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How local barber shop partners with schools to advance child literacy
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Chris Quinones cuts Isaiah Lawrence's hair Friday, March 15, 2019, and his business Untouchable Hair Studio. The nine-year-old reads a book during the cut because the barber shop keeps a good supply of books on hand for youngsters and encourages them to read before and during their cut. - photo by Scott Rogers

It’s been said that finding the right barber is like finding the right auto mechanic. Simply priceless.

Chris Quinones, however, doesn’t offer just fresh cuts and fresh gossip at his shop.

The founder of Untouchable Hair Studio in Gainesville treats his business as an extension of the community work he undertakes.

For example, Quinones and his business partner, Jarad Martin, recently attended the annual heritage luncheon at Fair Street elementary school celebrating Black History Month. The two participated in a new addition for 2019 called the “career walk.”

They also work with the Educational Foundation and Museum of Beulah Rucker in mentorship roles, and with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier on back-to-school supply drives.

The collaboration with local schools now continues with the barber shop’s participation in a Gainesville City Schools initiative to get kids reading outside the classroom.

“Consistency is the key,” Quinones said about staying involved in the community.

Last year, the school system was awarded a $2.8 million grant to improve literacy for all students and expand professional development for teachers leading this charge.

Two-thirds of Georgia’s third-graders are not reading on grade level, according to the state Department of Education.

Gainesville City Schools Deputy Superintendent Sarah Bell said officials wanted to tackle “literacy deserts” in low-income neighborhoods through its Books and Barbers initiative.

On a recent Friday afternoon, parents and their children poured into Quinones’ shop, located on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Next to the front counter is a bookcase stocked with children’s literature.

Quinones said he’ll ask each kid to choose a book they like and read it while their hair is cut. “They’ve been in the community,” said Craig Lawrence, whose son Isiah, 9, sat in the barber’s chair while Quinones quizzed the young boy on what he was learning from the book he’d selected. “They really do impact the kids. They play their part.”

Quinones said he’ll sometimes send kids home with books, asking them to read it and return it the next time they come for a haircut.

He’ll also cut the parents a deal if the kids show particular enthusiasm for reading.

“It’s all about building bonds and relationships,” Quinones said.

The clientele was varied heading into the weekend.

There were Latino parents and their children. White and African-American men. The shop even caters to women with female hair stylists available.

And single mothers dropping off their children for a cut while they run errands isn’t uncommon, Quinones said.

“They look up to us for that male role model in life,” he added.

Quinones thinks of his shop as a something like a mentoring center.

He often teaches young men interested in the profession, and offers them opportunities to earn their stripes, and some pocket cash, by helping sweep up the shop.

The shop has a bulletin board with community event listings, calls for block parties, and for affordable housing.

Next to the board are large posters showing fade cuts and other hair styles patrons can model their own cut after.

Like haircuts, the trends among youth come and go, but the lessons Quinones said he hopes to pass on are exemplified in his son, Christopher Jr., who is also a barber at the shop.

“If you’re not learning, you’re not growing.” Christopher Jr. said. “I love coming in every day.”