Agrace volunteer

Beth Anderson of Jefferson, who works for Cost Cutters in Madison, volunteers weekly at Agrace Hospice in Madison.

JEFFERSON — When you listen to Beth Anderson speak, you don’t get the impression you are talking with a hair stylist.

Rather, it’s more like chatting with a neighbor, a friend — someone who understands everyday life and happenings.

“I’ve always told my staff that we want to present ourselves like we work at Aveda (hair-care products),” explained the Jefferson resident, who is district manager of Cost Cutters in Madison. “You want to look the part, but you want to be down to earth and accessible.”

“Even if I won the lottery, I would still do hair,” she added. “There’s nothing more satisfying than someone lighting up after you change their hair.”

Even a promotion earlier this year couldn’t keep Anderson from the volunteer position she’s held since 2012. She regularly visits Agrace Hospice in Fitchburg, where residents and acute care patients can have their hair done for free.

“She’s very selfless,” Agrace volunteer coordinator Barbara Graham said of Anderson. “She’s so committed to this. She considers it a pleasure to come here. She works hard here, but I think it sort of nurtures her, feeds her soul, if you will.”

This month, WKOW-27 News in Madison is saluting Anderson’s volunteerism with its Jefferson Award, which recognizes the dedication and service of “volunteers who transform lives and strengthen communities across the United States,” WKOW’s website explained.

Anderson is the November honoree, with a story about her to air on the ABC network Sunday, Nov. 24.

Anderson has found her life to be a journey, noting that “life has a way of throwing us into those loops we don’t expect.”

She started working at Cost Cutters, but then went to a full-service salon for a year, got married and had children.

“I discovered I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom for a little bit,” said Anderson, who then worked part time in the school district and then returned to hair styling 15 years ago. She came back to Cost Cutters 11 years ago, and found the perfect match.

“I like that Cost Cutters has other avenues for us to express our creativity,” Anderson said.

That is part of what drew Anderson to the hospice volunteer work. The general manager at Cost Cutters suggested it in 2012, and Anderson agreed, “not knowing exactly what I was getting myself into.”

The program was started at Agrace by Bill Kaminski, whose sister passed away while a patient at Agrace. Stylists are put through a three-night, four-hour training in order to familiarize the volunteers not only with the mission of the hair-styling program, but with working with people in the last months of life. Anderson is one of about four to six stylists who rotate in, though Anderson sometimes is there by herself.

As it turned out for Anderson, in spite of being nervous, it was a perfect fit.

“We can put a smile on their face,” Anderson said of the hospice patients. “I can make them feel better and their families feel better just by doing their hair. It’s a sense of normalcy.

“Imagine having that worst day, every day,” she added. “We are only there one day a week, but they look forward to that. I will stay as late as I need to to get everyone in. It’s not an option not to do it.”

Graham said Anderson’s dedication to her work is obvious, and that there “aren’t enough words” to convey the gratitude she feels toward the stylist.

“Beth does their hair, and their head is up. It’s almost like a different person once they get their hair done,” Graham explained. “She develops relationships with them. She’s had tears. And it’s all natural. We’re all here to help these patients.”

Graham said a large part of the training is to insist on boundaries, because “heartstrings get pulled.” As Graham put it, it’s a fine line to tread between “friend” and “professional friend.”

“She provides this very warm, caring presence,” Graham said. “She’s found that fine line … and she does it beautifully.

“She possesses all those wonderful qualities,” Graham added. “I’m like, ‘Beth, you can’t ever leave.’”

In fact, when Anderson was promoted to district manager earlier this year, her dedication to the hospice program was front and center. As Anderson and Graham confirmed, “She said, ‘if they don’t let me have Thursdays (Anderson’s Agrace day off), I’m not going to take it.’”

And so Anderson has remained a fixture with the program, sometimes doing hair out on a patio, sometimes sitting on a hospice bed, other times limping around on crutches after injuring her foot but not wanting to miss her volunteer time.

Her reasons are simple.

“When you start thinking about your own personal life … I think it helps me understand things a little bit more,” Anderson said about what volunteering with Agrace offers her. “So many times, you don’t think about ‘what if.’ Sometimes, you don’t appreciate you’re not dealing with something. This young man was on his deathbed, and I have three healthy children. It’s an overwhelming emotion when you’re there.”

Often, she leaves in tears.

“I can just remember messaging all three of my kids, and telling them, ‘I love you.’ It makes you appreciate what you do have,” she said, adding that she is blessed that her children are healthy and her parents are alive.

“It makes me a better person doing hospice,” she said. “I can’t imagine not doing it.”

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