Their seasons of givingDec 31, 2014 09:31AM ● By Kerigan Butt
(Editor's note: This article first appeared in our Winter 2014 edition.)
By Richard L. Gaw
It is a Sunday afternoon in the fall, sometime in the 1970s, and an impressionable kid sits in the living room of his Queens, N.Y., home.
He is watching football on TV as the aroma of meatballs and red gravy is wafting from the kitchen, the promise of yet another banquet of love and food he will share soon with his big Italian family. A commercial comes on featuring the legendary Bubba Smith of the then-Baltimore Colts. In the commercial, Smith is helmetless and smiling that famous gap-toothed smile. Gone is the ferocious gridiron identity; he sits in what appears to be a classroom, beside little children, who wedge in beside him like he is a larger-than-life teddy bear.
The kid from Queens hears that Smith has volunteered his time to improve the lives of these children through a United Way campaign. Perhaps for the first time in his life, the kid acknowledges that professional athletes – the heroes of his childhood – lead other lives, ones that include helping others who may be less fortunate. Wait, the kid thinks, you mean you can be famous and still do wonderful things for others?
At the end of the commercial, Smith looks into the camera – let's just say for the sake of this story that he peers right into the eyes of the kid from Queens – and says, “Thanks to you, it works for all of us. The United Way.”
"Every kid has a superhero, someone they look up to, whether it's Superman, an athlete or a rock star," said J Christian of the J Christian Studio in Hockessin. "Football players were at least someone who were fairly approachable. I could go see a Jets game at Shea Stadium and recognize my heroes in real life. I knew I would never be able to play professional ball, and my talents went elsewhere, but I knew that I could still be that United Way guy.”
Now, nearly 40 years after that commercial was first aired, the kid from Queens has grown up to become one of the leading stylists in Delaware. He has also become its Bubba Smith.
Along with his wife, Marcy, and their talented staff, J Christian has raised nearly a half million dollars for charitable organizations in Delaware since he first opened the salon in 2007. Throughout those seven years, the salon has merged charity with creativity by producing several theatrically themed hair and clothing runway shows, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the charitable organization.
If the "front of the house" at J Christian Studio has become known for its cutting-edge style of hair, nails, makeup, executive barbering services and bridal preparation, then the "back of house" of the business has been their selfless commitment to their community. In any given month, J Christian and his staff will be preparing for a runway event, coaching other salon owners through their foray into the world of philanthropy, giving style makeovers for women who are residents of homeless shelters, or helping to style women who have lost their hair due to cancer treatments.
“We opened the salon in August 2007, and J Christian said to me, 'We need to have a show for someone by April of 2008,'" Marcy said. "I think we ended up paying money at our first event, rather than giving it. We were fumbling around. At the pinnacle of our work, we raised $56,000 and had 1,500 people come out to Crazy Catwalk for Kidds. We had 150 volunteers and 40 local businesses who donated their time, working together in a tangential effort to provide scholarships to families and children in need of access to grief counseling.
“After the third year, the requests for stage shows became so large, we had to establish criteria to select among 500-plus worthy causes that came across our desk. One, that they had to be a 501-C(3) organization; and two, that they had to guarantee the funds would be spent only in Delaware.”
J Christian Studio has done charitable work with Supporting Kidds, Ronald McDonald House of Delaware, Delaware Hospice, and Autism Delaware, to name a few.
In addition to the thrill of being able to raise much-needed funds for these organizations, there is another benefit to what has become the other half of J Christian Studio.
"It is so important for me to teach my staff to not only be professional in their jobs, but also responsible citizens of their community," J Christian said. "Yes, part of that is about offering top customer service, and part of that is delivering an experience that our clients can't find anywhere else ... but the other part of it is humbly giving back to the community you are a part of.”
"J has not only been cutting hair practically his whole life, he's been teaching over the course of that time," Marcy said. "He tells his staff all the time that your ego will kill your talents as quickly as anything else. Rather than have your ego drive you, teach the person next to you how to be a good citizen. Once people get a taste of that, they want to do more for others. Giving back is infectious."
It can also, at times, be quite humbling.
It is customary for Marcy and J Christian to greet the audience on a personal level at every show. Marcy recalls one conversation. While touring the audience at a Crazy Catwalk for Kidds, she’d noticed a group of women sitting together, wearing turban headwear, watching their young children playing around by the catwalk. She approached them, as she does all the time at J Christian Studio events, and asked them what brought them to the event.
“And then one woman said something I have never forgotten," Marcy said. "She said, 'I’m here to help raise money. Next year, my daughter is going to be need Supporting Kidds to help her, because I won't be here at this time next year.' I was devastated, and the more we walked around, the more people told us that they, too, would eventually need the services of Supporting Kidds."
"One of my mentors in the hair industry told me two things -- be humble, and share," J Christian said. "That all began when I saw Bubba Smith when I was a kid growing up in Queens, to now. The light bulb went off for me a long time ago. Giving back to the community has become just another part of who we are."
One year, on break from the “Faery Tale Hair Show” for Ronald McDonald House, while sitting in a Red Robin restaurant, Marcy noticed and came to speak with the parents of a daughter with severe autism. The child didn’t respond during the conversation. She just sat there, dressed in a white summer outfit. Marcy invited her to get a haircut at the Faery Tale Hair Show to raise money for kids in the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware. The haircut on stage would be free. Her parents didn't think she would ever do something like that. When J Christian arrived a few minutes later, he too was dressed all in white.
“I told J Christian to go over and speak to that little girl,” Marcy said. “The little girl and J Christian made an instant connection.”
An hour later, Marcy spotted the little girl at the event. There she stood, unable to take her eyes off of Christian. He came up to the edge of the stage and asked her, "Do you want a hair cut, young lady?"
The girl jumped right on the stage and got a haircut from J Christian. Then she jumped out of her chair, and began to dance in jubilation to the music that she was hearing.
She must have danced there for an hour.
To learn more about J Christian Studio, visit www.JChristianStudio.com .To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail [email protected].