“You never know if you’re entertaining an angel. That’s how I’ve always tried to live my life.”
If you speak with Felisha Ruehmer, you’ll notice the following phrase come up frequently: “the little things we take for granted.”
Every day, Felisha reminds herself of the overlooked blessings in her life. And every day, she makes an effort to extend those same blessings to others. To Felisha, it’s just common sense.
“Ever since I was little, my parents have always helped people in our community. Whether it was someone holding a sign on a corner or a family we knew that fell on hard times, we’d help. Before we’d make plates for ourselves, we’d package up meals and give them to the community.”
Over the years, Felisha became known in her small South Carolina community of Aiken as the person to turn to in times of need.
When a homeless teenager would appear on a street corner in the middle of the night, Felisha would get the call and set out to help. In cosmetology school, she always came prepared with a stockpile of snacks to save her fellow classmates some vending-machine money and brighten their day.
So in December 2015 when a video of someone giving street haircuts to the homeless started popping up on her friends’ news feeds, Felisha was the first to be tagged. And she rose to the challenge.
Felisha adopted it as her New Year’s resolution and organized her first event to give haircuts to the homeless on Valentine’s Day, 2016. 14 cosmetologist friends showed up to help, and over 106 people received free haircuts and food that day.
“After that,” says Felisha, “I was hooked.” She continued to organize events—sometimes simply dragging her folding chair out to a local park when she spotted someone she could help. Her organization, Walking Tall, was born.
Fast forward to August and several Walking Tall events later: Felisha gets tagged in another post. This time, it’s about someone offering free showers to the homeless. Again, Felisha rose to the challenge, but she could only think of one practical solution for mobile showers: an RV—something she definitely couldn’t afford on her own.
“Somebody said to me, ‘If you feel God is calling you to do the RV thing, you should check out GoFundMe.’ It only took us four weeks to earn our first $3,000—enough to get us an old RV with a functioning shower.”
Quickly, Felisha’s reach expanded—as did her impact on people’s lives.
“Sometimes I had to turn people away if their hair was really matted. To be able to give them a shower was life-changing—the full deal.”
The RV also meant Felisha could take Walking Tall on the road to give haircuts around South Carolina—where she is licensed to practice—and partner with cosmetologists in other states to help as many people as possible.
Recently, Felisha started making humanitarian trips down to Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma with a Walking Tall trailer packed to the brim with supplies.
“When you experience a natural disaster, everything can be ripped from you instantly. Even the little things we take for granted are gone, and there are no stores to help them,” she says. “It’s just a different kind of homelessness. A lot of people don’t make that connection.”
Two weeks ago, Walking Tall took part in a community event that provided not just free haircuts, showers, and food—but also clothing donated from the community. To her, it’s all about how the community can come together, “love on these people, and let them forget their problems for a day.
“They come on the RV looking one way and come off looking completely transformed. It gives them the confidence to stand before their family and say they want help, or stand before an employer and say they want a job. It makes them feel like they matter to someone.”
True to form, Felisha isn’t ready to stop yet. She just closed on a Walking Tall storefront, where she can set up a soup kitchen, food pantry, and a space for prayer. They will rent for now, but eventually, she would love to purchase a permanent headquarters. “We’ve been planting seeds in the community,” says Felisha, “But now, we have roots.”
Felisha estimates that their rent and utilities will total $750 each month—not including costs for supplies—but she is committed to making this a reality. She also hopes to renovate the RV and turn it into a fully functional mobile salon for the homeless. Felisha continues to collect donations from her community and beyond through her GoFundMe.
“I like to say, ‘If you build it, they will come,’” says Felisha. “Great things happen when we all come together, and that’s what’s been so cool about GoFundMe. Everyone can just give $1, and it still makes a difference.”