When Vanessa Minter first moved to Orlando from Australia in 2006, she wanted to find a way to continue her community service activity in her new home. With her twenty years of experience in the hair industry, she wanted to use her knowledge and experience to give back to the community. As a newcomer to town, she focused initially on local theater productions, where she used her expertise to design and style wigs backstage in costume and make-up management.
One day Vanessa Minter received a phone call from one of her dearest friends. There had been a certain gleeful certainty to her friend’s voice when she informed Vanessa about a potential volunteering opportunity at the Disney Pavilion at the Florida Hospital. There was an upcoming event in which pediatric patients would receive mini-makeovers. They had quite a few volunteers, but wanted a licensed hairdresser so that they could provide additional professional services. Raised with strong convictions about service to community, Vanessa quickly agreed, and attended the event. She had no idea the door that she had just opened.
Soon after the event, Vanessa received another phone call from a child life specialist at the hospital. They wanted Vanessa to become a regular volunteer. She would be able to visit patients in the pediatric ward and provide similar services that she had at the event—face-painting, hair updos, and sometimes even trims. When she finally became certified to volunteer at the hospital, Vanessa realized that she felt a calling to her work. She loved volunteering with the children at the Disney Pavilion. Sometimes they wanted all sorts of face-paint, with wacky designs they could match with visiting siblings. Sometimes they were quiet, and wanted only the presence of having someone to watch a movie with. Volunteering became so much more than she had ever expected—soon nurses were requesting her to help with more difficult tasks, such as working with patients dealing with hair loss from chemotherapy. In all cases, Vanessa made connections with the patients, sometimes through laughter and sometimes through shared tears. The joy that Vanessa gave these patients was only matched by the joy they gave her. She had found her calling, and there was no going back.
Some years later, Vanessa became the owner of a fabulous hair salon in Winter Park called Bangz Park Avenue Salon. She soon set about transforming the salon into a warm and inviting place where everyone would be welcomed and provided with excellent service. She partnered with Aveda to ensure that all products were virtually 100% organic and never tested on animals. She enjoys mentoring the staff in providing quality services while also forming personal connections with each guest.
Vanessa realized that Bangz Park Avenue Salon also provided the perfect platform to extend her volunteer work to the broader community. Through the salon, Vanessa and her team could bring the same joy and comfort to people referred to them by the Cancer Society and guests of the salon. People from all walks of life, many of whom are fighting the most serious of illnesses, found their way to Vanessa at Bangz Park Avenue Salon. Here, Vanessa worked diligently styling wigs, transitioning hair styles to reduce the trauma of hair loss, providing rejuvenating Aveda treatments, and most importantly, always with a friendly smile and a sense of normalcy into what can otherwise be a most difficult time for people. She does this as she has with all her other community work—out of a sense of service, refusing any payment.
More recently, Vanessa began to realize a vision that would fuse Bangz Park Avenue Salon with her community service work: a foundation that would direct and support her efforts. A choice of name eluded her for a time. Vanessa had wanted to associate it with her late cousin, Karen Celeste Minter, a victim of cancer, who had been a role model for her. After recently suffering the loss of her family dog, she began to reflect on the meaning of his name. She discovered that his name, “Luke”, means “giving light.” Then late one night, the name Vanessa would give her new foundation came to her. The very next day, work begun on formally setting up and registering it as a not-for-profit corporation. The Celeste Giving Light Foundation was born.
The foundation’s mission is to deliver complementary services for those undergoing treatment for chronic illness. The foundation provides a multitude of services for these guests. Guests can receive moments of wellness, which are stress-relieving treatments. Vanessa works with guests from the beginning of their journey and continues to support them throughout the duration of their treatment. The Cancer Society will often refer guests to Vanessa for help with personalizing their wigs and making them their own. Often this can include trimming, coloring, and styling. Guests can also receive scalp treatments, as well as detailed education on how to take care of one’s skin outside the salon. Vanessa hopes that the organization will grow into something integral to the community of Orlando and potentially all of Florida. She hopes to start a chain reaction with other salons and plans to host community days in which she can provide education to licensed stylists on the work she does in the foundation.
Vanessa sees the Celeste Giving Light Foundation as an outlet for compassion and a fostering of connection through community. She wants to not only help patients but establish personal connections as well. In one instance, Vanessa recalls the experience of one guest, whose diagnosis left her feeling afraid and uncertain. Since she had not yet revealed her diagnosis publicly, she had been afraid that her wigs would not look natural and her coworkers would notice. Vanessa assured her that they could fix the wigs together, and by their next appointment, she had styled them just as her guest wished. One of the ways she coped was by naming each of the wigs Vanessa styled for her. Through the last year, the two bonded, and both were extremely excited when Vanessa was able to cut and color her guest’s real hair in their most recent appointment. Whenever Vanessa sees a new guest for her foundation, she tells them about the naming of the wigs, and she hopes it will help them too. Meeting each of the guests inspires Vanessa—it makes her thankful for every sunset, every good cup of coffee, and even her drive home from work. It makes her excited to see the progress of her guests, to help them laugh, to sometimes help them cry, to help them feel that for a moment they can release themselves. In the future, Vanessa hopes to accomplish just what her foundation has been named for—she wants to give light, to feel the light from others, and to help that light grow in the community.
228 N Park Ave., Winter Park, FL 32789
407-645-2264 | bangzparkavenue.com