When one young mom found herself on the streets with her children, she couldn’t see a way out of her desperate situation. That was until one landlord took a chance on her. But little did he know the life-changing effect that would have on the woman, her family and many others.
Twenty years ago, Vanessa Howard had hit rock bottom. Life had dealt her some raw deals. As a result, the young mother of three found herself homeless on the streets of Tampa, Florida. To make matters worse she had just $2 to her name.
In August 2017 Howard told CBS News that her childhood was far from easy. She described the house she grew up in as “drug infested.” So, when she fell pregnant in her teenage years, she saw an opportunity to get out.
The only problem was, Howard didn’t have anywhere secure to go. Then she found herself in an abusive relationship. As a result, before long, she found herself on the streets with no hope of finding herself a home.
But, with three kids to look after, Howard had to start searching for a place to live. However, with no funds to pay for an apartment, she was hardly the most attractive tenant. Consequently, she faced rejection at every turn.
In the end, Howard’s situation grew so desperate that she even contemplated suicide. “I cried out one day,” she revealed. “I was tired of being homeless, tired of being alone and prayed for help.”
The following day, Howard made her way to yet another apartment viewing. She hoped that this time the landlord would take pity on her. So, she tried to remain positive as she walked towards him. And what he said when she got there will live with her forever.
“He was like, ‘I don’t know you, but I feel like you should have this place,’” Howard revealed. It was the opportunity the mom had prayed for. “It was from there that I found hope and restoration,” she said. “I just wanted to pay it forward.”
With a roof over her and her children’s head, Howard found the strength to gradually turn her life around. She began working in local salons, doing beauty to pay for her apartment. At last the mom had found her feet in life.
Eventually, Howard expanded her family and is now the mother of five daughters. These days, her children like paying their mom back for the way she fought for them all those years ago. As a result, when Howard wanted to set up her own salon, her girls were right behind her.
And, she vowed, her salon wouldn’t be just like every other in town. Instead, the business would give back to those in need. Howard said it was the selfless landlord who helped her two decades prior that inspired her to create a socially-conscious salon.
“It was by faith that I opened up the salon,” Howard revealed to WFLA in 2015. “I really didn’t have the money, but I had the faith and passion to give back to women who are less fortunate and women who need that uplift in their spirit.”
So, the “Giving Hands Beauty Salon” opened in late 2014. And, before long, Howard had begun hosting spiritual spa days for Tampa’s homeless ladies. The aim was to give the women an injection of confidence and simply make them feel human again.
“Once a month we have five to seven women come here and they come here to get pampered,” Howard explained. “We do their hair. We do their makeup. We do facials. We do their eyebrows. We do their nails and we pray for these women, for their needs.”
Within just a few months, over 50 women had benefited from Howard’s free makeovers. And, she claimed, the majority of them went on to secure employment. So, it seemed Howard’s selflessness was having a real impact on people’s lives.
Moreover, the city’s homeless women weren’t the only people Howard reached out to. Each year, just before the school year starts, Howard invites young homeless girls into her salon. There they enjoy a “Back to School Princess Party.”
During the party, the girls spend hours being pampered. “We want them to feel like a princess for a day. It’s important, especially during their transition,” Howard explained to CBS News. “I want them to be confident because if they’re confident they excel.”
To help the children succeed the salon also provides the little girls with school supplies. And, to make them feel extra special, they give each of them a princess tiara. Howard’s only reward is seeing them smile. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
In fact, because of where she is in life now, Howard wouldn’t even change all those years that she struggled. “I believe everything we go through we go through for purpose,” she explained.
“I truly believe that nothing happens by coincidence. I would encourage other broken women, business owners – all of us have a story and I believe that we should use what we’ve been through to help others,” Howard said.