By Anthony Joseph

“When you look good, you feel good and do good things.” That’s the motto of Project Self-Esteem; a Nov 12. event dreamed up by five Algonquin students that aimed to enhance self-confidence in homeless men by providing free haircuts, trims, clothes, the tools and avenues through which they can succeed.

The project stems from an assignment for second year recreation and leisure services students called the Great Rec Challenge. The challenge, worth 40 per cent of their final grade, tasked students to use their newly acquired talents and skills to make a difference in the community through hands on recreation programming.

“Students are tasked with researching their community, connecting with a partner agency/organization, assessing needs, plan, design, implement and evaluate the needs of a program,” said recreation and leisure services program teacher Kimberley Steven.

Kimberly Zapata, a second year student and full-time employee at the Salvation Army booth centre, originally pitched the idea to her teammates because she wanted to create something that would boost confidence and inspire them to reach out into the community, find employment and feel good about themselves.

“I had an idea, pitched it to my group because I figured I already worked at the booth centre,” said Zapata.

“I have a connection already established and I figured that self-esteem was a big issue especially among men but it isn’t necessarily spoken about.”

They decided to incorporate the free haircuts, the clothing, the job employment board, hygienic supplies and it grew from there through sponsorships and partnerships that they had.

The project began with absolutely no budget, so the students had to seek budget suppliers through the organization and whoever wanted to pay for a portion of the supplies.

“We really relied on the community to, for example, gather all of the clothing and even within our group, members had connections with people that had hygienic supplies to donate so that’s how we rallied together all the material to make this program run,” said Zapata.

Two members of the community who were hairstylists volunteered after replying to ads and after having contacted the Ottawa Beauty Academy, four students volunteered to cut hair as well.

“One highlight of the event was after the guys received their haircuts and they moved through the stations, we got them to act how they felt about the outcome of the event,” said Zapata.

“So we had whole bunch of cue cards that were quite big with words displayed on them. There was Motivation, I Can, Thankful, Be Kind to Another and we asked them to select one that reflected how they felt at that moment in time. So they grabbed it and then they sat behind our makeshift backdrop and took a picture.”

“They’re all there with their nice haircut, their new clothing and a nice smile on their face and that was the biggest impactful moment.”

Zapata plans to make it an annual event after seeing how moved the staff at the centre were, how many people were coming out and how greatly it impacted the clients.

In total the Great Rec Challenge had 10 groups participate this year, which included: a haunted house and community harvest event, a music and arts program for children, a bully awareness and prevention workshop for children, professional development activities for children, a food pantry drive and healthy eating awareness for adults and seniors.

“The biggest learning that I am hoping students walk away with is the hands-on learning that they will receive but more importantly to be inspired with how they touched the community they are working with,” said Steven.