St. Rose resident and Destrehan High School alumnus Jennifer Washington has nearly three decades of being a successful hair stylist and beautician under her belt, even if it wasn’t the career she envisioned at first.
Washington moved from a career in the science field to her current profession, giving up her pursuit of a career as a medical technician to do what she does today.
“It’s about as far a move as you could imagine,” Washington said. “But once I began doing this, I knew it was going to be my life.”
She’s parlayed her skills into a successful business, Pamper Me Hair and Spa in Kenner, which she opened in 1991. But for Washington, the profession yields more than simply financial rewards: she also utilizes her skills to help those in need whenever she can.
Washington’s habit of helping was passed down by her late mother, Gwendolyn. For example, the mother would bring a family that suffered a death in its ranks and was struggling under an ensuing financial strain.
“She brought a group of people and told me we needed to do their hair,” Washington recalled. At first, I’m like, ‘Mom, what is going on?’ She told me someone had passed away. In times of bereavement, you really don’t have the money to do a lot of things. So my mother would tell them, ‘OK, you can go now,’ and I’m waiting, like, ‘alright, they’re not going to pay for any of this?
“But then I realized, do that. Do it in that way, because the lord can bless you in so many forms, not just financially.”
Washington developed a taste for providing that kind of aid when she sees someone in need. On another occasion, she spoke with someone while out and about and came to learn that person was also struggling with a death in her family.
Washington handed her a business card and told her to come on by her salon.
“She didn’t know that I was going to say, ‘it’s on me,’” Washington said. “She said she needed to buy her son new shoes, and I told her, ‘tell your son that those shoes are on Sister Washington. That’s what everyone called my mother.”
She helps in other ways. Through a friend that works for United Way. She encourages young girls who live in group homes to achieve in school by offering makeovers as reward, calling that incentive package a “pampering session.” She takes care of young and old, for example some of the elderly ladies that attend her church, noting that sometimes they have nobody to care for or help them. And she’s helped young women headed out to find employment at job fair by helping them to look and feel their best.
One instance she is most proud of is a time where she did the hair of a girl who lived in a group home who had earned one of those pampering sessions through her school work. “She cried when she saw her hair,” Washington said. “When they don’t think it could ever look a certain way and they’re so happy, that makes me so happy. She lives in Texas now, and we still keep in touch.
“The reward is not the money,” she added with a gleam in her eye. “It’s the smiles on different people’s faces.”
She credits her staff with being more than willing to help that cause.
“ I do thank god for having this willing team,” she said. “I couldn’t do it by myself. Maybe I could, but it would be a headache. They’ve been more than happy to help those people.”
Beyond her passion for making another person’s day, she’s stayed busy over the years, having seen and done a lot. She had a part in creating the atmosphere of the very first Essence Festival in New Orleans, doing the hair and makeup of a number of the models that participated.
“It was exciting to do that,” Washington recalled. “It was my first time involved in something so big. Every time Essence comes around, I think back and remember when it started and how big it has become. I remember it at the convention center, the very first one, before the Superdome.”
She is a mother of seven who works as her church’s choir director.
She’s also been a teacher of her craft and has seen a number of her students go on to find success, which makes her proud—“it’s great to see someone take what you taught them and do awesome things,” she said. But she left teaching behind, as her heart is in the salon—the same one where “Sister Washington” imparted a life lesson that shapes her daughter’s outlook today.
When she’d tell them, ‘it’s good, we’ve got it,’ … I can see her face just smiling,” Washington said. “It gets me excited just thinking about that.”