A local master hair care school is focusing not only on teaching hair care but also on changing lives.
Leonard Pelzer and Dashaun West of Santee are the owners of Barber Tech Academy and active members of the Palmetto State Barbers Association. Barber Tech Academy is located at 1521 Russell St. in Orangeburg.
Through Vocation Rehabilitation, the GI Bill, the South Carolina Small Business Development Center and Title IV, Barber Tech is able to provide funding for its students.
Pelzer and West have been barbering since 1996.
“When students come through the front door, the first thing we’re looking for is changing their lives and giving them the opportunity to become entrepreneurs,” said Randy Stoute, Barber Tech director of admissions.
A student can typically complete the master hair care program within nine months to a year. Mannequins are used for practice before any student can style a person's hair.
Before acceptance, the students are screened to see where they are, where they would like to go and what their passions are.
“It’s more to it than just getting them trained and getting them physically and spiritually able to get out there and fight that war of employment and entrepreneurship. We embrace them,” Stoute said.
Barber Tech helps students with all types of issues, such as counseling, legal matters, probation and parole and financial hardships, he said.
Students at the academy include veterans, Vocational Rehabilitation clients and dislocated workers.
“We are diversified. We do predominantly any sector of hair treatment. We are encouraging minorities as well as other ethnic groups to apply,” Stoute said.
Barber Tech, which is in the process of moving into a larger facility, currently has a waiting list of applicants.
West, a master hair care instructor, said he sees the school as an avenue to serve others.
“I’m seeing people from all walks of life -- whether they’re straight out of high school, been incarcerated or in college and looking for an occupation to sustain them while pursuing their college degree,” he said.
West added, "We try to create an atmosphere here where everyone feels welcome and everyone feels like family, as well as fostering entrepreneurs and getting them ready for the hair care industry."
Pelzer, also a master hair care instructor, noted that Barber Tech welcomes females as well as males.
Barbering "is not just an all-male, exclusive club,” he said.
One of the students at Barber Tech Academy is Orangeburg native Tomiko Mack. His job at Federal Mogul Friction Products recently ended. Through a Trade Assistance program, he was offered an opportunity to attend school with all of his expenses paid.
Mack, who has been a student at Barber Tech Academy for about two months, refers to his experience there as "a blessing."
He initially received a band scholarship to attend South Carolina State University.
“What I really wanted to go to school for was to be a mortician," he said. "State didn’t offer that."
He opted to leave S.C. State to attend the Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Services in Decatur, Georgia, for a year.
Mack then returned home and began working part-time as a funeral director assistant.
“We were cutting hair there. I saw a gift in myself, so I started cutting hair in my neighborhood for free to build my skills,” he said.
Mack said he wanted to continue exploring opportunities in hair care and image transformation while getting paid to do so.
“Attending Barber Tech Academy benefited me in a way that I could actually share the same goal and dream as my fellow classmates. I can learn from them; they can learn from me. We can encourage each other,” he said.
“To me, this is special because it’s something that I want to do from the heart," he added. "This is my third shot, and I would love to make that shot -- as in getting my Master Hair Care License with my classmates."
Another student, Stephanie Pauling, said Barber Tech Academy is more than just academics; it's also inspirational.
“They provide life-changing experiences. Coming here lets me know that I’m not just basic. I am someone; I am important,” Pauling said.
After the birth of her daughter, the 22-year-old Orangeburg native wanted to learn how to style hair.
“I can cut my son’s hair now and I’m learning how to actually do females’ hair so when my daughter finally gets some hair on her head, I’ll be ready to go,” Pauling said, laughing.
While in Orangeburg recently supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders' bid for president, Dr. Cornel West, well-known philosopher and educator, visited Barber Tech Academy for a 'BarberShop Stop' to discuss a wide range of issues.
West's visit "placed a huge stamp on my life," Pauling said. "It changed it for the better. Ever since then, I have higher expectations in my life because of this school and the opportunities that they are throwing at us.
“There are doors being opened for us. They’re letting us know that we are important, valuable and we’re going somewhere -- regardless if we believe it or not. They’re instilling that inside of us,” she said.
After spending 12 years and nine months in prison, Barber Tech student Sherwood Adams of Orangeburg said he is on a mission to strive for success.
The 46-year-old encountered obstacles while trying to get a job and trying to be a productive citizen after being incarcerated. Adams is spearheading a re-entry program at Barber Tech.
“Being incarcerated and walking into a program such as this is just a blessing. I always had the drive to own my own and be in business for myself,” he said. "Attending Barber Tech Academy gives me the opportunity to actually give back in a positive way."
Adams added, “Barber Tech Academy brings out the best in you no matter how you think or no matter how others may feel about you. If I had to recommend it on a scale of 1-10, I don’t think a scale of 1-10 would even hold it. That’s just the magnitude of it.”
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