The Bolton Street group home in Hartford erupted in chaos one Monday afternoon in anticipation of Annie Salgado and her scissors. The residents arrived home from a day of being out in the community. The three coming off of the van merged with the two inside and congregated between the dining room and kitchen for their afternoon snack—a bowl of fresh mixed fruit and a small cup of lemonade. They were on their best behavior, eagerly awaiting the arrival of their own personal stylist. An hour later, their friend entered the home as if she were one of their own.
“ANNIE!” The jolly, round-faced seventy-four year old screamed, clutching her Hello Kitty bag. She latches onto Annie, not wanting to let her go.
“Hi sweetie. You ready to get your hair cut?” Annie asked.
“Well, ya gotta let me go first!” The woman released her wrist and led Annie to the kitchen table. Someone in Superman pajamas was already in the usual seat so the woman was a bit upset. She lowered her head and let out a long sigh. Annie directed her into an adjacent chair. The woman sat and waited patiently for her turn as Annie set up her supplies on the kitchen table. The residents had been waiting five weeks for her return.
Annie Salgado, a petite curly-haired Italian woman, has been cutting hair at the group home for over ten years. All five of the adults are fifty and above with mobility issues, so Annie takes the time to visit the home in order to cater to their needs. The Connecticut Department of Developmental Services funds group homes to service people with mental and developmental disabilities. The group homes look like a typical single-family home in your neighborhood. The residence is a brick ranch with a nice front yard, a deck in the back for gatherings, and each person has their own room. This makes them feel like a part of the community instead of institutionalized wards of the state. Their demands are too much for their families to handle, so they are cared for in these homes to get the attention that they deserve.
Annie began to prep the woman with the Superman pajamas, spraying her hair with water. “I miss you Annie!” The woman said.
“I miss you too,” Annie replied, combing through the gray locks, evening out the hair. “What’s new with you?”
The care and empathy Annie has for the residents is rooted in her own story. At nineteen she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease and had a tumor the size of a grapefruit between her heart and lungs. “I was sixty-two pounds, bald, on chemo and radiation. I was told I wasn’t going to have children.” In the middle of heavy chemo and radiation, she got shingles and was in New Britain General Hospital for three months, being one of the worst cases they have ever seen.
Annie finished up the first woman, clipping and cleaning the loose hair on the back of her neck. She signals for the next person.
“Are you ready?” Annie asked as the woman clapped her hands in excitement, making her way over to the chair. “She’s too cute.”
In 2008, Annie received a postcard in the mail about joining a team to run in “The Relay for Life,” a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. At the very first meeting, she signed up to be the chairperson. Now she works for the ACS by running their “Look Good, Feel Better” program at The Helen Harry Gray Center in Hartford Hospital and New Britain General. She teaches the women undergoing chemotherapy how to put on makeup. They draw their eyebrows back on and learn tricks to look like they still have eyelashes. She also teaches them how to tie a headscarf if they don’t want to wear a wig. There’s also swag. “These women leave with a bag of stuff worth $300.”
Annie also donates her time to Connecticut Children’s Hospital by contributing to a program called “Flashes of Hope.” It is a non-profit organization that caters specifically to children. They are photographed in order to create a special moment and memory for the child’s family. It is conducted four to five times a year, celebrating the life of the child as they continue to beat the odds. She does their hair and makeup, and invites the families to the photo shoot. “It’s a keepsake for them.”
Despite what doctors told her, Annie and her husband successfully had not one, but two children without any complications. “We didn’t have a problem. Every time I wanted to get pregnant I got pregnant.” Aside from raising two daughters, working as a stylist, and volunteering, the quirky Jill-of-all-trades also performs marriages. She gained inspiration from her mother to become a justice of the peace. As a child her mother would officiate marriages and Annie would often be present during ceremonies. On a random Thursday afternoon, Annie received a call around noon from her local Chinese restaurant. The owners wanted to get married that same day in their shop. With her daughter and a camera, she headed down to the restaurant just a few hours after receiving the call. She married them on-the-spot while they stood behind the counter with a woman flipping wontons in the back of the restaurant. “Thursday at 2 o’clock. Who does that? I’ve done some really, really cool things.”
She still keeps in touch with some of the survivors she has met through the programs she runs, even after their time in the hospital. Currently, she travels to a home of a woman who is bedridden. As the woman prepared to be discharged from the hospital, her husband asked if Annie could come to their home to continue services. Like clockwork, she arrives bi-weekly to provide a manicure, pedicure, and to cut her hair. “It’s more of a feel-good for her.”
Annie styled her last client of the day, combing his thin gray hair into a John Travolta, Grease-style, pompadour. The 90-year-old firmly shook her hand and reminded her to return in five weeks. As the gentleman took his time to arise from the chair, she tossed her spray bottle, clippers, and scissors back into her black and white bag. The new date for the next hair appointment was written on the kitchen calendar as a reminder of Annie’s return. The residents have no concept of time, but they need to see her name to reassure themselves that she’s coming back. She wished everyone a happy holiday before exiting out of the front door onto the ramp. Everyone was in a heightened mood, the aura peaceful.