For parents, getting their children ready for a new school year can be expensive, considering the costs of school supplies, academic and athletic fees, clothes and other educational necessities. To help parents reduce those expenses a bit, especially those on limited budgets, Sonia Portillo, owner of Latin Image Salon on Route 1, provided free haircuts for children 12 and younger.
"We did back-to-school free haircuts last year at a health event in Columbia and about 50 kids showed up," Portillo said. "This year, we decided to do it in the salon and put the word out on a local radio station and let our customers know about it."
More than 10 parents brought in children of all ages for various styles of haircuts, which would have normally cost $10 for boys and $14 for girls.
"I like to give back to the community. My business is doing well, so this is something I wanted to do to help people," Portillo said.
Portillo opened her salon two years ago and celebrated her second anniversary Aug. 19 with refreshments and free hand massages for customers.
Sean LeVere, a Laurel Board of Trade director and manager of Minuteman Press on Main Street, met Portillo when she worked for him part time while she also worked across the street at the now-closed Creative Concepts hair salon. He said the free haircut event is just one of many ways Portillo has given back to the community in the five years she has worked in Laurel.
"She rarely turns people down when they ask her for a donation or to volunteer her time," LeVere said. "She's given money and helped raised funds for the Rotary Club, Laurel Historical Society and for schools. She donated a case of paper to Laurel Elementary School and she went to the school for career day. She takes the time to donate, volunteer and do the things that many people do not take time out of their schedules to do."
Portillo's list of people and places that benefit from her acts of community service and donations also includes Maryland City PTA; Reality Inc., the former Main Street substance-abuse facility; various back-to-school events; and local churches.
"I helped raise money for Iglesia Maranatha Church, in Laurel, and Breath of Life Ministries last year," she said.
Portillo was born in El Salvador and when she was 8 years old, her family moved toSilver Spring, which is where she lives. She said she became interested in styling hair when she was 12 years old.
"I started practicing hair cutting on my brother and my mother and when I was 16, I got into the cosmetology program at the Thomas Edison School of Technology. Within a year and a half, I completed the program and became a licensed cosmetologist," said Portillo, who was still in high school at the time. "I'm a fast learner and very ambitious. I'm very dedicated to my career and always taking classes to keep up with the new trends and new products."
While working at Creative Concepts, Portillo became a senior cosmetologist. After several years of saving her money from working two jobs, she decided to go out on her own when Alecia Browder, owner of Creative Concepts, closed the Main Street salon.
Portillo opened Latin Image Salon on Aug. 19, 2009, in the 13900 block of Baltimore Avenue, where she specializes in hair only, although she did offer hand massages at the anniversary event.
"At Latin Image, we don't do massages or nails, but only hair, and we style and cut all types of hair —curly, straight — for men, women and children," Portillo said. "I have three stylists, and Alecia works here a few days each week. We all go to New York to take classes, and recently, we had a master barber come in to help us tighten up our skills."
Portillo said her business is going well and that she chose to open a salon in Laurel because after working in the city for five years, she fell in love with the community and her clients.
"I enjoy working with people and giving to the community. That is the reason why I participate in different fundraisers," Portillo said. "It's a good feeling to give to others."