People suffering from opioid addiction generally face a lot of challenges as they begin their recovery. But in the Upper Valley, one business owner is using economic incentives to help people stay motivated in recovery programs.
Since Ashley Bennett opened Fascination Woodland Spa in Lebanon, New Hampshire, last August, she has been providing vouchers for haircuts to people in recovery programs.
“I give these coupons out to people who are part of the programs,” Bennett said. “The first service is 50 percent off [haircut]. And when you graduate from the program, I give a free service.”
Bennett grew up in the Upper Valley and has seen families and friends affected by opioid addiction in recent years.
When she became a business owner, she wanted to use her salon to help those in recovery feel welcome in the community.
“Part of the situation that I see is that there's no support when they get out. So where do they go?” she says while sweeping the floor by her swiveling barber chair. “Well, if you have nothing to start over with, what do you do?”
She continued: "I think having these programs in place where we say, 'Hey, we're not going to judge you, we know you've been through something and now you're making a change and we support your positive change.'”
That's why she started giving vouchers out at her salon and encouraged other local businesses to get involved.
“Essentially, what I did is I walked around White River, and whoever I could catch, I would talk to them about what I was trying to do,” she says. “It was really heartening to see everyone go, 'Yeah, that's great idea. What can I do? What can I give?'”
And now, folks show up to the salon for more than just haircuts.
The Writer's Center of White River Junction provided Bennett with a voucher for free classes.
COVER, a nonprofit organization that sells home appliances and furniture, passed along $100 vouchers for Bennett to give out.
Recently, 23-year-old Troy Schwartz came to Bennet's salon for his half-off haircut.
“You do have your coupon on you, right?” Bennett asks Schwartz as he balances his skateboard against a wall.
“I do! The golden ticket,” Schwartz jokes, pulling the small piece of paper out of his backpack.
He's in his second recovery program.
Before the space was Bennett's salon, the building housed a tattoo parlor that Schwartz frequented when he was using.
“It felt like my comfort zone," Schwartz recalls. "He had empty vodka bottles around and over here was basically where all the ink was done,” he says, looking around at the transformed space, now adorned with plants and shampoo bottles.
And like the storefront, he's changed a lot since then.
“I was just trying to get to my next high – every single second of every single day I was doing whatever I needed to do to get to my next high. I was manipulative, I was scheming,” Schwartz says. “I didn't know who Troy Schwartz was, I only knew who I wanted to be like, and I no longer want to be anyone but myself.”
Bennett takes a buzzing razor to Schwartz’s blonde hair and starts to trim.
While a fresh haircut is a practical way to help people newly out of recovery to be job-ready, Bennett thinks she's perhaps one of their first connections back into the Upper Valley community.
“People come in, right, and they go through a trauma in their life, and they get their hair done — and it's like cutting off those years and just letting them shed and fall. That's what it is for me,” she said, admiring Schwartz’s haircut in her large mirror.
For his part, Schwartz says he'll be back at the end of April for his free haircut from Bennett – marking the graduation from his recovery program.