Back to school with a free haircut, thanks to Gardner-Webb staffer

By Matthew Tessnear

Keith Rhodes knows the importance of a good children’s haircut and the struggle with its cost for families who have limited resources. When Rhodes was 10 years old, his single mother, Janade, couldn’t afford a haircut for her son’s picture day at school. Embarrassed at the thought of going to school to take a picture without a sharp style, Rhodes retreated to his home’s bathroom with the tools to carefully prepare his own hair to face his classmates and the camera.

“Having that haircut gives a child an extra boost of confidence in class,” says Rhodes, a staff member at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C. “I’ve been there and can relate to students and parents in families who struggle financially. That’s why I decided on the Saturday before school starts back that I’m going to cut hair, for free, for as many kids as possible.”

Keith Rhodes 2In August, for the fifth straight year, Rhodes provided free back-to-school basic haircuts at Maple Springs Baptist Church between the North Carolina towns of Shelby and Boiling Springs. The service was available for all girls and boys up to high school age who attend classes in Cleveland County.

Rhodes says his pastor, Robert Dover, and local barbershops have helped support and advertise the haircut program, which started with about 20 kids the first year and has since more than doubled in the number of children served each summer. He said people come from across the county for haircuts, including one father who drove his son on a moped to the church to get a haircut the first year and now comes every year.

“When I went to school with the haircut I gave myself, nobody knew the difference, and from that time on I cut my own hair,” Rhodes says. “The first time I cut my hair it took me six hours. I got faster and faster to where I could cut it in 20 minutes.”

After people noticed his hair and started asking him who was cutting it, Rhodes admitted his skills and started cutting his brothers’ hair, then his cousins’ hair, followed by his teammates and then members of the community. Eventually, he went to school and became a barber in Spartanburg, S.C. He has since switched occupations several times, serving as a high school and elementary basketball coach and now as associate director of admissions in Gardner-Webb’s Degree Completion Program. Through his nonprofit organization, Camp Coach Rhodes, he continues to serve the community through coaching at a summer basketball camp and through programs such as the back-to-school haircuts.

“God gave me these talents, and he tells us in the Bible to share our talents,” Rhodes explains. “Kids need to have a positive attitude and outlook when they go to class, and a haircut can help do that.”