Carla Whitlock relaxed Friday morning as a pair of young manicurists painted her fingernails.
“It’s fantastic that someone thinks enough of us to do this. It’s all been really nice,” Whitlock said.
Whitlock was one of a dozen female veterans who attended a Grace After Fire “New Year, New You” event at the Keller Center for Advanced Learning, or KCAL, the Keller district’s career training education (CTE) center. The school’s cosmetology students and staff—with help from other CTE departments—organized a day of pampering, with hair styling, manicures and makeup sessions and career building with resume assistance, photo sessions for head shots and an outfit to wear on the job or while seeking employment.
Whitlock, a retired Army major who was deployed to Afghanistan twice during her 15 years as a communications officer, said she was interested in working on her resume as she is completing her certification to become a computer network specialist.
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The most important part of the day, however, was connecting with fellow female veterans.
“I definitely like being amongst other veterans, especially female veterans,” Whitlock said. “You have a closer bond with women who have served. They understand me.”
Grace After Fire is a Texas-based charity that helps women veterans connect with one another and find resources for assistance. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 10 percent of American veterans are women.
Cassie Winslow, outreach coordinator for Grace After Fire and a retired Marine Corps staff sergeant, said she hoped the veterans who attended the event would enjoy a day of pampering.
“A lot of women veterans are really awful at taking care of themselves,” Winslow said. “Self-care is really important, and we want them to know it’s okay to take time for yourself.”
In addition to the salon services, photographs, and resume and wardrobe help, KCAL automotive technology students offered free oil changes and tire rotations. Culinary arts students from across the district supplied boxed dinners for participants to take home. KCAL graphic design students created fliers, online advertisements and signs.
One room was filled with clothing, shoes and accessories where the women could pick out a complete outfit to wear for their photo shoot and take home. The campus collected business wardrobe items donated by community members.
KCAL Principal Leslee Shepherd said the cosmetology department came up with the idea to do a community service project with Grace After Fire and other CTE students and staff pitched in to make the event “a day of pampering to serve these very special ladies.”
She said, “The whole idea is that when they leave here with their resumes and head shots, they’re ready to enter the work force.”
A special bond
The veterans who attended the event ranged from those who had just left active duty to a woman who served in the late 1970s. They got the chance to visit with one another over lunch and between sessions.
Tracy Flax, who recently retired as a senior master sergeant after 26 years in the Air Force, said she was the only female in her squadron in her first assignment.
“That was interesting, to say the least,” Flax said.
She attended the Grace After Fire event to meet other women veterans because of the special bond they share.
“I moved back to Texas two years ago and hadn’t met many women veterans,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed meeting new people today and being pampered. When you’re with another woman veteran, you know what each other has been through.”
Flax also was happy to get the resume assistance as she seeks a job as an instructor in a high school or community college setting.
Rebecca Matos, who at 23 is not a lot older than the students assisting her, recently ended her service with the New York Army National Guard, where she was deployed to assist in relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Matos has a new job working for a startup company that employs veterans to build websites, called Sites for Heroes. She was excited about getting a portrait photo to use for social media.
“I didn’t know what to expect here, but it’s all been great,” she said. “They’re very appreciative of us.”
The students who served the veterans said they were glad to get the chance to show their appreciation.
Cosmetology student Lexyi Cortinas, 18, paused as she waited for Whitlock’s nail polish to dry.
“I look up to everyone who risked their lives. No matter what branch you’re in or what you did, you served your country,” Cortinas said.