Vidal Sassoon Works on Habitat Project in New Orleans

(AP Photo/Bill Haber) :: Hair stylists Jeff Shlock, left, and HeatherRae Cheszek, of Chicago, take a break from working on a house in the background to talk about their efforts working with Habitat for Humanity at a construction site in Slidell, La. Monday, June 23, 2008. Slidell, a city about 30 miles from New Orleans, was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Cheszek, and Shlock are joining famoushair stylist VidalSassoon in working with Habitat and HairdressersUnlocking Hope, an international fundraising effort by beauty professionals that has generated almost $2 million for relief work in this area.

Updated: 6/24/2008


The idea of dozens of hairstylists swinging hammers and driving nails may be outrageous to some, but to Vidal Sassoon, it makes perfect sense.

''When you are a hairstylist, all you think about is making a person look and feel better,'' the longtime celebrity hairdresser said. ''It is a very special and giving craft.''

The group swarmed a construction site Monday in Slidell, where Habitat for Humanity was building homes for victims of Hurricane Katrina and others in need of housing.

As Sassoon walked the site where nine houses were being framed, Heather Rae Cheszeck, 29, nailed down flooring.

''This is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be,'' she said, a hammer in hand and her face flush and sweaty.

Cheszeck was one of a group of hairstylists who traveled from Chicago to help build homes. But manual labor wasn't all the group brought. Over the past year, they raised more than $100,000 for Sassoon's effort by hosting silent auctions and cut-a-thons — events where they give hair cuts with the money going to Habitat.

The donation generated enough money to build two homes.

In all, Sassoon and company have raised $1.7 million for Hairdressers Unlocking Hope, an international fundraising effort by beauty professionals. The group's donation went to the East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity, which is building 21 houses with the money. Sassoon personally donated another $100,000 for the construction of the first two homes, which last fall went to a single mother of five and a family of four.

Monday marked Sassoon's third visit to Southern Louisiana since Katrina struck in August 2005.

Slidell, a city about 30 miles north of New Orleans, was badly damaged by Katrina's winds and floodwater that swamped the area from nearby Lake Pontchartrain. Many residents couldn't return to their homes for months.

Sassoon, 80, has retired from the beauty industry and now spends much of his time on philanthropy. He established a charitable foundation and supports the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Sassoon, whose career spanned more than four decades, became famous for his modern, low-maintenance styles and is the founder of the worldwide brand of shampoos and salons.

Sassoon said he's just doing what he thinks is right.

''This is not charity,'' he said. ''I hate that word, charity. This is an absolute joy.''

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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