By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, [email protected]

While spring break is normally the time kids are running far away from books, Operation Pathways brought programming to children that offered an opportunity to make reading just as fun as looking stylish.

Organized under Resident Services Coordinator for Operation Pathways, Adeela Abbasi, “Stories for Styles” took place at Benning Heights Community Room on April 18, and allowed for students to read books in exchange for a free haircut or hairstyle.

“Stories for Styles,” was an “Academic Achievement,” programming effort hosted by Operation Pathways, where kids read books in exchange for free hairstyles. This is barber Akil Wilson who volunteered to cut hair for the event. (Photo by Micha Green)

“I had heard of a barber doing something similar to ‘Stories for Styles’ in another state and I think he called it ‘Trims and Tales’ or something. Anyway, I loved the idea and I immediately jumped on the chance to encourage literacy for the young people in the community,” Abbasi told the AFRO.  “I knew the kids would be on spring break and Easter was that same weekend. It seemed to all come together so the kids could have some fun while they were off and get fresh for the holiday too.”

While literacy and free hairstyling sounds appealing for many people, the fact that Operation Pathways held “Stories for Styles” at the Benning Heights community was no coincidence.  As Resident Services Coordinator, Abbasi said she is, “ tasked with building programs and offering services which will ultimately improve quality of life for families within affordable/ subsidized housing.”

“I specifically work in three core areas Health & Wellness, Academic Achievement and Financial Literacy,” Abbasi explained.

“Stories for Styles,” fell directly under the core of “Academic Achievement,” and Abbasi felt it important that she met the kids where they were- by targeting their needs, offering enrichment, bringing food and fun and building more opportunities for connection and growth.

“Just asking the kids to join me in the community room to read books would never work. However, mixing it in with a fresh haircut, food, music, other educational activities such as ‘Create Your Own Story’ and an opportunity to run around and enjoy themselves is the perfect way to get them engaged,” she told the AFRO.

Further, adding the element of looking fresh for their “Easter Sunday’s Best,” was a bonus.

Children in Benning Heights in Southeast, D.C. pose doing the “Black Panther” Wakanda pose at the “Stories for Styles” event held by Operation Pathways on April 18.

“The communities I work in are comprised of families on fixed incomes. So an opportunity to get a free haircut was surely a financial relief.”

While children waited to get their hair done, they read books, played outside, ate hamburgers and hotdogs, danced, colored, wrote stories and participated in an Easter egg hunt.

“The day was really about the kids. I wanted them to have a good time and know that educational activities can be fun. And spring break doesn’t mean turn your brain off,” Abbasi said. “We had a ‘Create Your Own Story’ activity where the kids were given paper to draw a picture and write a story.”

And some of these children have heavy stories.  One girl shared with the AFRO that her father killed her sister and that she was hoping to simply have happier times.  A day of fun and enrichment was just what they needed.

“I wanted to come to the party,” 9-year-old Aiden told the AFRO. “I like that you can come and play games and do an Easter egg hunt.”

While Aiden’s hair was already Easter Sunday ready, she said she loved the concept of “Stories for Styles.”  “It’s great because they get to learn to read and look better with their new hair,” Aiden said.

Sixth grader, Laila Crawford, served as a volunteer for the event. “I think it’s good.  It encourages kids to read and get a nice haircut,” she told the AFRO.

With one volunteer barber, another volunteer hairdresser and good samaritans, about 30 children enjoyed “Stories for Styles,” and 17 kids walked away with fresh new styles.

Inspired by “Stories for Styles,” Abbasi hopes to continue similar efforts in addition to the work that is already taking place with Operation Pathways.

“We would love to have another event like this. Every year we participate in National Night Out which is an evening to encourage the community to come together with law enforcement. Last year I combined the event with a back to school backpack give away. I am always looking for donations of school supplies and backpacks to put them in. This year I want to step it up and include the ‘Stories for Styles’ so kids can go back to school looking fresh,” she told the AFRO.

Abbasi also wants to recruit more volunteers.

“I learned from this event that the more barbers we have, the better, so if anyone is interested in offering their services that would be great. I would also love to find a shoe sponsor that will allow me to put new shoes on all the elementary age kids on the property,” she said.

In addition to the summer plans, Abbasi told the AFRO that she will be conducting financial literacy seminars in May that are free and open to the public.

Abbasi encourages all those interested in volunteering or learning more about Operation Pathways to contact her directly.  “Anyone who wants to give their time or treasure can reach me at 301-370-9097 or [email protected] To learn more about the organization visit www.operationpathways.org.