- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Two French-trained employees of Cristophe’s Washington salon are giving back with gestures that are more than skin deep - free hair treatment to clients of the nonprofit Second Chance Employment Services, which helps victims of violence get back on their feet and attain long-term employment.

Feeling good about one’s appearance is part of the battle to restore the self-confidence needed to start over in the world. Emotional upheavals are the inevitable result of any form of abuse suffered at the hands of someone close, often a relative or domestic partner.

Katy Ghirardo, 36, a colorist and mother of three, knows that from personal experience. The person who helped her fight back was none other than Ludy Green, president and founder of Second Chance, whom she first knew as a salon client. Ms. Green also is a longtime client of stylist Benjamin Duboeuf, father of Ms. Ghirardo’s youngest child. The couple met when they were employed at Jacques Dessanges salon in Chevy Chase.

“Ludy came as a client needing her hair done, and she could feel basically I was in a bad relationship, that something was wrong,” Ms. Ghirardo says. “She is the one that made me open up. She would send me messages. She knew me as someone pregnant. She said, ‘You know when you are in a bad relationship how hard it is to get out.’

“It is not as though I was depending on a man,” Ms. Ghirardo continues. “My husband was the one who was not working much, but he still was abusing me. And a woman can take a lot of abuse until the man abuses the kid. I felt he had hurt me enough, but he won’t hurt my son. In the meantime, Ludy talked to me about her own childhood and about her father abusing her mother. At that point, it really made me understand the possibility for me.”

Her son, now 11, was kidnapped by her ex-husband when the boy was 5 years old, Ms. Ghirardo says.

“We recovered him, and it was terrible for him. He had a lot of anger. We had to work through therapy a lot,” she says.

She still is wary and watchful, she adds, and two years ago, her ex-husband suddenly appeared in front of her house on Father’s Day.

Second Chance helps people with resume writing, interview skills, clothing and legal counseling. Mr. Duboeuf and Ms. Ghirardo have been contributing their skills to clients for six years. They understand the women in their care.

“We don’t go into details with them; the idea is to make them beautiful and not remind them of their problems,” Mr. Duboeuf says. Ms. Ghirardo, who is more likely to know what Second Chance clients are experiencing, says some “are very sad and don’t mind sharing their own stories to help other women. It is very hard to leave a relationship [after abuse] because you wonder that maybe you can’t find anything better.”

The couple are being honored for their charitable work with a community service award during Second Chance’s annual fundraising gala, called Last Kiss of Summer, on Sept. 23 at the Four Seasons Hotel. Actor Victor Rivers will be the guest speaker. See www.scesnet .org for more information.

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