Posted on November 2, 2016
“I’m not naïve enough to think that every problem in the world can be solved with a haircut,” says attorney Christopher Matthew, owner of Dillinger’s Barber Suite & Shave Parlor at Sola Salons Garden City. Christopher might not be solving every problem in the world, but he’s certainly doing his part to give back through his unique G.R.O.O.M. Project, which delivers fresh cuts to men living in transitional and supportive housing.
Make no mistake: Christopher is not a lawyer who cuts hair; he’s a barber with a law degree. “I guess I resonate more with what it means to be in the hair industry,” he explains.
Christopher started doing hair when he was 13, and had no idea the adolescent hobby would morph into a career. The young barber cut his way through high school and college; when he wound up in law school, Christopher couldn’t drop the scissors. “It was always a good way to make an income,” he explains.
“I thought I’d stop cutting hair after I passed the bar,” Christopher admits. During his inaugural years as an attorney, though, he found himself renting chairs at local barbershops. “Years passed, and finally I came across Sola, where I could pursue both of my interests,” says Christopher.
Hair and law? As you can imagine, there’s not much overlap between the two fields. “I think that’s why, maybe, I haven’t experienced the burnout others experience in both of these careers,” Christopher proffers.
Actually, scratch that: Christopher was experiencing some burnout in a rather unexpected area. “Right before I came to Sola, I was looking for a way to give,” he begins.
Previously, Christopher executed his philanthropy through legal means, by aiding nonprofits and taking on pro bono work. Problem was, he never really seemed to be helping the people he wanted to help. “I didn’t feel fulfilled,” he says.
In an effort to engage in direct service -- and with help from Breaking Ground, New York City’s largest supportive housing provider -- Christopher founded his own initiative, the G.R.O.O.M Project, short for “Giving Remains Our Only Mission.”
A couple of times a month, Christopher and a handful of recruited barbers head to a transitional housing unit, and cut hair for four to six hours. “We go there and set up a makeshift barbershop in one of the community rooms, where everyone can sit around, talk sports,” Christopher says. Christopher’s mobile salon “brings back a sense of normalcy, even if it’s just for a couple of hours,” he says.
Beyond that, the G.R.O.O.M. shop provides a valuable service. “Most of the guys are working toward getting out and getting their own place,” Christopher says. Salon guests have jobs or are actively seeking employment, and fresh haircuts are critical to looking professional.
A clean cut also “speaks to their confidence and self-esteem,” as Christopher puts it. “When the guys walk out, nobody knows who they are. That’s really the goal,” Christopher says, “to de-stigmatize homelessness.”
It was the G.R.O.O.M Project that prompted Christopher to launch his barbershop through Sola in 2015. “I needed a space to do what I wanted to do,” Christopher explains, noting that Dillinger’s Barber Suite & Shave Parlor has been a robust platform for advancing his philanthropic mission.
And, the buzz is building. Last year, Christopher was selected to participate in Delta Air Lines’ Gift Back Project. This year, he was chosen as one of five winners in Cannon’s Rebel with a Cause campaign. The camera company shot a spot at Dillinger’s, which aired on YouTube.
Forget about quitting while you’re ahead! This year, Christopher is working to advance his mission even further, with the goal of building a barber school inside a homeless shelter or transitional living center.
“I understand that just cutting hair isn’t making major strides in potentially eradicating homelessness,” Christopher says. “The project I’d like to work on is a permanent barber education program for guys going through transitional housing,” he explains. Homeless individuals, Christopher adds, could learn the trade of barbering and improve their economic situations. “If you get into a program that allows you to be creative and earn money, well,” Christopher says, “I think that really could help with everything.”
For more information about Christopher and the G.R.O.O.M. Project, click here.