FEATURE January 16, 2020

At-risk youth get a fresh look and a fresh start

How one Apple team member is giving people in need new beginnings

A barber giving a young man a haircut.
Jerome Villanueva (left), a Bay Area barber who volunteers with Saints of Steel, gives Frank Clay a haircut at a pop-up event in San Francisco.
There is a magic that happens in a barber’s chair. A relationship is cultivated over years of service, conversation and connection with another in that finite window of time. There’s also a transformation that leads to a new beginning.
For Jaz Limos, a San Francisco native and manager at the Apple Park Visitor Center in Cupertino, that connection and transformation planted the seed of an idea to help individuals experiencing homelessness.
“I started to become obsessed with, why do people open up in a chair?” Limos says.
In 2016, after Limos broke bread with a homeless man at a sandwich shop in Oakland, she was shocked to discover he was her father who she hadn’t seen since she was a teenager. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she needed to do something. For months, she thought about that chance encounter, talking it over with her barber and contemplating how she could have a real impact on people’s lives. It was then that she realized how easy it was to open up in the chair, and also how it felt to really see herself in the mirror afterward.
“When I recognized that there’s so many different piecemeal options for someone to get help, that the entry point has to be just right where you can build rapport … a barber was a very organic way to open up and just feel better,” Limos says.
Jaz Limos, CEO and founder of Saints of Steel.
Jaz Limos, a manager at the Apple Park Visitor Center, founded Saints of Steel in 2016 months after sharing a meal with a homeless man who was actually her father.
Coming face to face with her own family’s hardships compelled Limos to focus on giving back to her community. A series of events followed that paved a path to her solution: Saints of Steel was born, a nonprofit pop-up barber shop and makeover event for people in need looking for employment, housing and a fresh start.
As CEO and founder of the new organization, Limos would build Saints of Steel from scratch — with the full support of her Apple family. In its first year, the organization was almost fully funded by volunteers and donations from Apple. “Our board, when we first started, was primarily made up of Apple employees who just jumped in and rolled up their sleeves,” Limos says. “We saw the power of Benevity and the company match program, because it funded the majority of our ability to run this program.”

“I feel presentable, and I feel good. I got my hair trimmed today and I met great people.”

Giving is ingrained in Apple team members and corporate employees across the globe. Roughly 80% of Saints of Steel’s first year of donations came from Benevity, the corporate giving platform, and 74% of that was made by Apple. Apple team members like Harry Smith, senior manager at Apple Stanford Shopping Center, was on the organization’s board and continues to volunteer his time at their events.
And throughout the company, in 2019 alone, roughly 21,000 employees volunteered their time and donated $42 million to causes they care about. When combined with the company’s 1-for-1 donation match and $25 match per volunteer hour, Apple donated over $100 million to causes throughout the year.
“We have a mission here at Apple to change the world for the better, and give back to the communities in which we live and work,” says Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives. “Apple employees like Jaz embody this culture of giving every day, volunteering over a quarter of a million hours last year. We share a deep commitment to our local communities and doing what we can to cause more good.”
A collage of volunteers and attendees at the Saints of Steel makeover event.
Clockwise, from top-left: 1. Saints of Steel barbers Halden Woody and Jerome Villanueva. 2. The barbers’ tools at the Saints of Steel pop-up event in San Francisco. 3. Rika Ilay Abbir is gearing up for her new internship at the Human Rights Commission. 4. Jules Reyes. Co-founder and director of storytelling for Saints of Steel. 5. Apple team members Harry Smith and Jaz Limos, founder of Saints of Steel. Smith has volunteered with the organization since 2016 after working with Limos at Apple Palo Alto.
At a nondescript building in a quiet neighborhood of San Francisco, the Saints of Steel crew is setting up shop for the day’s makeover event. Jerome Villanueva and Halden Woody are cutting hair for young adults getting ready for new jobs and interviews around the city.
Today’s clients include: Dominique Jackson, Elijah Holloway, Frank Clay and Rika Ilay Abbir, who is debating whether she will also sit in the chair.
The shop is cozy: A room carved out of a homeless youth services center, serving as a shelter for some, a place of employment and internships for others, and a safe haven for the more than 1,100 young people who find themselves on the streets of San Francisco every night.
Limos is not cutting hair today, but she’s onsite with Saints of Steel co-founder Jules Reyes, Apple Stanford Shopping Center’s Harry Smith and her volunteer barbers, Villanueva and Woody.
Abbir is gearing up for her new internship at the Human Rights Commission, where she hopes to raise her hand for writing opportunities in addition to her day-to-day responsibilities. “That’s going to take a lot of time and focus and energy,” she says. “So I’m prepping for that.”
A young man getting a haircut.
Dominique Jackson gets his mustache touched up by Jerome Villanueva, a Bay Area barber who has volunteered with Saints of Steel 22 times.
Dominique Jackson is the first in Villanueva’s chair, getting his edges cleaned up to bring his locks back to life.
“He was passionate about it, he cared, and he took his time,” says Jackson about his cut. “That’s all you need, with anything: time, patience and care, especially with my magic locks.”
Jackson, a security guard at the Chase Center and aspiring entrepreneur, is building a website and looking for new connections to support his vision for a fashion brand. 
“I feel better to go give this resume and my cover letter to this job down the street,” Jackson says. “I feel presentable, and I feel good. I got my hair trimmed today and I met great people.”
Holloway is getting ready for an interview, and knows appearance is a part of that. “[My hair] was long enough to where it was looking like Wolverine,” he says. “[The haircut] definitely got me to put myself in a different headspace and get ready for work.” 
“It’s taken a minute for me to get here,” Holloway says. “It brings a smile to my face honestly. I know this is partly what they’re looking for, they’re looking for your hair to be nice and neat. And it’s not just for the job, but it definitely feels great.”
A young man admiring his haircut.
Elijah Holloway sees his haircut by Saints of Steel volunteer barber Halden Woody for the first time.
“It brings out what I feel on the inside,” says Abbir. “I feel more approachable, calm, relaxed. It’s like coming out of your shell.”
People like Jackson, Holloway and Abbir remind Limos how easy it is to have a meaningful impact. Saints of Steel currently has volunteers across the US in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Las Vegas and New York, with 11 other cities raising their hands to join the organization. With the model set and proven over the last three years, Limos returned to Apple after another chance encounter, this time with a former manager who wanted her to come back in a new role.
“I hope, now that I’m back at Apple and I have my hand in one of each,” Limos says, “that people know that it’s completely possible to make a contribution or to help, or to make a change, and have a full time job.”

Media

Images of Saints of Steel

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