Tales of Reinvention

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Roni Levin outside the Hair Design Institute in Brooklyn. Kim Chakanetsa/The Brooklyn Ink
Roni Levin outside the Hair Design Institute in Brooklyn. Kim Chakanetsa/The Brooklyn Ink

This is part of an ongoing series looking at Brooklyn’s economic recovery. Having already looked at sectors which are beginning to thrive and the potential impact of budget cuts; we now turn to individual stories of people forced to reinvent themselves as a result of the economy.

At the Hair Design Institute: A Reinvention

By Kim Chakanetsa

Roni Levin saw it coming. The mom-and-pop stores her company supplied with police and UPS uniforms were closing. Business was not good. So, when in July 2010, she was called into a meeting and told that she was to be let go, she was not completely surprised. “I was kind of prepared but you are never prepared,” she said. After all, she had been with the company for 20 years as the office manager, a tenure that made her the longest serving employee.

At age 60, Levin had no Plan B.  Having started as a ten-word-a-minute typist straight out of high school, she had moved through the ranks of various printing and real estate companies to her current position.  She had pinned her retirement plans on a job that was now gone.

“Being with the company for 20 years I thought this was where I was going to retire,” she said. Suddenly Levin no longer had a 9-to-5 routine. She no longer had office supplies to buy or staff to oversee.  She decided to take the summer off to think about her next step, a luxury afforded by the fact that her husband was still working. “We had cover, we had insurance, Thank God,” she said with relief.

But what next? How does a 60-year old, a few years shy of retirement, prepare for a second act? How does she reinvent herself?  After a summer of reflection Levin decided that she wanted to explore the field of phlebotomy – drawing blood — an area in which she had always been interested.  She signed up for a three-week phlebotomy class. The course required Levin to learn a new medical vernacular.  In her previous positions Levin negotiated leases and oversaw staff hiring. Now she was learning to draw blood and to analyze medical information.

But reinventions are rarely simple, as Levin found after she received her certificate: when it came to looking for jobs, experience was a necessity.  Levin had to start again.  At the same time, a friend who owned a hairdressing business asked Levin to help out for two days. She jumped at the chance. “I loved it,” she said. “I absolutely loved it.“

In January of this year, Levin joined the Hair Design Institute in Brooklyn. She has now completed the 200 hours required for her basic training and has 800 hours more to complete before she qualifies for her cosmetology license. By the time Levin completes her course she would have mastered hairstyling, scalp treats, chemistry and salon management among other requirements. Her plan is to become a hairdresser with a focus on elderly clients. “I can see myself going to [retirement] homes, doing their hair and just sitting and talking with them,” she said. “That’s what I really want to do.”

Looking back, Levin thinks that the layoff and her Plan B were ultimately for the better.  “I know that this is something that I want to do and I feel good about it. I am very happy. My husband even thinks I am much happier,” she said. For Levin the prospect of a desk-bound job is no longer appealing. “I think this is a better choice for me. I don’t think I want to get back into an office again.”

If you have a story you’d like to tell about your own reinvention, write to us at thebrooklynink@gmail.com.

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