WEST VALLEY CITY — One by one these small faces and little hands came to Albert Archuleta, trusting him with their head of hair as they hopped into the barber chair.
Archuleta smiled and teased with them, conferring with parents about what cut they preferred for their child to be ready for the first day of school on Monday.
Linda Williams, who taught Archuleta while in junior high and now teaches at Redwood Elementary, watched the young man with pride.
"He's straight up giving back, talking to them how to stay in school. I could tell in junior high he was that smart and had it going on," she said.
Archuleta, in business on his own, joined five women stylists from Cameo who volunteered their Saturday morning to cut dozens upon dozens of children's hair at a community event at Redwood Elementary.
About 80 percent of Redwood's student population lives below the poverty line in an eclectic community that includes a mix of new arrivals from foreign countries, established rural pockets like Chesterfield and people trying to climb the income ladder.
A multi-pronged effort by the Granite Education Foundation, Molina Healthcare of Utah, the YMCA and others provided a bevy of resources to the student population and their parents. There were social services counseling, ways to sign up for charitable Christmas programs, the Redwood Elementary PTA and to learn about local resources in the area.
Children received backpacks, toothbrushes, a new pair of shoes, and other items to help them start the new school year off right.
Molina Healthcare of Utah, the state's second largest Medicaid provider, donated the funds for purchases of shoes.
Molina President Brandon Hendrickson was at the school Saturday along with 15 volunteers.
"The more we give back, the better partner we are," Hendrickson said, adding the resource fair is a way for Molina workers to get out into the community firsthand to see possible Medicaid clients and get beyond the paperwork.
Jolyn Kohler, principal at Redwood Elementary, said this year's turnout was fantastic.
"It's been wonderful to see so many people who have stepped up to help."
She described the parents and children at the West Valley elementary as a tight-knit community, with people devoted to overcoming challenges.
"Who doesn't have struggles? It can be hard, but it's completely worth it," Kohler said.
Gabby Vargas was with her children and her niece and nephew waiting on haircuts. She took in her niece's family, who was living in hotels, until they can get on their feet.
She said the free haircuts, support assistance and backpacks helps save the family both time and money as they struggle to recover from some hard times.
Williams was nearby, helping children get lined up for haircuts and chatting with students who will be in her third grade classroom this year.
She said she deliberately transferred to Redwood Elementary because she loves the feel of the school and Kohler's leadership.
"This is why we do what we do and teach," she said, gesturing to young faces waiting on a new hairstyle.
"We want to give these kids hope and resilience."