NEW YORK - Joalbert Flores, 19, used to give haircuts for free in his Woodside, Queens neighborhood. That's about to change.
Flores is one of two dozen students who just completed Phase 1 of a barber training course to learn the skills of the trade and then parlay those skills into a professional career.
Harlem businessman Russell Smith partnered with New York City and community advocates to create the program. It is designed to give young New Yorkers of color like Cameron Gillespie, 18, the sense of purpose he felt he needed.
"I was in college doing absolutely nothing besides college and I was like you know I was cutting hair on the side. It was something I was interested in," said Cameron.
"We're trying to give them a trade and also we were dealing with some of the agencies like ACS and Horizon agency, with some of the troubled kids just to try to show them a better path," said Smith. "The most important thing is to teach them a trade to learn how to make money and keep them off the streets."
Master barber Patrick Savage was one of the instructors. Most of the students were self-taught like Bronx resident Ryan Martinez, 21.
"I used to cut since 7th, 8th grade," said Martinez. "I learned how to cut on my own hair 'cause I got tired of going to the barbershop and getting my hair messed up. So I was like you know if my hair is going to get messed up I might as well mess it up on my own and learn from there, you know?"
Savage said much of his job boiled down to showing "proper" technique.
"I was just tweaking a lot of what they were doing. Like I said they knew how, I just explained the why," said Savage.
The eight-week phase one course ended with a graduation ceremony.
Fox 5 was there as the students received completion certificates with city and local leaders in attendance.
A day Nathaniel Mateo says was emotional.
"I'm a college dropout and this certificate feels like a bachelor's degree for me," said Mateo.
The students now move into Phase 2 – the apprenticeship phase and a very promising future.