Reading to the barber: Youths can earn money, books, mentor

Posted at 10:52 AM, Jun 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-22 10:52:52-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Get a haircut, read aloud to the barber, earn some cash and a book, make life-impacting connections and put a smile on a young one’s face.

That’s what is going on at one Lexington’s Prince Cuts Barber Shop as a new program aims to curb summer retention.

Books and Barbers is a new push that supports child literacy and provides students with the opportunity to interact with male role models.

Founded by Harrison Elementary School teacher Simon Vanderpool, the program offers children from grades K-6 with a chance to not only boost their reading skills, but form a bond with a male mentor, receive a haircut, then take home the book and $3.

“I have always wanted to do some kind of program in order to give back,” said Vanderpool, who teaches second and third grade special education at the Fayette Co. school. “At the school that I’m at and nationally, too, there’s a huge father-absent crisis.”

Vanderpool said he has always wanted to start a program that promotes building a strong, healthy relationship between a child and male role model. Vanderpool grew up in a father-absent home, which he said inspired the idea for the program. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, more than one in four children live without a father in the home.

Along with inspiration from his personal life, Vanderpool said he wanted to create a program for younger students that helps build a relationship with a male figure outside of sports.

“I’m so used to coaching,” he said. “We don’t have any sports at our school. And a lot of schools at the elementary level in Fayette County don’t have sports. I knew that they could get their haircut and that was something they could do not only during school, but also the summer months, too. It’s something they can continue doing.”

Vanderpool had to call different places to see who would partner to start Books and Barbers before finding Prince Cuts Barber Shop. Not being from Lexington, he didn’t have very many connections to kickstart a program like this.

“I reached out to (Prince’s) because one of the kids from the class I co-teach in has a dad who is a barber there,” Vanderpool said. “He’s always talking about his dad and how he cuts hair . . . So I just asked, ‘Where does your dad work?'”

Amir Shalash, owner of Prince Cuts and one of the barbers, was on board with starting the project in his shop from the very first phone call from Vanderpool.

“We just jumped on it,” Shalash said. “As soon as he brought it up to me I was like, ‘Man, let’s do it. No doubt.'”

At the barbershop, the kids come in for their haircut and pick a book to read aloud to the barber. After the haircut , the child can keep the book they chose for free and receive $3 cash. The program has been going on for about one month.

While the child is able to boost their reading skills, the main point is to create a bond with a male mentor, the barber.

“(The barbers) love it. They’re enjoying it,” Shalash said. “Everybody has been really supportive of it. They were all interested in doing something to give back also. We just feel like it’s important for us to give back to the community.”

Many of the books given to the kids stem from public donations, but the International Book Project has also donated many books to Prince Cuts. The International Book Project is an organization based in Lexington that sends books to overseas countries to promote international literacy efforts.

“The International Book Project has pretty much just given me free rein with picking up books,” Vanderpool said. “Obviously we are still taking in donations from people because I want to take as little from them as I can because a lot of their books go overseas.”

As the program has increased in notoriety, he has started to receive book donations from all around Fayette County, but also places such as Bath County, Whitley County and other areas.

Appointments can be made online at and walk-ins are also accepted. Customers pay $16 and $3 then goes to the child.

“At first we were just going to take $3 off the haircut,” Vanderpool said. “The reason we didn’t is because we really take pride in actually giving it to the kid. That’s another learning part of it, because they can either go buy something right then and there or save up their money. So the kids get paid, rather than just the parents saving $3.”

There is no limit to the amount of times a child can come in to get their haircut, their free book and $3, but the service must be performed. Vanderpool and Shalash want to foster an environment that encourages the children to come in and simply talk or hangout with the barbers even if they are not receiving a haircut.

“Say they don’t even need a haircut — they can just go in there and talk to them,” Vanderpool said. “It’s so kid-friendly. They have an Xbox set up right there in the barbershop. It’s really a hangout spot.”

As of right now, the program does not accept monetary donations, but appreciates any donations that can go directly to the shop such as books and bookshelves. Vanderpool said that if the program continues to flourish, he would likely want to register it as a nonprofit organization so that he could take monetary donations in an accountable manner.


Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader,