For the last 25 years, the man known as Joe the Barber has been offering homeless people in Hartford, Connecticut haircuts in exchange for hugs.
Anthony Cymerys started offering his services to those less fortunate in 1988, after hearing a sermon about the homeless. He had just retired and was only cutting hair for family, but those inspiring words he had heard in church made him decide he didn’t want the homeless looking like homeless anymore. So he prepared his tools, put them in the car and started driving around town looking for people in need of his services. In the beginning, he helped people in shelters and convalescent homes, then he cut hair in downtown YMCA for years, before moving to the carousel near Bushnell Park. Every Wednesday, the wooden benches on the Elm Street side of the park are packed with homeless people waiting for a relaxing haircut, shave and facial massage from the 82-year-old Joe.
As soon as he parks his 1996 Crown Victoria and connects his clippers to the car battery, Cymerys is assaulted with questions about who should be the first in his barber chair. He asks his “customers” about the desired haircut style, and starts clipping, trimming and shaving. After that, Joe splashes some rubbing alcohol on his hands and proceeds to massage face, ears, neck, throat and shoulders. All he asks in exchange is a nice big hug. ”It really is love. I love these guys.That’s what it’s all about,” Anthony told the Associated Press. Giving haircuts may not seem like a big deal to a lot of people, but it’s actually very important. Homeless people have a hard time finding jobs because of the way the look, so Joe is really helping them out of a hairy situation in more ways than one.
Joe the Barber’s altruism has inspired others to help the homeless of Hartford. Ed Galler and Betty Magee, among others, wanted to help Joe out, so they started handing out home-cooked meals to people who fell on hard times. ”The first couple of times I came with Joe, so I felt safe,” Magee said. “Then after you’re here a couple of times, you realize it’s fine.”