The Globetrotting Hairstylist for Good

Andrea Pezzillo is building upon her years of experience in LA to help transform lives in Jamaica.

On your way to any resort in Jamaica, you pass by a lot of the “real part” of the country. You pass by poverty-stricken neighborhoods, half-built homes without roofs housing full families. This didn’t sit right with me. — Andrea Pezzillo

By most standards, Andrea Pezzillo has a pretty good life. In her 14 years as a hair stylist — currently residing in Los Angeles — she’s gotten to work alongside brilliant people, including many celebrities, and traveled the globe.

Amongst the many places that her work has taken her, Jamaica has always been her favorite…but on her last trip, everything changed. She felt like she’d hit a wall.

I was really affected. It was like “What am I doing with my life?”

Inspiration soon struck.

Andrea Pezzillo

On her flight home to LA, she was seated next to a man she didn’t know. Not one to normally strike up conversations with strangers, she tried to sleep. But she kept hearing a voice in her head that was saying, “Talk to him, Andrea. Talk to him.” So she opened her eyes determined to talk to him. She did it. An older Jamaican gentleman from London, they talked about life and what it’s all about. At one point, he told her about his friend who worked at a government program in Jamaica that gave students that couldn’t afford schooling a skilled trade.

I was like “ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.” This is what I need to do. I felt so strongly I needed to go home, start sending emails, connecting whatever dots I can. I felt that if I didn’t do that right away, it would just pass me by. I’d go back into my everyday life, and not have made an impact.

They landed. And she got to work.

She promptly emailed the man from the airplane, who connected her with his friend who connected her with the beauty school in Jamaica that he’d worked with. She sent them an email.

It was very hard communicating with them. They thought I wanted to work there. They were asking for a resume. The whole thing was very confusing. But I felt strongly, “This is what you’re supposed to be doing.”

So she pressed on. She figured that to really make an impact, she’d need to be in Jamaica for three months. And that’s what she told the school — and that she would love to do some advanced workshops for their students. She wanted to use her skills to teach others.

Andrea realized that to really scale her efforts, she should engage beauty companies to provide each student in school with the supplies to do hair. So she put an email together about what she was doing, listed some of her accolades and made the ask. And then she just sent it off to every company she could think of. She was cold emailing.

To her utter shock, most of them responded. Paul Mitchell. MAC. Even top salons in Beverly Hills. And they all said the same thing.

They literally said, “What do you need?”

So she got her supplies: her brushes, her hairdryers, her tools of the trade. But she also needed money. She was about to take three months off from her job to go live and teach in Jamaica. She estimated that to really make it work, she would need approximately $15,000. So she set up an online fundraising page on CrowdRise and started asking friends, family and work contacts if they could help her out on this undertaking. The dollars started to trickle in bit by bit, in increments of $10-$20 dollars each.

As she was ramping up for the trip, she kept on thinking about what else she could do while she was there. Thinking back on her previous time spent in Jamaica, she remembered that she had done a photo shoot at the Rockhouse Hotel, a beautiful hotel perched high on the cliffs of Negril. So she went to the website and saw that they had a nonprofit who had not only rebuilt six schools across the island, but had also built Negril’s first library. So she just wrote them, again cold explaining her project. The president called her shortly after.

The president was like, “You’re coming out? We’d love to have you help out. What do you want to do?” I knew that this whole mission could be inspiring change and supplying need. I said, “I would like to supply each school with school supplies, and help wherever needed.”

So now Andrea’s trip to Jamaica has taken on a whole other dimension. She started out with a vision of teaching women and men how to do hair as a trade, and suddenly she was tasked with trying to procure supplies for schoolchildren. She had the bug — a talent for getting people to say yes to this wild endeavor, and the fierce determination to make it happen. So she got back to work, asking people and companies to donate supplies for these schools, which had over 200 students in total. She succeeded in getting what she needed and she shipped off everything to Jamaica in four oil-rig barrels. Then she got on a flight, completely unsure about everything.

The president of one of the schools she was helping found her accommodations. Far from the glitz of the resorts, she was in a cabin by herself in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. She felt so alone. She started seriously wondering if this was all a mistake.

When I got there I cried for a week. I was like, “What the hell did I get myself into?” It was terrifying because I had this vision of how big this was going to be, and then you’re all of a sudden there, and you’re by yourself, and it’s nighttime, and you don’t know anyone. They speak thick Patois, which I couldn’t understand. I was ready to give up.

She says that the beauty school, which was a ways from where she was staying, wasn’t sure if she was actually coming, and she was having a very difficult time communicating with them. She was freaking out. But then, little by little, things started to change. Some of the locals started saying hello, bringing her fruit, then she started making friends at her little cabin. And finally, representatives from the beauty school drove three hours to meet her and speak in person. It was all working out.

After a month of helping out with the children (and often teaching, to her surprise) in the primary schools. She headed to Kingston and started teaching in the beauty schools. She saw how much it meant to people that she was there and that she was giving her time to them to share what she knew. And she knew how much it meant to her, as well. She had found her purpose. Those three months were some of the most amazing of her life.

Andrea at home with the scissors.

She felt like she made a real impact. At the beauty school, she had a particularly moving moment.

Sometimes in your craft you can be intimidated by others, thinking , do I really have something to share? It was amazing to see that after a few days of the workshops, the barbers in the beauty school wanted to come in on their day off for more time to learn about cutting different types of hair. Some of them took their only bus money to cross the island to come learn a little more about their trade. That was a pretty amazing moment to be able to experience.
Andrea at some of the schools that she secured supplies for and helped out at.

She had another moment while at one of the children’s schools that will always stick with her.

I’m walking a little girl home and I see that she has no shoes on. She said, “Oh, they broke again. My daddy will just have to glue them.” I said, “you don’t have another pair of shoes?” She says, “No”. Then out of nowhere it starts raining, and nobody is at her home so I invite her in, and we hang most of the night. Meanwhile, here we are, this 10-year-old girl with no shoes, at a stranger’s house. It was such a surreal moment. So the next day I went into town and bought her new shoes. It’s those little moments that count.

The three months flew by, and Andrea was soon back in the familiar confines of LA, but was permanently changed. She now knew what she was supposed to do with her life. She was going to bridge the gap between under resourced youth and the skilled trade industries by investing in training and enrichment programs. She’d supply the tools needed to have a successful career path in the trade industry. She has since started Trade-Works Foundation, a nonprofit organization to “share God’s love, inspire hope, and create economic opportunity for under resourced youth.”

My vision for Trade-Works is twofold. On one side it’s teaching a man to fish. It’s about inspiring someone to know how great they are, that they can be successful, no matter their circumstance. Maybe they wouldn’t be an investment banker, but maybe they would be a really good chef. There is something in living life knowing that you have purpose. On the other side, it’s giving professionals like myself an opportunity to volunteer and give back. Whether you’re a fashion designer or a hairstylist, who knows, an actor, a graphic designer, it’s providing an opportunity to take the tools that gave you success, and teach someone else that same thing.

Because of the success of the initial program, Andrea will soon be taking a team from Trade-Works to Jamaica for a 10-day workshop supporting youth interested in the hair/beauty industry. They’ll be partnering with a Jamaican government program to provide training, tool kits and create economic opportunities for the next generation and beyond.

And then who knows, maybe on one of Andrea’s many flights back and forth between LA to Jamaica she’ll sit next to a person who she’ll inspire to go out and change the world.

If you’re inspired by Andrea’s story, please Recommend this story so others may find this and follow the Decent Humans publication on Medium for more.

Decent Humans is a series of stories spotlighting the incredible community we witness on CrowdRise doing amazing things for good. By sharing their stories of aid, altruism, and passion we hope others will be inspired to live a charitable life.