Phayvanh Phongsa, owner of Special Ocassion Salon, provides free makeovers for homeless women in OPCC's Daybreak program located on Cloverfield Boulevard last month. (photo by Photo Courtesy Sos)

CLOVERFIELD BLVD — When a salon is mobile, its stylists can go anywhere they need: weddings, anniversaries or parties.

While on wheels, Phayvanh Phongsa, owner of the mobile Special Occasion Salon (SOS), also found she can spread her goal of helping woman gain confidence more easily, as she did when she visited Daybreak facility for mentally ill homeless women March 30.

Phongsa, SOS founder and LuxeLab salon master stylist, said she had been looking for a way to give back to the community through her field while specifically helping women. A friend suggested she contact Ocean Park Community Center (OPCC), which suggested she get involved with Daybreak, an OPCC project.

“It was a perfect match,” Phongsa said.

The SOS stylists spent the evening giving the women new hairstyles, manicures, eyebrow shaping and make-up. Phongsa said one woman could not stop smiling after she blew out and straightened her normally curly and frizzy hair. Others were thrilled with the products inside the gift bags Phongsa provided.

“I definitely think it will help them just boost their confidence,” she said. “It was so inspiring.”

Phongsa’s background has ingrained in her an understanding and need of helping others. She was born in Laos shortly after American troops withdrew from the country. Her family escaped to Thailand, where they lived in refugee camps for three years before moving to Rockingham, N.C., all thanks to the kindness of strangers.

Although she said she remembers little before life in America, she grew up in an environment full of aunts, uncles and cousins always helping and supporting each other. Her upbringing not only makes her see the importance of helping others, but also allows her to relate to those in need.

“Just growing up, I knew I wasn’t as privileged as other kids,” Phongsa said. “When I see people who are less fortunate I can relate to them. … I feel like I want to provide.”

She said she hopes through beauty these women find the sense of self to fully utilize Daybreak’s resources aimed at helping these women stabilize their lives and find permanent housing. She also said she was surprised by how well the facility was running, noting the women seemed happy and comfortable.

“They’re doing an amazing job with these ladies,” Phongsa said. “It was a great experience.”

Daybreak Volunteer Coordinator Rene Buchanan said the women had a wonderful time, and the evening allowed them to feel closer to the community and realize that there are people in Santa Monica who care about them.

Rita Elzy, a participant in the Daybreak program, said the stylists were professional and kind.

“It made me feel really good on the inside,” said Elzy, who got a haircut and her eyebrows shaped. “It lightened up our day.”

All the stylists in attendance, Phongsa included, expressed interest in bringing SOS back to Daybreak.

Phongsa began toying with the idea for SOS a year ago and launched the business in July. Although she still works at LuxeLab salon, she missed doing fancy hairstyles like up-dos and curls. Through current clients, she and her 14 stylists have been able to get jobs styling people for events like weddings.

“It’s just a lot of fun being in that environment,” Phongsa said. From the reports of the evening at the Daybreak facility, it seems like she was able to carry over that jovial atmosphere to a group of women who need it most.

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