His tools are clippers, shears and passion; he is an artist. For Sam Lee of Clearwater, there is no such thing as a routine haircut. Lee, 37, graduates next month from the American Institute of Beauty of Largo as a master barber. Michael Halmon, an owner of AIB, said the master barber program requires 20 hours a week for 15 months for part-time students. "It's quite a commitment." Halmon said AIB is the only school in the county to offer the master barber program.
Lee takes his commitment seriously. He has had perfect attendance for his tenure at the school, and he encourages his fellow students.
"I talk to all the other students to motivate them. I want to see my fellow students graduate," said Lee. "It makes me feel good to know they made it through."
Lee's friendly, soft spoken manner belies the intense, goal-driven student. A single parent for more than 10 years, Lee has five children, a full- time factory job and dreams for the future.
"I've always wanted to own my own business," said Lee. "I've learned a lot of patience raising five kids. I'm not afraid of meeting my goal."
In addition to the master barber classes, AIB offers programs in skin care and cosmetology. Halmon and business partner Janet McCann have owned the school for six years and are about to move to a building that nearly doubles its current facility.
"People are becoming aware of the career opportunities," said Halmon. According to the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences and the U.S. Department of Labor, experienced salon professionals can average up to $50,000 annually, including tips. And employment opportunities are projected to grow 10 to 20 percent over the next few years.
Lee plans to capitalize on that growth. "Factories have layoffs. I have too much to take care of to be laid off. That's why I am in school."
Lee's children range in age from 12 to 18. He recently married and added two children to the family. He would like to see the children take a different path than he has trod.
"I talk to my kids all the time about staying in school and getting their education now, not when they are 37 years old."
Lee's dreams provide the motivation for his busy days. "I like the idea of a spa, maybe a clothing line, my own hair products. I'd like to come back here and teach."