GARY — The distinct buzzing sound of hair clippers amplified each time Airrion Styles of Lil’ Lou’s Beauty and Barber College inched closer to Julius Leonard’s ears.
“As soon as I get out of here, I’m going to tell my neighbor about this. He needs a haircut real bad,” Leonard said, laughing.
The 73-year-old Gary man said he was passing through the city’s Midtown section when he noticed St. John Universal Temple — a small church on 11th Avenue with its gray façade and the bright red doors — offering free haircuts, financial advice, employment help and other services.
“They should do more of these,” Leonard said. “A lot of people need help."
Despite the torrential rainy afternoon, St. John Universal Temple, 2142 W. 11th Ave., opened its doors from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday to a small mix of folks — including those in need of assistance, and volunteers from the business community and social service groups.
“Do you need help with a job? Have a problem with housing? Do you need financial advice? What is it that you really need? Those are kinds of questions we are asking,” Pastor Jacqueline Fields said.
Much of the advertisement for Saturday’s event was by word of mouth. Fields said she plans to host an outreach event once a month through the summer and have additional churches pitch in.
The need is tremendously great in Gary — a urban city center racked by poverty, and high crime and unemployment rates, she said.
A 1997 graduate of Lew Wallace High School, Fields recalled the vibrant downtown Gary of her childhood.
“That sort of all fell away,” Fields said. “If we can make a difference, we will. Maybe we can’t make it into what it once was, but make (Gary) into what it could be,” Field said.
Health screenings were provided by Okolocha Medical Center and the Indiana Department of Health and Human Services, while a representative from Meals on Wheels was on hand to answer questions.
Consultants were also available to review utility bills for potential savings and free employment assistance was offered by Express Employment Professionals.
NWI Community Action had free children's books and CDs available and a representative from the Gary Housing Authority was available to discuss housing options.
Representatives from Primerica's Merrillville office were on hand to discuss ways to get out of debt, become financially independent and prepare for retirement.