The Glamorous LifeHOPE Week honors GlamourGals, who adds life to years
It was Rachel Doyle’s first year of the rest of her life.
The death of Doyle’s grandmother brought on an epiphany at the tender age of 17. At a time many high-school sophomores put hair, makeup and boys higher on the pecking order, Doyle began a journey as a volunteer who visited senior citizen homes to provide manicures, makeovers and a glowing smile. A seed for what would become GlamourGals was planted during one of her early visits to a woman named Faye. There was something about “Purple Sweater” Faye. For two hours Doyle joked, smiled and danced circles around her, yet Faye remained quiet, still, hands folded … sad.
“I remember going home and feeling like I had failed that day, thinking did she even enjoy it,” Doyle said. “That night at dinner I got a call from the activities director. I was really nervous because I wondered if she’s calling about Faye. Maybe I didn’t do something right.”
Sweating during the opening of the call, Doyle was told that Faye had been severely depressed and after the makeover she started eating for the first time in almost a week. The biopic film Patch Adams made famous the impact of actions, words and laughter in lieu of medicines on people. Shattered by the murder of a close friend, Robin Williams’ title character was talked out of quitting his holistic practice. Mitch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who sparred with Adams as medical school roommates, told him the story of his patient Aggie Kennedy. After bragging and guaranteeing he can “outdo, out-diagnose any attending and surgeon” in the hospital, he confessed, "but I can't make her eat. You have a gift. You have a way with people. You know, they like you. And if you leave, I can't learn this way.”
Hunter “Patch” Adams led a beaming Mrs. Kennedy to swim in a pool of pasta, fulfilling her wish. As a teenager, Doyle experienced the Patch Adams effect. There was no stopping her now.
“Just thinking about my one or two hours with her,” Doyle said, “thinking I had made a difference and this woman is choosing to pick up that fork and go on with life, I knew from that moment on as a 17-year-old I had something special and it was all worth it. That phone call, that squeeze of a hand, that thank you, it means the world to people.”
Twelve years after founding GlamourGals, a non-profit organization made up of male and female high school and college students who voluntarily give manicures and makeovers to the elderly, Doyle has traveled the country visiting local chapters. Each story is the same and getting better: A large group of kids devote their time to those who, thanks to a little love, bloom where they’re planted.
The Yankees took notice in March and secretly contacted Director of Programs Julia Kay Porter and New York City Metro Area director Kavita Mehra to concoct a story that had Doyle on a CNBC appearance to spend time with GlamourGals at the East Haven Nursing and Senior Rehab Center in the Bronx. Little did Doyle know that walking through the door a bit past 11 a.m. on June 28, 2012, were representatives of a worldwide brand synonymous with excellence and good will. HOPE Week, the Yankees’ annual community program that Helps Others Persevere and Excel, brought Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner, David and Erin Robertson, and Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal to the home to become beauticians for a day.
“It’s a testament to once a GlamourGal, always a GlamourGal, and now I can say the Yankees are GlamourGals,” Doyle said. “They were great. I know Swish did a couple of manicures. He apparently has a job lined up at GlamourGals. He has a couple of great references, a couple of trustworthy 100-year-old ladies. For them to spend their time with us means a lot.”
One of them stood out to the loquacious Yankees right fielder. The day before, teammate Andy Pettitte left Yankee Stadium in a walking boot and crutches thanks to a broken fibula that will sideline him for at least six weeks. Telling the story of what lies ahead for the team, Swisher was met with a simple smile that made the biggest impact.
“That’s my lady!” Swisher exclaimed behind home plate, 100 minutes before he took right field to play the Chicago White Sox. “You're talkin' 'bout a woman who's a hundred years old. If she led with a smile on her face, so did I.”
Doyle had high expectations for GlamourGals from Day 1, which were surpassed by the Yankees’ appearance she compared to a bases-loaded, walk-off home run. The atmosphere in the room, and later behind the Yankees’ dugout, was festive. The making of a difference was wholly tangible.
“The Yankees do a great job of getting us back to the community and the community is the reason why the Yankees are able to be what they are,” said Curtis Granderson while signing baseballs for GlamourGal volunteers invited to watch batting practice on the field. “You get a chance to say thank you to them, and show and highlight the things that they do that are more important than winning or losing a ballgame.”
It was a volunteer who came up with the GlamourGals’ slogan, written in white lettering on a black T-shirt adorned by Doyle during a day that when transitioned into evening saw her throw out the game’s first pitch and announce over the public address it was time to play ball. “Makeovers and manicures are just half the story.” The part she knew nothing about was the Yankees reaching out to Mehra three months earlier to begin planning and paying for Porter’s Delta flight from Indiana to New York. When Porter, who started in 2006 as a chapter advisor in Brooklyn, became a full-time employee two years later, GlamourGals had 30 chapters. Today it’s at 68 chapters in 14 states with over 1,400 volunteers serving more than 2,000 women – and growing at the rate of a beanstalk.
“People are hearing about us in schools and the media,” Porter said. “Events like this will help us reach even more teen girls who want to start new chapters and serve even more seniors.”
That was Doyle’s vision once her paternal grandmother Christina passed away in 2000 while in a Nevada nursing home. “Teeny” was young at heart until the end. She rode motorcycles in her 80s and 90s. She worked for Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan where back in the day she did New York City socialites’ hair. To honor her memory, Doyle wanted to combine her favorite passions of fashion, beauty and creating smiles to make a difference in someone’s life. The epiphany sent from above made her think about who she was and what she wanted to become.
“I was sort of that kind of young person who is always looking to do something bigger or better for someone else,” Doyle said. “Marrying the things that I love, I thought I could probably get a couple of more people to do it. If I love it, I bet a couple of my friends would love it too.”
|“I knew from that moment on as a 17-year old I had something special and it was all worth it. That phone call, that squeeze of a hand, that thank you, it means the world to people.”|
|— Rachel Doyle|
GlamourGals was born out of the idea of reaching out and bringing beauty and dignity to another generation sometimes forgotten about and, as Doyle noted, are sometimes fragile as teenagers. Young kids occasionally need role models beyond parental guidance. When they give a senior citizen a makeover, they make them happy, and in return earn a friend and a mentor. Volunteering becomes something fun and relevant to where it’s not work, but part of one’s lifestyle. Self-esteem and mutual respect builds strong enough relationships to last a lifetime.
“A lot of teens today don’t have positive role models,” Porter said. “Now they’re building a network of each other as a role model, and also they have these older individuals they become friends with that they can speak to about advice. It’s another adult in their life that is consistent and supportive, and wants to hear about their day.”
At the East Haven home, friends, mentors, teachers, students and caregivers were amalgamated as one. And as the Yankees proved, real men give manicures. Swisher gladly accepted his career after baseball, but on one condition: “I told (Doyle) if join the crew I have to be a GlamourGuy!” Never one to let his spirits dip an inch, Swisher and the Yankees gave 5,000 miles worth of hope.
“Makeup is a tool for conversation,” Doyle said. “It’s something so simple, a complement paid to you. If GlamourGals breaks up the monotony of life, I think what we can call ourselves is a quality of life program. It’s that day to day that’s someone has to live. It’s those little moments that happen throughout the day or that week that will really impact someone’s life, that the can remember, ‘Well, the GlamourGals are coming back next week. They made me feel real good.’”
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