Former Project Connect Participant Turns Business Owner and Community Leader

Updated: Aug 3, 2018

Terrell, owner of Gentlemen's Cuts, gives a customer a beard trim.

“I didn’t want to be just another statistic, doing the bad stuff. Now, I’m here for the people in this community.”

Success begets success. For many of the individuals enrolled in our transitional employment program, the help they receive from AAI is only the first step on their path to achievement. Terrell's story epitomizes this sentiment.

A Chicago native and a long-time resident of the Payne Phalen Neighborhood, Terrell, wasn’t always surrounded by positive influences or mentors to help him succeed. Terrell was an intelligent, driven, and entrepreneurial-minded individual, and managed to successfully own and operate two barbershops without much experience or support.

During this time, Terrell still wasn’t surrounded by positive influences or people who had his best interests or his business’s best interests in mind. Eventually, Terrell found himself in prison for alcohol related offences, and lost everything, including his barbershops.

After this heart-breaking turn of events, Terrell was determined to turn his life around for himself and for his family. Terrell says, “I didn’t want to be just another statistic, doing the bad stuff [and hanging out with negative influences.]” He started his journey for a new life while he was in prison, working for $3 an hour packaging balloons for retail stores-- which he said was a “very humbling experience.” He also started reading books about letting go of negative people and experiences, and surrounding yourself with people who help you succeed.

With his new mindset of surrounding himself with positive influences, Terrell was released from prison. However, he had lost his barbershop, and had no means of income, limited vocational skills, and to top it off, a criminal record.

Terrell came to AccessAbility, Inc and met Jacki Gale, Project Connect Program Manager, and the Project Connect team. Finally, Terrell had found positive influences, and a strong network of people who were dedicated to helping Terrell succeed.

Terrell and Project Connect Program Manager, Jacki Gale.

Upon entering Project Connect, Terrell received extensive educational assessment and case management and career planning based on his individual needs and interests. Unsure of the next steps he wanted to take in his career (or what next career he should take) Jacki said, “It’s important to learn about jobs you don’t like. First, just get ANY job. The work experience gives you transferable work skills, which are valuable when you find the job you want.” While at AAI, Terrell worked in the Material Recycling Facility (“The MRF”), while he and his caseworker made plans for his future, and also coached him through training in personal finance and vocation-specific skills. Terrell was collecting the tools to empower himself, soaking up as much knowledge and experience as he could.

As a naturally hard-working and driven person, Terrell easily landed a position at a metal coating operation after exiting Project Connect. Unfortunately, the business moved its operations out of state, and Terrell found himself unemployed. However, he still had a strong relationship with Project Connect and with Jacki Gale. He came back to AAI a second time to receive additional vocational training in the construction trade.

Although Terrell didn't end up pursuing construction as a career, his construction training from AAI allowed him to install new flooring in the building where he opened another barbershop April 2018.

Terrell opened a new barbershop called Gentlemen Cuts, located in the Payne-Phalen Neighborhood in St. Paul- an extraordinary achievement for anyone, much less someone with a criminal background. Terrell and his business partner Papi are the principal barbers. Terrell’s adult daughter, McKayla, provides eyebrow and eyelash services to female clientele, specifically catering to individuals who have lost their hair due to alopecia.

However, Terrell has done much more than just open a business in his neighborhood. He has created community space where neighbors “respect each other,” and where he can be a positive influence. He said business’s priorities are treating people well and giving back to the community, so that community members (especially the youth) have mentors and positive influences in their lives, like Terrell found in AccessAbility’s Project Connect program. This is evident not only by the “Gentlemen’s Code of Conduct” that hangs on the wall in the front of the barbershop, but also in the way the barbershop is set up.

Terrell's "The Modern Gentlemen's Code" hangs in his barbershop.

His barbershop includes a bean bag toss, tvs, eventually a video game system, and even DJing equipment encouraging children to come socialize while their parents get their hair cut. Terrell said, “Some people come in here to get a haircut, but many people get their haircut as a way to talk to their barber or to talk to the other people that come in.” Terrell also pays some of the community youth to come in and sweep hair off the floor and other odd jobs, so they can start participating in the community and have a sense of pride that comes with earning their own money.

Additionally, Terrell’s grand opening celebration was a community cook out- free of charge to all who came. He has participated in the local elementary school’s backpack program, where he donated backpacks and free haircuts to children in need. He is now part of a neighborhood business group, where owners of local businesses discuss how to make their neighborhood a safer, more community-oriented place.

“I have so much love for Jacki and AccessAbility,” Terrell said. “They saw potential in me, and believed in me, and I am so grateful.”

All of us at AccessAbility, Inc are extremely proud of Terrell and we wish him the best in the next phase of his journey!

Gentleman Cuts is located at 913 Payne Ave in St. Paul, and is open for business.

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