The Prank it Forward organization are no strangers to touching stories. Using the concept behind a prank for good, the group takes the idea behind a prank and turns it into something positive. From flash mobs to new homes, these ‘positive pranks’ work to help give back to people in need of something good added to their life.
In their Homeless Day Spa prank, the group arrived at Ascencia Shelter in Glendale, California.
Just 20 minutes from the infamous Skid Row in Los Angeles, the group arrived with boxes to hand out food and clothing at a shelter—or so the people thought.
Instead, they set up a full Day Spa for a group of around 30 recipients of the shelter for the day, providing everything from full-body massages to haircuts.
Sometimes, it’s hard to remember just how much homelessness can strip from a person. While the transient nature of the homeless population is frustrating enough in itself, many of the individuals that visit a shelter like Ascencia are lacking in something as basic as human dignity.
When people think you stink, think you’re in poor health or poor trust, they don’t want you around. For the homeless who are looking for jobs or a helping hand to get back on their feet, the lack of basic cleanliness and grooming on a day-to-day basis can make even their most basic attempts to turn things around a true struggle.
That’s exactly what Prank it Forward tried to provide. They offered up rarely-given luxuries like a massage or a haircut, something that many of those who benefited from the day hadn’t had in months, if not years. They also gave them a chance to go ‘shopping’ for something new to change into, a full breakfast and lunch to eat, and waterproof jackets and backpacks full of much-needed supplies. Clean socks and underwear, a hot shower and fresh makeup for those who wanted it, and even a beard trimmer were offered up to truly give the group a brighter day.
It was a nice reminder that all of the recipients mattered enough to get some new things, even some luxuries—something that many often forget to consider when it comes to the world’s most destitute.
“We have to stay up all night long, just watching each other’s backs,” said recipient Guadalupe, prior to the makeover.
Some of the recipients said they hadn’t been able to afford makeup in six years. Another said she just felt special – that’s something you can’t take away from someone, no matter how hard their life has been in the past.
“I haven’t been able to afford makeup for myself for six years, so it feels great,” one person said.
The day wrapped up with Celebrity Food Truck chefs from the soul food truck Postcards providing some delicious eats for the group, all noticeably happier and a little bit more prepared to take on the day.
Ascencia gave an update one year after the video was released. According to the shelter, a number of the recipients of the ‘prank’ have managed to either find more permanent housing or get the ball rolling on a place to live in the time following the spa; that’s no easy feat in an area as pricey as the greater Los Angeles region.
For the recipients, though, even seeing just a few benefit enough to get their lives moving in the right direction is exactly what the initiative had wanted to do. Giving the self-confidence to some of the city’s homeless population likely made all the difference in the world, and even those who are still seeking out permanent housing almost certainly benefited from the fact that they were able to feel good about themselves again for a day.
The long-term reward seen by that kind of act makes any cost worth it in the end. Just watch the veteran who got a chance to feel cared for like he hadn’t in ages, or Guadalupe’s face when she sees herself; if his reaction to the day doesn’t convince you, nothing will.
Using both crowdfunding and the power of social media to get the word out, Prank it Forward helps to make a difference beyond their surprises.