A Cut Above
By Erik Pearson Owner of Soda Salon and Children’s Volunteer
I grew up thinking I’d be a doctor. A lot of my family is in medicine, and I thought I’d take that path, too. But I also loved fashion and design. I’m part of the ‘80s MTV generations where it seemed like everybody was a supermodel. Hair styling was a way into that world. I eventually found myself completing a cosmetology apprenticeship, working fashion weeks, magazine shoots and on film sets.
My wife and I opened Soda Salon as a home base for our production work. From the start, it was important to me that the business have a philanthropic aspect. We began working with local schools, women’s shelters and the Shepherd Center, bringing our caring and giving arts to those who needed them the most.
Volunteering at Children’s was more personal: It’s where my sister survived bacterial meningitis. I’d been with her the night before she got sick, babysitting while I was home from college. I’ll never forget my dad’s call the next day saying she was at Children’s and in a coma. We spent a lot of time there, and even in that dark period, I felt drawn to the place.
My first visit as a volunteer was eight years ago. My wife, a couple of other stylists and I did bedside visits —cutting hair, setting curls, offering a dab of lip gloss.
After weeks or months in the hospital, kids are of course going to need a haircut. But we knew there would also be special circumstances. Chemo. Spinal injuries. Cranial surgeries. The doctors work so hard to save lives, but when a kid wakes up with staples and half of her head shaved, it can be traumatic. Our goal is to always emphasize why these kids are amazing and special—and help them remember feeling that way, too.
Ever since that first visit, I wanted a salon at the hospital, not just a bedside service. You can give a great cut just about anywhere, but if you have a shampoo bowl and some space, it takes things to a different level. Today, our salon at Scottish Rite is a complete escape, and something that employees tell me helps motivate the patients.
My stylists always say volunteering brings so much perspective to their work. Sometimes it’s hard. I’ll come in on-call to work with kids who have a lot of complications. I’ve given kids the last haircuts of their lives.
But it’s also life changing. A mother wrote me to say that she saw her daughter smile for the first time in three months after getting her hair done. I get goose bumps when I think of that. These kids, who deal with so much, have such incredible dreams. Having that perfect cut and style helps them remember who they are inside.