Community can build strong resident networks

How a newly opened Barbershop is making a difference in Merrillville

It was an honor to attend and provide photography services on Sunday, August 4th at The Experience Barbershop located at 1523 W. Lincoln Hwy in Merrillville. The new shop partnered with Gemnuis Community Partners to host a Back to School Marathon providing free back packs to 137 area children, including free haircuts, school supplies, and food throughout the 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. event.

Cameron Cobbins cuts the ribbon at his new barber shop called 'The Experience Barbershop'.

I noticed the large pile of back packs while at The Experience to get a haircut. I love supporting local businesses, especially a new one. I have personal experience and can relate to the challenges of starting a new business. The shop had a good vibe and as Steve, a.k.a. Gem the Barber, cut my hair, his excitement about the event was evident. Cameron Cobbins (Mr. Cam), the owner of the shop was also excited. You can tell that he was a ‘no nonsense’ type of person and seemed to have many things going on from conversing with a salesperson who was there to offer quotes on window coverings to setting up appointments with clients who seemed to call endlessly.

137 book bags with supplies were given to area students.

The idea of a brand-new business hosting an event to help the community drew me in and after discussion with Mr. Cam, I offered to attend for part of the day and take photographs to capture memories. I arrived early to get ready and snap a few preparation photos and was thrilled to see cars full of children already waiting for the 9 a.m. event to begin.

Smiling faces all day at the Back to School Marathon event

Mr. Cam planned a quick ribbon cutting before opening the door and I could feel the excitement from Cam and his and wife Shirley. It was so much fun watching the kids come inside and see the mound of back packs, all different colors and styles waiting for them. Not to mention the big eyes when parents said that they could have a donut! Those moments created the best photos!

Mr. Cam poses with one of his clients. 70 haircuts were provided by Cam and his talented team of barbers.

Cam and his two other barbers, Steve (Gem the Barber) and DC (DeCarlo Knighted) cut hair non-stop for the almost 4 hours I was there. It was amazing watching them cut hair, one kid after the other and never taking a dime for their awesome service. At one point, I saw a mom trying to hand Cam some cash for her sons’ (3 of them) haircuts and Cam instantly raised his hand in a no jester saying, “Oh no, these are FREE today!”

Gem the Barber adds hair gel to finish up his clients haircut.

Kids had a great time waiting for their turn listening to music, tossing around balloons, shooting indoor hoops, and just having fun with other kids. Kids they didn’t even know. Watching parents waiting and mixing with each other asking questions like “How old is your son?” or “Where do you live?” was really great. Seeing parents tell their kids to throw out their trash was refreshing too.

DC stayed busy all day cutting hair of back to school students.

Building community is what this was all about, and my hat goes off to Cam and Shirley for hosting a great event and partnering with Gemnuis Community Partners. Gemnuis is part of the Regional Health Systems family of services and is committed to helping, healing, and building stronger communities. The health system builds a comprehensive continuum of care around service recipients to support their emotional, physical and intellectual well-being.

As a town councilman, I will always encourage and participate in great community events like this one. I truly believe they strengthen the community, allow us to meet our neighbors, and provide a wonderful experience for our children. The diversity of the attendees that day was amazing and really represented our country and our great town of Merrillville. -Rick Bella for the Committee to Elect Rick Bella.

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