A beauty salon might seem like an unusual place for community outreach, but not to Katie Steller.
The Minneapolis salon owner has taken it upon herself to make sure everyday acts of kindness don’t go unnoticed. Last fall, she launched the Steller Kindness Project to share the stories of local people who lend a hand to others.
“It is so easy to be consumed and defeated by the pain and sadness of our world,” Steller wrote in one of her posts. “Changing the world needs to happen on a micro level if we ever want macro results.”
Using her Instagram account as a launching point, Steller asked her followers to nominate people whose small and quiet acts of kindness have helped others in a big way.
The nominations came pouring in: a high school library worker who goes the extra mile for students in need; a Lakeville woman who shows up for her neighbor, a single mom with four kids, and feeds the neighborhood’s stray cats; a compassionate boy with Down syndrome who loves to braid hair.
Though the Steller Kindness Project is still in its infancy, the seed for it was planted long ago.
Steller was age 11 when her autoimmune disease ulcerative colitis was diagnosed. By 18, her illness had progressed beyond remission, and she had her large intestine removed. Then, she began to lose her hair.
“I never cared about hair before,” Steller said. “I didn’t realize how important it was until I started to lose it.”
That’s when Steller’s mom took her for her first professional haircut. Steller remembers how she felt so honored, so cared for, by the stylist. It was a moment that changed her life personally and professionally. She has been on a mission to pay that act of kindness forward ever since.
After attending cosmetology school, she opened Steller Hair Co. in northeast Minneapolis in 2013. In April, Steller, 27, was named the Small Business Association’s 2018 Minnesota Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
But that’s not what matters most to her.
Last fall after mass shootings, flooding and hurricanes ravaged parts of the United States, Steller decided to do something positive to try and lessen the fear and pain.
“I was feeling hopeless,” she said. “But I also knew that there were so many people doing kind things, but it wasn’t being talked about because that’s not why they do it.”
That’s when Steller launched her project, which is designed to honor each nominee in a unique way.
When Katie Naughton was nominated by a co-worker for her commitment to students at Henry Sibley High School in St. Paul, Steller surprised Naughton with a free makeover. She also read Naughton the nomination letter and notes collected from students whom she had helped.
“I appreciate her giving me snacks sometimes when I am hungry, even though they are healthy,” one student wrote.
“She was there for me and listened to what was happening in my life and tried to comfort me when no one else would,” said another.
Naughton said being honored by the Steller Kindness Project gave her a boost.
“Sometimes you feel like you aren’t making a difference and that you are just living life day by day,” the Maplewood woman said. “But then something like this happens and I felt so rejuvenated and ready to take on the world.”
Steller honored Ben Duncan’s kindness a little differently. The 14-year-old St. Louis Park boy with Down syndrome loves to braid hair. So Steller brought Duncan in to the salon to be a stylist for a day. During his five-hour shift, Duncan executed his intricate twists and braids, and practiced haircutting, blow-drying, and curling on a mannequin head that he got to take home.
“Katie made him feel like a star for a day,” said Duncan’s mom, Sharon Duncan. “He was glowing.”
This year, Steller plans to expand her business and continue the Steller Kindness Project.
“I want everyone to feel cared for,” she said.