“Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place.” This is a quotation from a video made by Lauren Blaze, director of Central Sierra Regional Occupation Program School of Cosmetology. The three-minute video shows the aftermath of the October 29, 2013 fire that destroyed the Cosmetology building — blackened rubble, melted doll heads with fried hair, total destruction.
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“We had only been on the floor for a couple of months,” said Larae Haddis, one of the adult students in the year-long cosmetology program. “We didn’t know if we would be able to continue in the program or what would happen.”
“I was here the morning that it happened,” said Alceson Wallace, a home-schooled senior. “About a half-hour before class started, we saw the smoke. It was so sad.”
Today, standing in the middle of a high-tech, professional building on the Shenandoah High School campus, there is little to remind one of the old building.
“We weren’t able to salvage anything, so everything is new,” said Blaze. “Our equipment is updated — no more knobs on the dryers. We’re open for business and we want all our clients to know.”
Many of the ROP Cosmetology clients are elderly and on a fixed income. In the six months of rebuilding, the program couldn’t serve clients, so students practiced on each other or on doll heads. Client files were destroyed in the fire and the program had no way of contacting clients or their caregivers to let them know when it would reopen.
Although Blaze and Fitzgerald worked with EDUHSD to find a new classroom to continue the program and got students back to work in a week, the interim building was crowded. A double-classroom portable was adapted to house more than 50 students, equipment and instructors.
“We had one dryer so we just set the doll heads outside in the sun to dry and we would run out of hot water about halfway through the day, but we didn’t complain because we were so grateful that the district kept our students enrolled for those five months and we had a place to teach,” said Blaze. “They (EDUHSD) were committed to completing the work as fast as they could.”
The school district reimbursed students for personal equipment and supplies they had lost in the fire and Blaze and Fitzgerald figured out a way to work around their January and July class cycles.
“We still graduated students from the program, but we couldn’t start a new class in January, so we started those students in April when we reopened,” said Blaze. “In July, we’ll start the next group, so it will be a little busy, but it will work.”
The popular program usually has about 60 students and a waiting list. Students must be seniors to apply and their program lasts 16 months, with partial days and then full-time after high school graduation. Adult students have a one year full-time course.
Without being able to work on clients, students spent more time learning theory. “They really got in-depth theory and that inspired us to make a few changes for the better,” said Blaze.
The program also used the rebuilding time to give back. “We volunteered our services at First Covenant Church in Rancho Cordova over Christmas because we had no place to go,” said Blaze. “It’s wonderful when something tragic happens but we could still give back.”
The rebuild allowed Blaze and fellow teacher Jennifer Fitzgerald the opportunity to update the equipment, style and colors of the ROP program.
“We didn’t have much time to make decisions, but it all works well together — a lot of things were things we had been talking about,” said Fitzgerald.
The most noticeable changes are the understated, professional look in neutral gray, white and black and the open look to the floor area. “The old building had dividers everywhere, separating the freshmen and the adult students and it was orange and purple,” said Fitzgerald. “We wanted a professional look that would hold up for the next 30 years and we wanted to open things up.”
The new Theory Room where classes are held boasts a Smart Board and two new computers, the floor area is set up in clean, uncluttered lines with a separate station for each student stylist, doubling the previous 30 stations to 60. The Facial Room was moved to the front of the building allowing for a student Break Room for them to eat lunch and store their personal items. There is a front desk area.
“Before, they had to eat outside on the picnic benches,” said Blaze. “This gives them a place of their own to go.”
To add to the professional atmosphere, students are now required to wear a black scrub uniform. “It’s more structured now and students seem to love it,” said Blaze. “Their skills and attitude are so much better.”
The Cosmetology ROP reopened in its new building on April 22 and from the smiles on the faces of both staff and students, it’s been a big success.
Larae Haddis, 29, is part of the 2013 July class and is close to graduating. “This new building is amazing — very professional and modern. It’s been like a blessing in disguise and it’s nice to see our clients coming back.”
Eighteen-year-old Alceson Wallace said, “Before, we had to share stations, but now we can each have a client. I really like it.”
Central Sierra ROP School of Cosmetology at 6540 Koki Lane in El Dorado is open for business Tuesdays through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Students provide a variety of services including hair styling, hair cuts, color, permanents, facials, waxing, make-up application, manicures and pedicures. The program will be closed for summer break June 20 to July 13 and back in business again on July 14. Call 530-344-8939 for appointments.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.