Paid Content

Hartford Man Offers Haircuts In Exchange For Hugs

Hartford Man Offers Haircuts In Exchange For Hugs

Aol's BeOn group creates custom editorial content that is sponsored by marketing partners. The sponsoring partners do not exert editorial influence over the content, but may be organically integrated within content in an authentic manner that does not impact editorial integrity.

In some ways, Joe Cymerys is one of the richest men in the world, but his wealth has nothing to do with money. Although he was an accountant for decades, his most successful years have been spent giving homeless men free haircuts in exchange for hugs.

Twenty-six years ago, the Hartford, Conn. resident volunteered with the American Red Cross at a local shelter. Things changed when he crossed paths with a man named Arnold, who sported a long, scruffy beard and disheveled hair. Cymerys offered to "clean him up."

"So the next week I brought my clippers in and I gave Arnold a haircut," he explained. When Cymerys was finished, Arnold asked, “How much do you charge for a haircut?” Cymerys replied, “You only get a hug.” And with that, his business model was born.

The amateur barber soon had a long list of people wanting haircuts. He set up his chair and gave as many as 24 cuts per day, sometimes staying until 2 a.m. “I couldn’t have paid a million dollars to have the experience of what I had at that shelter," he recalled.

Cymerys eventually moved his makeshift barber shop to the YMCA, but when the electricity went off one day, he had to find a new location. His customers directed him across the street to the carousel in Bushnell Park, which is now where he conducts his haircuts-for-hugs exchange.

"On Wednesdays, you’ve got to get down here early," customer Donnie Sheff said. "'Cause if you don’t, that line goes all the way up the street."

There are a host of intangible services that Cymerys offers at his "barber shop," including kindness, support and genuine care. "Joe is inspiring to me," Sheff added. "He’s like a father figure."

The feeling is mutual for Cymerys, who feels his customers are his family. “When you do a good deed for somebody, not only do you feel good, but the person that you do the good deed for, they feel good. And then somebody watching you perform this good deed, they feel good. It’s a three-way street.”

Aol's BeOn group creates custom editorial content that is sponsored by marketing partners. The sponsoring partners do not exert editorial influence over the content, but may be organically integrated within content in an authentic manner that does not impact editorial integrity.

Before You Go

Getty Images
Help someone get healthy who otherwise wouldn’t know how. In the South Bay of Los Angeles, the Beach Cities Health District has a program for volunteers to visit a senior citizen in their home and help them get through an exercise program. In Minneapolis/St. Paul, the Bone Builders Exercise Program allows volunteers 55 and over to lead group classes with exercises specifically aimed at preventing osteoporosis. If such programs don’t exist in your city, try your own grassroots effort: Lead a walking group in your neighborhood. Post fliers telling people where and when to meet, and as you get to know your group, call them before walks to keep them motivated.
You’ve got a great salary that keeps you and your family secure and without want. But remember, to have a salary you have to have a job, and to have a job, you have to be able to interview for one. Take the nice clothes you don’t wear anymore and donate them to a place like Career Closet in San Jose, CA, which provides used business clothing to people who need it for job interviews. Bottomless Closet NYC not only provides the clothes, but also interview prep and career training for disadvantaged women trying to enter the workforce.
Grant Halverson via Getty
Everyone has heard of Habitat for Humanity, but most are intimidated by the idea of building a house. However, there are plenty of ways to involve yourself with Habitat for Humanity that are less physical and require less time commitment. You can volunteer your time in a Habitat for Humanity office or fundraising event, help paint or landscape an existing home or work at one of its ReStore locations, which sell used furniture and building materials to fund its projects.
Dougal Waters via Getty
If you’re grateful for your furry best friend, the obvious volunteer opportunity is to walk a dog at the SPCA or Humane Society. But some people shy away from the heartbreak of shelters and animal rescues. If that’s you, put your own dog to good use. Therapy Dogs International provides all kinds of ideas for ways your dog can make a difference. Get your dog certified as a Canine Good Citizen so you can take it to hospitals to visit patients. We love their program called "Children Reading to Dogs," whereby kids who are too shy to read in front of others can practice with your pup.
As your kids trot off to school with a healthy and delicious lunch in hand, remember that thousands of kids in the U.S. don’t have the money for school lunch, and that when they don’t have that lunch provided for them on the weekends and holidays, they go hungry. The Food Bank of Western New York’s BackPack Program generously provides hungry kids with a backpack of nutritious and easy to prepare foods each Friday to get them and their family through the weekend. If you can't find a program like this near you, the Food Bank of Western NY takes donations online.
Nathan Harrison via Getty
He or she may drive you crazy sometimes, but all in all you’re grateful for your significant other. When love goes wrong, abused women and children need help. You can donate your old cell phone to someone at risk of domestic violence. Organizations like Secure The Call collect old phones, reprogram them to be used as be used as emergency-call-only phones, and distribute them to those who may need to call 911. We hope they never need to call, but are happy to recycle our phone this way just in case.
The foundation of any education is the ability to read, yet a staggering number of American children are grades behind their required reading levels. Reading Partners makes it incredibly easy to help children practice their reading. Sign up online, pick a school closest to you, do an online orientation and shadow another volunteer once. You’re all set to read with a child once a week -- and make an enormous impact on their future.
Klaus Vedfelt via Getty
If you’re grateful for Mother Nature, show her. The best part about volunteering for the environment is that you get to be outdoors, often enjoying your favorite hobbies. Look up a local beach clean up through the Surfrider Foundation. You’ll make new friends and likely find a surf buddy for after the cleanup. Or if you aren’t near the ocean, ask your local Sierra Club what volunteer activities they’re planning next. A trail restoration project is a great way to do good, get some exercise, and soak up the sun.