in 2002. It was the idea of his wife, Linda, a former advertising executive, to open a salon that made children’s haircuts easier and more fun for both kids and their parents.
Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids salons offer entertainment to children while they are being coiffed – kids can sit in child-sized Police cruisers, a Barbie jeep, racecars, a Buzz Light Year vehicle or Mini-Cooper. Televisions are set to cartoons or Netflix and older kids can play with Play Stations or X-Boxes. Girls and teens can relax or hold birthday parties in Sharkey’s “Glamour Tween Lounges.”
Sharkey opened two more stores in Westport and New York, and then in 2005 began selling them as franchises.
There are now 66 Sharkey’s in operation and 46 in the building stages in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom.
Sharkey first became aware of Talpiot Village on his first trip to Israel, a men’s trip with Rabbi Yehuda Kantor of Chabad of Westport in 2008.
Situated in Hadera, Talpiot offers a warm and supportive home to 200 children aged 5-15, of whom some 50 percent are new immigrants from Ethiopia and FSU. They are referred to Talpiot due to risk situations, i.e. neglect, dysfunctional parents, domestic violence, sexual abuse, mental illnesses, drug abuse and alcoholism. The village includes foster care, daycare, a therapy center, a petting zoo, sports facilities and a synagogue.
“While I was there I just kind of broke down,” Sharkey said. “It just kind of hit home with me. I thought, ‘There’s got to be something I can do here.’”
When he left he contacted the director and started a fundraiser to raise money – $150,000 – for a salon in the village.
“I wanted to donate one of my salons as a vocational school, but they didn’t have a building for it,” he said. “Then the market crashed in ’08, so the whole project came to a total halt.”
Three years ago, Scott’s oldest daughter Julia planned to visit friends in Tel Aviv during her semester abroad in Spain. Scott decided to meet her there and for a father-daughter tour of Israel.
“While touring we decided to visit Talpiot Village in Hadera to talk to the director and show Julia what it was about. And we decided to kick up the project again.”
This time the money for the salon came straight from from Sharkey’s Corporate coffers.
Sharkey’s shipped equipment and merchandise to the youth village and the salon opened five weeks ago.
Scott Sharkey, his father-in-law, daughter, and Rabbi Kantor all flew to Israel for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Israel salon.
“It was cool,” he said. “All the kids were there and singing to me and it was incredibly emotional.”
Already, he says, eight youths have gone through the Sharkey’s cosmetology program. They will now be able to train other cosmetology students at the village. They also have training for future careers.
“They have opened it up to the outside community,” Scott Sharkey said. “People are coming in for haircuts and they are actually charging money for it. It is incredible.”
CAP: Scott Sharkey and his daughter, Julia, with Talpiot Village director Simona Kedmi, at the vocational school’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.