Smiles filled the lively west Las Vegas salon as cheerful conversations between stylists and their special guests cut through the noise of roaring blow dryers and a whooshing hair-washing station.
Ten women pampered on Mother’s Day with free high-quality hair and makeup services at Capelli Salon are survivors of abuse, or “leaders” who have overcome it, as Laverne Delgado prefers they be called.
“I know the power of fashion: It’s a universal language,” said Delgado, the executive director of Freedom and Fashion, a nonprofit group that aids victims of human trafficking, domestic violence and “other injustices” through empowerment.
During the throes of abuse, victims’ appearances are “weaponized” against them by perpetrators who chip away at their confidence by “objectifying” them and dictating how they can dress or look, Delgado said.
Delgado knows firsthand how those imbalances play out. She was already working for the nonprofit when she suffered abuse at the hands of her then-partner, whom she married young.
“It doesn’t start with somebody kicking doors down or being violent,” she said about the “gradual” nature of domestic abuse. “There’s a process of grooming, manipulation.”
While Mother’s Day is joyous for many, it can be “triggering” for survivors, Delgado said. The event — held for the second time at Capelli — offered a safe environment, she added.
Marranda Hollis, who received a hair blowout and a trim, was eager to return home to watch movies with her toddler and bake him a cake.
Hollis, 23, was a teenager when she met Delgado and the nonprofit began helping her. Back then, she lived in an abusive home in her native California, and realized she could not take it anymore. She relocated to Las Vegas a little over a year ago.
“There was a point where I realized that it wasn’t OK, since it wasn’t just happening to me,” she said about her siblings who also were victims. “I got tired of being abused because that hurts — literally.”
Initially, she thought she could not get through an eight-week program with the nonprofit.
“There was times when I just wasn’t feeling my best self, but she definitely helped me get through that,” she said about Delgado, who spoke highly about the exceptional woman she has seen grow into a loving, young mother.
Freedom and Fashion, which also has chapters in states such as California and New York, provides education and resources, Delgado said.
In the past couple years, for example, the nonprofit has provided over $1 million for essential items, such as hygienic products, clothing and food and shelter, said Delgado, who served a variety of juices to the women as they sat in salon chairs.
‘A cause near and dear to our hearts’
At Capelli, the women were served lunch, and walked away with gift bags filled with donated luxury hair and beauty products. An “Educational Empowerment Workshop” also was on the itinerary.
Carletta O’Neal has owned the salon for about seven years. She became involved in the event by chance last year after representatives with T3 Micro hair tools told her about the nonprofit, and she was quickly on board, offering her business for the event.
“It’s a cause that’s very near and dear to our hearts,” she said. “It’s nice to just be able to help them.”
Abused women “end up having no real Mother’s Day at all,” she said. “They don’t get dinner, they don’t get balloons, they don’t get cards or flowers. A lot of them have really been forgotten about.”
More than 20 years ago, O’Neal left a yearslong abusive relationship in Arizona when her partner nearly beat her to death.
She spoke about the isolation, grappling with the idea that someone she loved would be capable of hurting her and the fear of reporting the abuse.
“You don’t want the person you love to be harmed, even though they’re harming you,” she said.
The day she got out of the relationship, she thought she was going to die. She remembers losing her breath and her vision, seeing “stars in my eyes.”
So, she decided to literally “fight back” and he “ran off,” O’Neal said. Police were involved, and she was hospitalized.
“There was no hiding it anymore,” she said.
O’Neal, a mother of three sons, said she feels grateful to be able to share her story, and help others in similar situations.
“If you can make it out and you come (out) on the other side, it’s really important to look back and bring as many people with you as you can,” she said.
She added: “As moms, we do so much for everyone and we never ask for anything in return. We want to show them that they deserve more and that they should have more for Mother’s Day.”