FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The beauty salon is bright and cheerful. Painted above the door is the phrase, “Miracles are what seem impossible but happen anyway!” along with a happy, bright yellow sun.
That sums up the philosophy of Robert and Sandra Rose Allison, husband and wife, and their business: Salon Chair of Hope.
This is not an ordinary salon, however — the Allisons’ beauty salon caters to cancer patients. As Robert Allison said, the clients get to be “queen or king for a day” at the salon.
He gently helps them as they get their head shaved — he estimates he’s had his head shaved five times along with clients. He teaches them how to create head wraps, apply makeup or style their wigs. All of these services are offered free to cancer patients.
When asked how he can afford to offer these free services, Allison answered, “I can’t afford it . I just believe in purpose. I would do it if I had to go to someone’s house and do it. (When you are working with someone and you are in somebody else’s salon) and you get to that stage where they have to shave their head they don’t want everybody gawking at them while they are crying.”
To provide the services, he works side jobs and also offers standard services for regular clients, including haircuts, color services, styling and facial waxing for women and haircuts and a shave for men. Through paid services, they hope to finance free care for cancer patients. On their handout they estimate if everyone in Flagstaff visited once they would be able to meet the needs of all cancer patients in the community.
Robert Allison’s dream of being a beautician started when he was in second grade. He saw a man in a commercial, Max Factor, applying make-up.
“The women were smiling,” Allison said. “I can do this on my mom.”
He “borrowed” his mom’s make-up. His brothers and sisters didn’t want to be volunteers, so his cat “volunteered.”
“It was a no-no moment. I didn’t know that yet,” Allison said. “. Max Factor got me a whupping that day, but . that was a seed.”
While not elaborating, Allison describes the first 19 years of his life as being full of fear and terror.
“I know what the dark, dark, dark black of fear is and I know what the bright luminous light of love and kindness and harmony and balance is,” Allison said. “Which would you choose? And once you choose, you have to help share what you know because there are a lot of people living in the confusion of pain. That’s why I do what I do.”
He is a licensed beauty industry professional, certified as a master educator, and a licensed hairdresser with a specialty in cancer services. In Anchorage, Alaska, he worked at the salon at the Hilton.
“The only thing (my mentor) ever asked of anybody was to care about their client,” Allison said. “She taught me about service on a very top level and just instilled in me that everybody deserved the service they were asking for.”
He moved to Arizona to be closer to a brother but was attracted to Flagstaff because it reminded him of Anchorage.
He has been helping cancer patients since 2002.
Sandra Rose Allison relates the story of how the Salon Chair of Hope was born. Sandra Rose got to know a woman named Connie through one client she was caretaking. Connie then got cancer.
“Robert would do her hair, skin and pedicures,” Sandra Rose. “It made the illness not as big as it was before. He would make her feel so much better . She was very appreciative of what he did and said, ‘You know, you have a talent here.'”
Robert, after taking classes, was a trainer for the American Cancer Society’s “Look Good, Feel Better” program and opened his first salon for cancer patients, “Salon Chair Called Hope.” Despite positive media stories and letters supporting his cause, he and Sandra Rose had to close the salon in 2009 because they couldn’t afford the overhead.
He worked at other salons but took last year off. The new salon opened in June and they are hoping this time it will work.
“All I want is to be part of a team to make a difference but I can’t sit around and wait for it to happen I have to be busy,” Robert said. “We don’t have a budget for advertising . but I know I can out-walk most people because they walked us in the military. I cold call, and every day try to be more dynamic than the previous day.”
He walks around town carrying three mannequin heads on a stick, each showing a different wig or wrap a cancer patient might choose.
He laughs admitting some might find it initially frightening. He hands out fliers and business cards.
Robert’s heart is definitely bigger than his pocketbook. He volunteers yearly at Flagstaff’s Project Connect. His dream is to be able to help cancer patients find an oasis from their pain through letting them feel better about their appearance.
Why cancer patients?
“They wouldn’t choose it, my choice is to help them feel better and to care for them during that moment they care to share with me,” Robert said.