Tajh Rousseau watched in the mirror as hair stylist Liz Arbut applied gel to his ‘do.

“I want to be, like, jock-ish but cool,” said the 11-year-old, who was preparing to go back to school next week by getting a trendy hairstyle at Studio 415 Salon.

The cut was part of the salon’s first “Cuts for Kids” event Aug. 25. Salon owner Leslie Winkle organized the event with the help of United Way and recruited a dozen of her stylists and half as many volunteers to help out.

They planned to give away 100 free haircuts valued at $2,000-$4,000.

“It’s about making it fun for the kids and making them feel good about going back to school,” said Winkle, who advertised the event through social media and agencies that serve kids facing adversity. “I think fitting in is becoming harder and harder, and part of feeling comfortable and confident at the beginning of the school year is a good haircut.”

Amber Rousseau took all three of her children for new cuts.

“Haircuts are expensive, times three kids,” said Rousseau, of Traverse City, who watched as Tajh and daughter Jezalyke got simultaneous cuts in side-by-side chairs. “Plus kids are very conscious of themselves.”

The event was one of several in the area aimed at getting kids off to school in style. Others include a shoe drive at the Father Fred Foundation.

“It’s hard for us, with a small staff, to do the extras in these kids lives,” said Gary Swaney, program coordinator for Big Brother Big Sister of Northwestern Michigan, which pairs up kids with older mentors. “So when someone steps forward with one of these events and says, ‘We’ll plan it, we’ll do it, all you have to do is have the kids show up,’ these groups who help fill in that piece for us are greatly appreciated.”

“Cuts for Kids” also featured free refreshments, hair products and school supplies.

Carlene Rosinski tagged along with her daughter and three grandsons. The Traverse City family was one of the first in line for the event, which began at 4 p.m. By 4:15 p.m. the salon’s sign-up sheet had 40 names.

“I think it helps boost the kids’ confidence,” said Rosinski. Her own back-to-school ritual included new clothes and school supplies but rarely a new hair style.

Tajh Rousseau is not only entering a new grade this year but also is starting at a new school. That makes making the right impression even more important, said the incoming sixth-grader.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover, but it’s nice to look good,” he said.

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