MIAMI – For many years, Lavern Elie-Scott sat under the tutelage of the late Curley “Cuzzie” King, a pioneering cosmetologist and beauty salon owner who recognized the economic depression in her community and tried to fill the gaps left by unemployment and illiteracy.
“To the poor man, she was the good shepherd. To the weak, she was strength. To the homeless, she was a shelter from the storms in their lives. To the abused and broken she was an ear to listen to their stories and a pillow to rest from their heavy burdens. To the children, she was a magician,” Elie-Scott said of her mentor.
“She was able to make their dreams come true and have food on their table and clothes on their backs,” she said.
When King died in the late 1990s, Elie-Scott inherited her Curley’s Beauty Salon, which operates at 6301 NW Seventh Ave. in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood.
She expanded on King’s philanthropy in 2001, when she started the Curley’s House of Style Inc./Hope Relief Food Bank a short distance away at 6025 NW Sixth Court. It was to become a large-scale effort to provide help for low- to moderate-income individuals and families, especially the elderly, abused, homeless and those infected with HIV/AIDS.
“When we were growing up, our parents taught us how important it was for us to work, to help people and be concerned about your neighbors,” Elie-Scott said. “But, nowadays, there are kids raising kids so they don’t have the role models we had and there’s a whole different approach to life.”
Elie-Scott blames the welfare system for that situation, saying it has created “generations of people that have the mentality, ‘I don’t have to work and can just have babies and the government is going to take care of them’.”
Since its inception, Curley’s House of Style, which is staffed by volunteers, has assisted hundreds of thousands of needy people who are unable to get help from other agencies or have run out of options and resources.
Besides operating a food bank, Curley’s House offers programs designed to help residents through job skills training and placement, referral services, information on healthcare and nutrition, financial literacy, a “Love Thyself” mentoring
program that builds self-esteem in abused, homeless and HIV/AIDS-infected women.
The nonprofit is also a state-mandated site where residents can apply for food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
It also partners annually with Miami Rescue Mission and provides free haircare for female residents of the charity.
“It started with the basis to teach them about life,” said Elie-Scott. “I feel that Curley’s House is truly a beacon of light that is welcomed in this community because, for years, there were no services in place to really reach out and help these people.”
Over the last five years, the number of people served has doubled, from 795 to 1,500 a month, Elie-Scott estimates. The organization gets some private and government food donations, as well as money from fundraisers and a grant from the city of Miami but, said Elie-Scott, the need remains great and on some days the shelves in the food bank are bare.
“Because the demand is so great, as soon as it comes in it goes out,” said LaVerne Holliday, administrator of Curley’s House. “When someone comes in, we do not take them through all the red tape or play the zip code game with them. As long as there’s food on our shelves, we make sure that the person gets it. If they’re lying, then it’s between them and God. Our purpose is to make sure that if they come in and say they’re hungry they get fed."
Holliday said “a lot of our seniors” get only about $7 to $17 per month in food stamps and about $300 to $400 in Social Security benefits.
“How do you pay your rent, your light?” she said. “And most of them have health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure and medicines are extremely high. So we sort of be there and help them out.”
“We know that the food is just a Band-Aid and there’s an underlying problem,” said Holliday. “So we ask certain questions to find out their needs and try to help them holistically. Our intention is to feed the total person. Once a person is not hungry, they are able to concentrate on other areas of their insecurities and can begin to work on solutions to combat those insecurities.”
Holliday said much more can be done if more donations come in — whether money, bulk food, clothes and school supplies. Curley's House of Style accepts donations.
For more information on the organization or how to donate, call 305-759-9805 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org