KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Once a month, Madalyn Wetzel gives free haircuts to homeless people because almost 30 years ago she was in their situation.
Wetzel has been cutting hair for Neighbor2Neighbor, a Westport-based nonprofit, since last November. The charity, which operates in the basement of Revolution church, provides free meals and other services to people in tough circumstances.
"Just because these guys are down on their luck doesn't mean they can't look good," said Wetzel, a gregarious redhead who works as a stylist at Footlights Haircut Shops.
Wetzel's other "shop" is a tiny corner of a thrift store -- which at some point was a basketball court -- sandwiched between the shoe rack and shelves filled with vases and coffee pots.
Clients sit on a simple chair as Wetzel runs clippers over their heads. The guys who have job interviews lined up, about half of them, get to go first.
One of her first clients, Philip, talks about a book he's reading as Wetzel cuts his hair and touches up his beard. After she finishes, he insists on sweeping up his own clippings.
It's a way to say thanks.
"This is greatly appreciated," he said.
Wetzel will trim a beard or apply a dab of pomade if a client asks, but she specializes in quick, basic haircuts: 10 minutes for a buzz cut, 15 for a scissor cut.
This isn't Big Daddy's Barbershop, she jokes. She does, however, provide a dish with Jolly Rancher red hots and Brach's butterscotch candy.
"I think they come here for the candy," she said.
Wetzel came to Kansas City in 1982 with her then-husband and their 3-month-old son after a charity in Ohio gave them one-way bus tickets. Because they had no money, they stayed in shelters as they tried to find work.
Each day, the couple walked around the city for hours with want ads, pushing the baby in his stroller while applying for jobs.
Madalyn, who had sold her baby's crib and pawned her wedding ring, "couldn't find a job to save my life."
After six weeks, the former Army nurse landed a position in a nursing home.
The Star wrote about the family's job search, and Wetzel remembers what it was like after the article was published. Strangers approached her on the street and gave her money -- money that, frankly, they probably couldn't spare.
That stuck with her over the years, even after she became a hairstylist.
"Somewhere between birth and death, there's got to be a fun job out there," she said. "That's what I've been doing for 20 years."
Wetzel approached Neighbor2Neighbor last fall about volunteering. She wanted to repay the kindness shown to her, and a friend who attends Revolution church had suggested the nonprofit.
"Oh, that first time I was so nervous," Wetzel said. "I was sweating bullets. I knew if I screwed up, none of them would come back to me."
She ended up cutting hair for 17 people that morning.
"At the end of the day, I was really tired," she said. "But I felt so good."
Wetzel has found a way to use her skills to help people, said Doug McNally, Neighbor2Neighbor's executive director.
"She feels everybody deserves the opportunity to feel good about themselves," McNally said.
You can see the difference her efforts make, volunteer LeuVenae McAnally said.
"One by one, I saw these men change," McAnally said. "Their whole persona changed."
A lot of the regulars know Wetzel now, and she banters with them as she would with any customer.
"I think you're as handsome as you're going to get today," she jokes with one man as she wraps up.
It's not always easy for people in this situation to get a regular haircut, said Edward Clemmons, one of Wetzel's clients.
"Not unless you've got money," Clemmons added.
Wetzel encourages other stylists and barbers to think about volunteering at homeless charities, women's shelters and other nonprofits. She said she loves the work.
"It's just a drop in the bucket, man," Wetzel said. "I'd like to do more."