Why Fil-Am gives free haircuts to homeless

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

NEW YORK CITY – A simple haircut at this high-end hair studio in Manhattan’s posh Chelsea neighborhood costs at least $125.

A celebrity hair artist cutting the hair of a homeless person costs zero dollars.

But the awesome feeling of being awesome to somebody is priceless.

Every Sunday, without fail, Filipino American hair stylist Mark Bustos walks the streets of New York City to be awesome to somebody.

“I continue to do it because it makes me feel good and I won’t stop doing it until it stops making me feel good, which I don’t see that happening,” Bustos said.

It all began with a life-changing visit to his family’s hometown of Pampanga when he was 12.

“It was the first time I was ever exposed to poverty in a third world country. I grew up here in America. I was able to appreciate life much more after that trip,” Bustos said.

A year ago, he returned to Pampanga to give back.

“My whole purpose was to just give back, cut the hair for the less fortunate children while I was there. Right away I knew I just wanted to take this back home. The feeling was so rewarding, so why not bring it back home to New York,” he said.

But Bustos had a rough start giving back to New York’s homeless.

“The very first time I approached somebody I was turned down. It’s almost you have to approach them a certain way. In the beginning, I wasn’t as warm and comforting as I should have been,” he said.

Today, Bustos said he has learned the right approach to ask a homeless person if he wants a haircut.

“I’ll drop down to their level and sit on the sidewalk on the ground with them, sit eye-to-eye and speak with them like a human being, just tell them I want to do something nice for them,” he said.

The results can be a dramatic transformation physically and emotionally.

Jemar is one of the first homeless guys he gave a haircut to. He didn’t speak too much, but when he did, what he said moved Bustos.

“When I showed him after the haircut what it looked like, the first thing he said to me was, ‘Do you know anybody that’s hiring? I want a job.’ That’s when I knew I was doing the right thing,” he said.

Bustos found a homeless 23-year-old named Zack around Union Square. After the haircut, he told Bustos that he felt great, not just physically but emotionally.

“Usually after the haircut they tell me how grateful they are. A lot of times they’ll say that God has sent them an angel. God provides. It’s just hearing those kinds of things that really fuels my fire to keep going,” Bustos said.

The 30-year-old celebrity hairstylist serves as many as eight homeless people on a given Sunday.

Bustos’ bosses recently surprised him with a new window sign, in honor of his growing #BeAwesometoSomebody movement.

You may contact Don Tagala at don_tagala@abs-cbn.com for more information.

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