The barber spent at least 20 minutes grooming his client's hair and beard. With his clippers, brush, razor and shaving cream, he skillfully tended to every detail, frequently asking the man in the chair his preferences. When the appointment was done, the men exchanged thanks and a handshake.
Robert W. Cradle, the 43-year-old founder of the nonprofit Rob's Barbershop Community Foundation, does not charge for his services to the homeless and needy. His satisfaction stems from "how happy people are when they like the way they look," he said.
"Things begin and end with whether you like what you see in the mirror," said Cradle, a professional barber who closed his own successful shop a decade ago to work with downtrodden men and women and needy children. "There is nothing trite about that statement."
The Odenton resident established the foundation in 2001 and has since set up shops and salons at homeless shelters, like the Helping Up Mission in Baltimore, where he will often see 75 men a week, and the Light House in Annapolis, where he offers a full range of services to men and women.
"My customers are everybody," he said. "I do everybody who needs me, and I hear all the time how much a good haircut helps."
He has, by his own count, helped about 6,000 people achieve the confidence that comes with a newly groomed look. Often, it has been the working poor, like parents with several children struggling with bills and unable to pay the average $15 for a haircut, or the jobless man who has finally landed an interview and wants to look his best.
"It's a blessing that you would never think someone would take the time out to do," said Eric Harley, 35, a resident of an Annapolis homeless shelter and a recent customer "It really helps the underprivileged. I plan to do the same thing."
Harley has secured a grant to study barbering and hopes to work with the foundation once he earns his license.
Bonita Nutter, 47, a Light House resident, arrived at the Annapolis shop for a shape-up of her closely cropped hair.
"Most of the time I do it myself," she said. "But it feels so good to have somebody else do it."
Cradle came to his trade with a little push from his guidance counselor at Milford Mill High School in Baltimore County. His lack of interest in academia and his always spiffy appearance might have prompted the counselor to suggest barbering and to follow up with him on how to pursue that career.
"If she didn't see that potential in me, I don't know what I would be doing," he said.
He would like to expand the shelter programs, possibly to inner-city schools. If he can attract a few more barber-volunteers, he will find more time to focus his efforts on winning grants and attracting donors to the foundation.
"I would like to help shelters find the dollars and technical assistance so they can build shops on site," he said. "I know what needs to be done to make this kind of help happen."
On weekends, he does earn money at his profession, working at a friend's shop.
"It's enough to support my family," he said. "I travel light."
Cradle's efforts have won national recognition. He was recently named a 2012 Allstate Give Back Day Hero. Give Back Day, a program of the Allstate Corp., insurer to about 16 million households, was organized as a tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and to encourage voluntarism.
Cradle will travel to Atlanta on Friday for ceremonies honoring him and three other national honorees.
"This award is both unexpected and great," he said. "It means I will get to see the King Center and Ebenezer Church, where Dr. King preached."
His traveling companion will be his 8-year-old daughter, Riley. "I want her to see all this happen," he said. "I want her to remember it all."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun