TAMPA — Burnt orange painted walls oozed serenity, lush green plants gave the room a tropical oasis feel and jazz lulled even the most frazzled.
It's exactly the feel hair stylist Micheline Barber intended when she opened the doors of M Salon 1 a little more than a month ago.
She also wanted to give back.
"We had a vision of serving the needs of all women, from working women to single moms, to those who need a break from the hustle and bustle," said Barber, 39, whose shop is at 1501 W Sligh Ave.
On Friday evening, Barber gave refuge to three expectant mothers, all residents of Alpha House, a nonprofit agency that provides shelter and aid for pregnant women and new moms in crisis situations.
"This pregnancy has done a lot of things to me," said Clara Fracasso, now five months along, as her tresses soaked in a conditioner. "I worry all the time."
With sudsy shampoos, scalp massages and words of encouragement, Barber hoped to tame the mothers' manes while bolstering their confidence.
It's a message Alpha House has begun to emphasize. The Tampa nonprofit has grown from a shelter for beleaguered mothers-to-be into a place where they can grow into confident women.
"The goal is to help them become independent so they don't return to whatever situation they were in," said Cathi Hardesty, director of development at Alpha House.
It offers a broad spectrum of help, from money management classes to a trauma abuse recovery group that helps women who have been raped and molested.
"It's about teaching you how to be on your own two feet not depending on anyone," said 21-year-old Corretta Crompton, who was five months pregnant and received a hair relaxer. "You learn to deal with responsibilities you didn't have on the street."
Last year, six Alpha House teens attended their high school's homecoming dance, a testament to the organization's efforts, Hardesty said.
It's a far cry from a decade ago, when the organization lost a majority of its funding and 50 percent of its mothers had no where to go after delivery.
"It was pretty scary," said executive director Bonnie Christiano.
Alpha House, at 201 S Tampania Ave., has an operating budget of about $1.4-million a year from government and private sources.
Its main maternity residence houses 23 women. There are also eight transitional apartments and a three-bedroom apartment for teen mothers in foster care. All residents must either attend school or seek employment.
The main goal for the mothers: independence they can feel good about. Visits to places like M Salon 1 are a part of that.
"I think kids are God's blessings," said Fracasso, who is earning her GED. "I'm healthy. … I can take care of me and my child, and as a human being I expect that from myself."