WeFam wins SOUP pitch competition

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WeFam planned to double its services in Fort Wayne with proceeds from the last micro-grant dinner of the year held by Fort Wayne SOUP.

The nonprofit group, SOUP — using an acronym that stands for socializing, organizing, uniting people — collects $5 from each individual attending its quarterly micro-grant dinners and invites the diners to vote on their favorite of four funding pitches they hear from startup businesses or nonprofits. Its most recent dinner took place Oct. 11 at the Summit in Fort Wayne.

Generous sponsors donate food for the event and the money collected goes to the startup receiving the most votes when ballots are counted after the pitches are made. Presenters have four minutes to make a pitch and an additional four minutes to answer audience questions about their startups.

WeFam’s founder and executive director, Juan Williams, made the pitch for the 501©(3) that builds self-esteem through beauty and barber services to at-risk youth and disadvantaged people in the Fort Wayne community.

Juan Williams, WeFam’s founder and executive director, pitches his idea for Hair Comes Your Future program during Fort Wayne SOUP’s October 2018 event.

His introduction said he has been working as a licensed barber since 2001 and was committed to helping mentor and motivate the community’s young kids to strive towards self-improvement, education and success.

Williams co-owns the Art-Cut-Techs and Supplies barber shop at 2843 E. State Blvd., which he started four years ago. He said in his presentation starting the business gave him a feeling of accomplishment, but not fulfillment, because he could sense his occupation presented an unrealized opportunity to make an important difference in the community.

“It was during this time that I had created this business that I noticed that there was an environment and an atmosphere there that was conducive for inspiring and mentoring and motivating the youth,” he said. “I ended up creating the program of WeFam with a vision of building self-esteem through beauty and barber services to those who otherwise could not afford the services, in an attempt to mentor and motivate them to strive for self-improvement, education and success.

“I knew that if I wanted to make an impact on the world, it just wasn’t something that I could do all by myself, so I went out and recruited other barbers and barber shops and beauticians and I told them about my idea for Hair Comes Your Future.”

Hair Comes Your Future enrolls at-risk students in hair care sessions where barbers and beauticians deliver informal presentations designed to build conscientiousness and self-esteem while providing their professional services.

A grade point average of 2.5 is not a requirement for entering the program, but students enrolled in it have to be striving for that, and they must turn in report cards and progress reports so WeFam can measure the impact of the services it provides.

“Each month, they need to be at school for at least 98 percent of the time because the problem I’m finding with the average student is they’re embarrassed to come into social atmospheres with bullying at an all-time high,” Williams said during an interview after his SOUP presentation.

“Especially with the help of phones and social media, (bullies) can spread the word about them so quick and it could be so embarrassing to them that they think of suicide and other types of life-threatening decisions.”

With the most at-risk, Williams finds out that they stop going to school and turning in their homework assignments, so they fail tests and end up dropping out of school.

“They end up so they’re going to live a life full of crime, violence and drugs, and that’s what we’re been trying to protect them from doing before it even starts,” he said. “The goal of this is to build their self-esteem up so that they don’t have to be afraid.”

Clients are referred to Hair Comes Your Future by nonprofits serving youth such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana or school guidance counselors.

WeFam had 60 good referrals but only enough funding to enroll 28 of them. Leaders expected to expand the program to 32 more students with the SOUP proceeds.

WeFam vets participating professionals, and because Hair Comes Your Future allows them to earn a living while giving back to the community, “it’s a program where everybody wins, from the donor to the barber/beautician to the client that’s getting the haircut,” Williams said.

WeFam won the Fort Wayne SOUP audience vote by three ballots in the closest tally that has taken place during the two years that local entrepreneurs have been making pitches at its micro-grant dinners. The amount collected for the winner came to $1,400.

Other pitches were made by Aaron Robels for Founders Spark, Lauren Richwine for Funeral & Burial Advocacy and Megan Ryan for Southwest Honey Co.