The story of Beauty Bus Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, begins with Melissa Marantz Nealy, who suffered from a degenerative neuromuscular disease. Nealy was homebound, yet her spirits were lifted when her family arranged in-home haircuts, facials and manicures. Nealy died at 28 from the disease, and after her passing, her family was inspired to found Beauty Bus, offering the “same experience of dignity, hope and respite to other families when they need it most.”
For Rachael Gottes, a leukemia survivor who now works as the systems and operations manager at the organization, it was a life changer.
“I met Beauty Bus initially through a pop-up they were doing,” Gottes said. “I was right at that age [in] junior high, and I was at a new school, and very much like, ‘cancer kid.’ [At the pop-up the] volunteers were just so kind and really took their time. And they taught me all these things, ‘Here’s how you do your eyeshadow, and here’s how you do lip liner, if you want to be really cool.’ I was in the hospital for so many of those pivotal years where all the other kids got to do that. It just so impacted me.”
Gottes feels that Beauty Bus takes the emphasis off a patient’s illness and helps them regain a sense of self.
“I think that when you have people who are suffering with chronic illness, it becomes so much a defining part of them. They end up being treated like a patient in so many contexts. And really, what you want more than anything is a sense of normal. Beauty Bus comes in and really … addresses you as the person that you feel that you are rather than as a person with an illness.”
Later in life, when she went away to college, Gottes interned with Beauty Bus.
“And as soon as I graduated, I came right back, and I got a job to continue with them,” Gottes said.
The organization serves those in need in a variety of ways, including pop-up salons throughout the L.A. area like the one Gottes attended. One such service goes to local hospitals and provides weekly manicures, facials and haircuts. Online tutorials are hosted for patients all over the country as well, and Beauty Bus gives out swag bags that include beauty and grooming products.
Longtime volunteer and esthetician Dana Baze came to the organization when she was training with Oncology Spa Solutions, where she now serves as an instructor.
“My first husband passed away from cancer, and I saw how much people needed to be touched, and how they can get very forgotten when they’re sick or if they’re a caregiver,” Baze said. “And [Beauty Bus] really knows how to give back and just put smiles on people’s faces.”
Speaking specifically about caregivers, Baze said that often the people looking after patients are overlooked, but Beauty Bus makes sure to include them in their outreach.
“They’re exhausted, they’re tired, they’re not taking time for themselves. [They’re] not having facials or doing their hair, their nails and just [those] little things can help them feel good for that moment,” she said.
“You come into this person’s home and you get to really talk with them and bring a sense of dignity,” Gottes said. “[One client was] wheelchair bound, and it was very difficult for them to get out to just get basic services. So, while the client was getting a haircut, I sat down with his wife, and we just talked. And over the course of our short conversation, I just see the mood in the room get so much lighter. Just to come in and be able to have a conversation with him and have a conversation with his wife and not talk about [his illness] and not address it and … be able to have basically the conversation you would have if you went to a normal hair salon, [brought joy into the room].”
Baze remembered one patient in particular who touched her.
“There was a little girl that was sick, and she didn’t have any hair. So, she couldn’t really have anything done in that respect. But they do like these little glitter tattoos … to make the kids feel good. And that little girl had the biggest smile on her face,” Baze said. “I [had seen] her the entire day and she just looked sad. I [could] tell she wasn’t feeling good. And just that little interaction, I could tell it made her day.”
To volunteer or learn more, visit beautybus.org.