Willie Aquino, owner of Friendly’s Barber Shop, said that growing up with a mentor changed his life.
The stylist, who has been running the small barbershop located at 3244 3rd Avenue for 15 years, wamts to do the same for teens in his neighborhood.
The barber has recently partnered with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of New York City to help the organization fill its biggest shortage of mentors: men of color.
“When I was young I definitely had one,” Aquino said. “That person changed my life. I came to America from Paraguay when I was 20 years old, and met somebody that was able to help me in almost every way in my life. That lady is like my mother because she guides me.”
Aquino said the organization approached him with the idea of using his shop and his barbers as a way to recruit mentors.
“It was something I was always interested in, and with the outreach of the organization I felt I could reach a lot more people than by myself,” Aqunio said.
But, Aquino was no stranger to mentoring, in fact he had been mentoring long before he teamed up with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of NYC.
“When I started working here I met this boy,” Aquino said. “He was always on the street, just hanging out, until one day I went outside and started to talk to him, I gave him a hair cut for free, I bought him some food, and as time went by we become closer.”
Aquino offered to mentor the boy, and eventually offered him a job in his shop, where at 21 years old, he still works today.
“It has been good for him to have someone to look up to build his confidence,” Aquino said.
According to Aquino, barbershops are a great place to recruit mentors because in his community they are places where it occurs naturally.
“You know, around here lots of kids learn the hard way,” he said. “I want kids to see that they don’t have to learn the hard way, they don’t have to end up in jail, they can be somebody, that is why I decided to team up with this organization. A lot of these kids don’t have parents in their homes, they need somebody to guide them, they need help.”
Now, his staff sports BBBS of NYC T-shirts. They solicit adult men for mentoring, with the hope that they’ll volunteer and change the lives of the young people in their community.
“Today’s kids are going to be our future,” Aquino said. “So we need to help them see a better future for themselves.”
Anyone interested in becoming a mentor can apply at www.bigsnyc.org.