TLP Volunteers

Styling stories: Pam Ku on hairstyling experiences that are a cut above

In the morning before her volunteer shift, Pam prepares her equipment, including carefully sanitizing her scissors and combs for the hospital setting. When she arrives at the Surrey Memorial Hospital Ronald McDonald Family Room, she’ll meet with the coordinator to review relevant information about her clients for the day. Her set-up involves finding an open space and grabbing a chair and a low table. The only mirror is typically a handheld one.

This set-up is not what many are used to at a hair salon, but it doesn’t seem to take away from the experience. 

Pam volunteers as a hair stylist for The Lipstick Project. Her clients are often the family members of premature infants who are still in incubators in the neonatal intensive care. On some days, she’ll also see clients who are patients from other units at Surrey Memorial Hospital.  

Pam reflects on how her understanding of her role has changed over time. “Originally, I thought: It’s very simple. I just give people haircuts!”

She soon developed a deeper appreciation for the impact of her interactions. “Everyone has a different story. I can play a supportive role, just as a listening ear- and give them a nice haircut! A brief moment of happiness in their tough times.”

I am very grateful that I’m part of The Lipstick Project. It’s really meaningful and a great feeling to help others — giving joyful and positive energy to others. Working in the hospital environment especially makes you appreciate and cherish good health. It’s a great opportunity to learn about life, how to live a good life, how to give back to the community. For your entire life, you’re always learning. This is good learning for how to deal with difficult situations. How to have a strong heart. How to love your family more.
— Pam Ku

Pam’s client experiences have been diverse. She remembers a woman from Northern BC didn’t know whether her home was safe during last summer's wildfires while she was here seeking specialized services for her sick child. In a different example, Pam explained how she shaved a father’s head soon after his child’s birth to help fulfil a cultural tradition.

Pam has also provided services at other locations. Mid-December, she drove from Surrey to Vancouver to see a woman at St. John Hospice who had been awaiting a haircut for some time. The woman had been spending all of her time lying in bed and didn’t want to see anyone - she felt messy. It took multiple breaks (to allow the client to rest) to complete the haircut and style, but together they persevered. After a generous application of hairspray, voila! The woman’s spirits were significantly lifted, and her demeanour changed. She even told her daughter she wanted to go out that day and have a social visit. Being a part of the woman’s transformation had Pam singing along to Christmas carols all the way home.

Thank you, Pam, for helping to bring more joy to the world!

Passing on a Commitment to Compassion: Yolande's TLP Story

Surrey Memorial Hospital Family Room

By Kristy Inouye

I spoke to TLP volunteer Yolande Gaymes to ask about her life and what brought her to TLP. When I asked Yolande what’s important to her, she said, “Taking care of people. Making sure they’re okay. Whether that okay means they need a bottle of water, or help up the stairs, or they need directions.”

As a child, Yolande learned about the value of caring for others through her mother, who worked in a hospital and as a private caregiver. Sometimes, Yolande went with her mother to work: “She was very interactive with all of the patients… sitting and talking to them or reading; just there, taking in the fact that there are so many people who are in the hospital that don’t have anyone to come and say hello.” Yolande was struck by the impact of daily interactions that we often take for granted, and reflected on what a day-in-the-life might be like for those experiencing significant health challenges. “Now every time I go to the hospital, I want to know ‘How are they doing?’”

Being a volunteer is one of many roles that Yolande plays in her own life. She is a mother, a demo make-up artist, a mobile nail technician, and a children’s hair stylist. On top of that, she works fulltime as a longshoreman, and participates in various other volunteer opportunities whenever possible.

“I like volunteering,” she says. At the same time, Yolande acknowledges that “it’s not easy to be in a hospice,” and recognizes that volunteering with TLP might involve stepping outside one’s comfort zone. She suggests that anyone thinking about volunteering, or curious about TLP, could shadow volunteers to better understand what the organization does.

Yolande recalls how she felt when she first found out about TLP: “I just thought it was awesome, that they go to hospices and treat clients to a day of pampering. I was thrilled to hear about this.”

Yolande volunteers with TLP as a Team Lead at the Ronald McDonald House in Surrey. She enjoys being able to connect with others and help offer “that comfort, that care, that time” that she had come to appreciate as a child. Sometimes she brings her own daughters, who are 9 and 11 years old. “They’re always interested in what I’m doing, so I have brought them there to see. If they could go every time I had to go to Ronald McDonald House, they would go.”

She reflects on how such opportunities have made her daughters “more observant” and “more appreciative,” and shaped their own understanding of how to help others, and respect other perspectives. 

Learn more about current volunteer roles available with The Lipstick Project. 

Giving Generously: Thoughts from Amy, a long-time volunteer


“When you sit down in a quiet room with a client and start up a conversation that has literally nothing to do with their illness or reason for being in the hospice, you can physically see them relax and hear their breath calm. When they know that I will not be sticking them with a needle or giving them medication it allows them to feel a little more human and a little less sick, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I am there solely to help pamper them and it’s a really special feeling.

Amy has been volunteering with The Lipstick Project since the organization started. As a registered massage therapist and esthetician, Amy has been a part of a number of teams and contributed at North Shore Hospice, Ronald McDonald House and the Vancouver Hospice. During a six month hiatus from volunteering, she opted to support the organization as a donor instead, and when she returned as a volunteer, she was inspired to continue contributing in a new way.

“I am very fortunate in that I have the most amazing clients ever who are generous enough to show me their gratitude in the form of tips. In my practice as an a RMT, I choose not to accept these cash tips for myself but to donate them to TLP instead. I have been very grateful over the years in my business and now it’s time to share my gratitude. The clients that I have now also know exactly where their money is going because I am an active volunteer, so sometimes
that also encourages them to give a little extra towards someone else’s treatment with TLP. ”

A different sort of community garden: Cultivating meaningful relationships and connectedness with Holly Chan Yip

By Kristy Inouye 

From the very beginning, the evolution of The Lipstick Project has been characterized by opportunity, resourcefulness, and cultivating relationships. People helping people.

TLP launched in late 2012, with a frozen-yogurt-fuelled gathering in an apartment building’s public space in downtown Vancouver. Both the space and the frozen yogurt contributions were provided through friends, and the event itself was a casual affair attended by 50 to 60 friends and family supporting the original team of five women.

Holly Chan Yip, one of those original five, self-identifies as a “planner.” Interestingly though, she describes her journey with TLP as spontaneous, organic, and driven by instinct. “We’re creating something new, so there’s no proven formula for The Lipstick Project. We go with what we feel and believe is right.”

Holly’s initial role with TLP drew primarily on her background in spa therapy, comprising gathering supplies, recruiting volunteers, and implementing programs. Today, with the team and reach of TLP both greatly expanded, Holly’s role has shifted to focus on community partnerships. Her involvement with the organization has given her the opportunity and confidence to take on new responsibilities. In September, she also looks forward to being back on-site, returning to help Team Lead at the Vancouver Hospice. “Every time we’re there, the patients and their families are always very, very grateful, and also seem surprised or intrigued that such a service exists- and that we’re so young. To be able to inspire and care for others are huge privileges.”

Holly has always loved to help people, and her involvement with TLP is helping in more ways than one. In addition to the impact for patients and their families, she hopes that TLP will be an opportunity for those searching for a way to give back to the community, looking for the right fit. “I think everyone has a desire to give back and to be involved. I hope that TLP can be that ‘good thing’ for people,” she says. “The volunteers are always a source of inspiration for me. They're the heart, hands and feet of what we do. They all have different backgrounds, and are busy people, so for them to step outside of their routines to share their love and talents with others is a beautiful thing."

From what started as group of five women, TLP now has a team of over 30 volunteers. Holly describes TLP’s evolution as a snowball, and looks forward to continued growth not only of TLP, but also of herself, and of the many relationships she has formed along the way. Planning has its benefits, but things also have a way of working out in unexpected ways. For Holly Chan Yip, a dash of serendipity and a pinch of spontaneity have gone a long way.

More than meets the OPI: Finding purpose and joy in nail care with Naomi

By Kristy Inouye - Less than a year ago, Naomi Bagatella thought Blanche Macdonald was a cross-street. Today, she is training at the highly-reputable beauty school to become a nail esthetician - and she loves it.

Finding her passion in nail care is not something Naomi would ever have predicted. Stuck in the mindset that she needed to pursue a business career like so many people around her, Naomi spent 20 years post-secondary tirelessly pursuing all the wrong paths. “It was like I was trying to steal Cinderella’s shoe and put it on,” she says, “It just wouldn’t fit, and I was so lost. I was so lost all the time.” 

After a very public breakdown, Naomi’s mental health deteriorated to the point where she was unable to leave the house, unable to get out of bed. It was during this “dark period” that nail care became a source of joy in her life. She recalls spending hours in bed - not doing anything or seeing anyone except for her parents. “All I really ever did was stare at my own hands,” she recalls. One day, she picked up a bottle of her mother’s OPI Samoan Sand.

“It’s weird because I was never into nail polish before. But in that dark place, it was the only thing my mind could handle. All I wanted was beauty and joy and nail care was the only thing that got through to me.”

In the spring of 2014, Naomi was admitted to the Emergency Room and referred to the HOpe Centre, a facility delivering mental health services. One of the Centre’s weekly activities was manicures. Men and women of all ages came together, and Naomi loved the sense of community. It was here that Naomi’s personal love of nail care

transformed into something she could share with others. “To find something that brings me so much joy and is also an opportunity to be of service has been incredible,” she says.

That summer, an occupational therapist connected Naomi with The Lipstick Project. Naomi was nervous and unsure how she would be treated because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. “I have to be honest. In my head, I thought, ‘Do they know I’m from the HOpe Centre, and still want to meet me?’ But everyone at TLP accepted and trusted me, and that felt really good.” Naomi was offered the Team Lead position, and currently holds the role at the Vancouver and North Shore Hospices where she coordinates volunteers at weekly visits.

She emphasizes that while TLP’s services have a physical effect on clients, often the more significant impact is on their mental health and wellness. “The staff at the hospice told us that after we visit, it’s all the residents can talk about until the next visit two weeks later. The effect, the joy, is much longer-lasting than the few hours spent on site. It’s so powerful.”

Naomi’s path has not always been smooth. However, her story carries with it a message of hope for anyone feeling lost, or struggling with mental health: recovery happens.“The Lipstick Project changed my life. It’s been such a gift to find something that brings me joy, and through TLP I can give it back. When I let go of what was wrong, different pieces of what had been broken in my life clicked into place.”

As many are, Naomi was worried that people might see her as being defined by her mental illness. However, she’s learning that it is only a small piece of her life history. In a few months, Naomi will graduate from Blanche Macdonald Centre. She is a foodie, movie-lover, daughter, and friend. “When I was at that crossroad again, deciding whether to continue with the same old path or try something completely new but exciting, I finally made the right choice. It’s not easy, but I want to encourage anyone out there to choose the second door. I had to re-learn to listen to my heart and instinct, something I ignored my entire life.  And it all started with a bottle of nail polish!”


The power of touch: How Ai Shikayama is lending a helping hand

{Lipstick by day: Nivea lip balm}

By Kristy Inouye - Ai Shikayama trained and worked as an esthetician in her native Japan before moving to Canada. While a healthy desire to one-up her older sister (who worked for a beauty company at the time) also drove her decision, she knew coming out of high school that she wanted to work directly with people rather than in a formal office setting.

Today, she has over 20 years of experience and works as an esthetician at Hands on Experience. Ai says that her relationship with her clients is more than just business: “They are like family and friends, many who I have known for 5, 10, 15 years.”

Ai enjoys her job, but felt she had space in her schedule for something more. She had been interested in volunteering but hadn’t found the right project when her boyfriend came across a write-up in the newspaper about TLP about a year ago. Just like that, the perfect opportunity fell right into her hands. “It feels good to do something useful with my free time, and do what I do best,” she says.

With a squad of other volunteers, Ai visits the Vancouver Hospice two Mondays every month from about 2:30-5pm. The six-room facility offers a home-like atmosphere for people with life-limiting illnesses who are no longer able to stay in their own homes. In contrast to the regularity and familiarity of her paid work, Ai’s volunteering with TLP constantly involves new people with new stories.

It’s always different: a man or a woman, young or old, hands or feet, traditional trim or playful polish. An animated chat about grandkids and travel, or a shared quiet time. No matter what mix of factors, the purpose is the same: appreciating the moment, and reviving a sense of “normal” at a time when such comforts are often neglected. Ai says that for her it comes down to the power of touch. This human connection facilitates positive change in both herself and the person she is working with, and is the reason she enjoys what she does.

In doing what she loves and connecting with others in her community to leave them feeling and looking their best, Ai Shikayama is, well, nailing it.

Why The Lipstick Project: Victoria's Story

Written by Janet Edmison, first published in TLP's 2014 Annual Report, Spring 2015. 

After over a decade of fighting different forms of lymphoma, Tom Steele was dying – and he wanted to do it at home. Today, over two years since his passing at the North Shore Hospice, his daughter, Victoria, returns to the hospice every other week as a volunteer with The Lipstick Project.

When my dad knew he was terminal, all he wanted was to go home,” Victoria remembers. “He was paralyzed and we knew he couldn’t come to our house, so we began to look for a home-like environment with top-notch medical care. That’s when we found the North Shore Hospice.”

At the North Shore Hospice, Victoria and her family learned quickly that in the last days of someone’s life, it’s the small things that become the big things.

“At the Hospice, my dad could Skype with his friends around the world from his bed, and my brother and I could sleep next to him on a pull-out bed in his room,” Victoria says. “One day, he even had his friends come and they drank whiskey and played guitar for him. He couldn’t remember it all the next day, but in the moment you knew he was loving every second. Anything we needed or wanted, the staff at the Hospice made happen – no request was too big or too small.”

Tom passed away in December 2013, and Victoria has chosen to remember him and honour families going through similar experiences by giving back to the hospice community.

What we do is so simple, but having lived through the passing of my father, I know that how we show love and give love to people through something as simple as a haircut or massage is hugely important,” Victoria explains. “To be here in the hospice every week and to show compassionate care to those who are struggling is a way for me to move forward in my journey and to walk alongside those who are hurting. It seems small, but when it comes down to it, it’s the small things that are really the big things.”

The seemingly small things, like hair cuts or nail trims, mean a lot in those final days and weeks of life. Victoria and her volunteer team at the North Shore Hospice provided these small yet significant services to more than 100 patients in 2014.

Thank you to Victoria for sharing her inspiration. Our volunteers and community of supporters each have a TLP story of their own, and we are deeply grateful for each and every one of them. 


Time well spent: Sitting down with Massage Therapist Lindsey Ail

{Lipstick by day: Gal Collection Vanilla Vaseline, Lipstick by night: Jane Iredale “L.A.”}

By Kristy Inouye - Volunteering one’s time is often mutually beneficial. There is a bit of give, but also something to take away. Sometimes, that something is tangible. Other times, not so much. Lindsey Ail’s journey with TLP started quite literally as a story of give-and-take. At a Timeraiser event three years ago, Lindsey committed to a certain number of hours volunteering for TLP in exchange for a piece of artwork by local artist Melanie Thompson. She has since stuck with the endeavour for many more hours, and instead of collecting additional pieces of art, Lindsey has been collecting moments and connections.

Indeed, connections and relationships often bring meaning to the things we do, and sustain the passion to keep doing them. Lindsey emphasizes that her involvement with TLP is rewarding because of the people involved- from the clients and their families to the welcoming staff at North Shore Hospice to the other members of TLP. After all, as Lindsey puts it, “It’s inspiring to be around people doing inspiring things,” and humbling to appreciate clients and the “incredible amount of love in their lives.” 

When asked what others should know about volunteering in a setting that can be emotionally heavy, in a world full of busy schedules and traffic jams, she emphasizes, “It’s worth it. However difficult it may be, whatever the struggles are, it’s all worth it and you feel that right away when you get to be with people. Even if it’s just sitting with someone and holding their hand. It’s a small gesture that goes so far. It can be heavy stuff, but there is a lightness when I leave.”

A "Snip-Shot" of Sarah Maki's Roots

{Lipstick by day and by night: Sephora Collection - Magnetism)

By Kristy Inouye  Sarah Maki’s story is a reminder that the most meaningful people in our lives shape not only who we are, but how we grow and who we become. 

When asked what drove her to become a hair stylist, Sarah credits her father. Rather, she credits his haircuts. Was she raised in a long line of hair gurus? Alas, no. To save money on salon visits, Sarah’s father cut her hair. He did so with colossal scissors typically used to cut meat, and she thinks that perhaps subconsciously this is what drove her towards saving others from too-short, uneven bangs. 

Sarah says she is often struck by the positivity, vibrancy, and humour of the clients she works with through TLP, and humbled by their gratitude for just 20 minutes of her time. The services she provides might not be traditionally medical, but there certainly is some truth to the old saying “look good, feel good.” In a sense, this is its own type of medicine.  

In fact, the therapeutic value can go both ways. Sarah links her drive to volunteer with TLP to her grandmother. At the end of her grandmother’s life, with her grandmother in Hong Kong and Sarah in Canada, Sarah was not able to say a proper goodbye. “I would have loved to cut her hair, or give her a blow-out…but I never got the chance. I wish I could have done that for her.” Now she provides similar services to others in end-of-life care through TLP. Each uplifting moment Sarah shares with a client is a fond tribute to those who made her who she is today. I think her grandmother would be proud!

Sarah Maki has been a volunteer with TLP since 2013. She is a stylist at Zinc Hair in Vancouver.