MTI students aim to help those in need see their real beauty (Bradenton Herald)

shot-down-the-lineMANATEE — Manatee Technical Institute cosmetology students know the refreshing feeling of stepping up from a beautician’s chair, and they are looking forward to spreading that joy to women and families who cannot afford haircuts or beauty services.

“When I get my hair done, I feel wonderful about myself, even if it is only for a day,” MTI student LaTosha Robinson said. “It can make my day go differently. When you make people look better, they feel like they can take on the world.”

The school is partnering with First Baptist Church in Bradenton to provide a self esteem boost to those who come from environments of abuse, abandonment and homelessness at the fifth-annual Manasota Help Portrait event. The event, Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., teams students and photographers who volunteer to do make-up, hair, manicures and professional pictures for women, men and families from a variety of shelters and organizations across Manatee County.

Photographer Randy Tosch, the coordinator of the event, was busy Friday afternoon setting up camera stations, backgrounds, lights, computers and printers.

Tosch said he is expecting a turnout between 150 and 175 people.

The event is part of a global effort started several years ago by a photographer in Nashville. Since its beginnings, Help Portrait has spread to more than 500 cities, including Bradenton. This is the fourth consecutive year the Manasota Help Portrait event will be hosted at First Baptist Church.

Vecha Walker of First Baptist Church said over the last four years, volunteers have taken more than 900 portraits of people from homeless shelters and agencies for abused and battered families.

“We reach out to the abused, abandoned, hurting and hopeless and try to give them just a little bit of hope in that one day,” Walker said.

“Some women see themselves in make up for the first time. Some women have never had anyone tell them they look pretty.”

The event also gives people the opportunity to get professional photographs done, many for the first time.

“It will be an opportunity for them to get family or individual portraits that they can give out to their families at Christmas, or at least it gives them a portrait of themselves,” Brenda Ayers, the cosmetology department head at MTI said.

Ayers said about 40 students have signed up to volunteer.

“My goal as a barber is to give people hope and let them know that people do care about them regardless of their situation,” MTI student Gregory Williams said.

MTI participates in several volunteer events each year, including makeover events for veterans and the homeless.

Robinson said she and other cosmetology students participated in an event for Veterans November 2.

“If they can fit it into their schedules, the students will do it,” Ayers said.

MTI student Aislynn Light said the event is about making people feel better both inside and out.

“When you look beautiful and someone helps improve your self image, you feel more confident to go out and do whatever it is that you need to do,” Light said.

While the students recognize the importance of providing food, clothing and monetary donations to those in need, they acknowledge it is also important to provide services like hair and nails.

“Just to be able to do a service for someone is showing I can give in other ways besides money and gifts,” Williams said. “When I give them the mirror and they see how they look, the expressions on their face and how they feel when they get out of the chair makes you feel really good.”

Light said the makeovers can be an emotional experiences for both the recipients and the volunteers.

“A lot of people cry,” Light said. “What you’re doing for someone means so much more than how they look. It touches their hearts.”

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081

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