This single mom is braiding kids' hair for free to help other struggling parents

Hairstylist Brittany Starks and her children, Cayden, 7, and Ceniyah, 9.

(CNN)Brittany Starks knows what it's like to struggle.

Despite being a single mother who lives paycheck to paycheck and has been homeless twice, Starks hasn't allowed her hardships to break her spirit.
Rather, they've inspired her to spread kindness.
      One way the hairstylist does that is by offering other struggling parents in Tennessee free hair braiding for their children, so they can go back to school feeling happy and confident.
        The effort began in August, when Starks decided to make a Facebook post offering the service to her community in Nashville.
          "I wanted to do something for the parents like me whose money is going to feeding their children and making sure they have a roof over their head," Starks told CNN. "I wasn't expecting a big reaction. I thought I'd maybe get five kids or so, but I didn't realize how huge the need was for this."
          Her inbox was quickly flooded with requests for appointments, which she has worked to fill in between her three jobs and on weekends.
          Three hairstyles done by Brittany Starks for free.
          Since the Facebook post, Starks has braided the hair of more than 35 children, and has enlisted the help of fellow hairstylists. Each appointment takes between four to six hours, and she often travels to meet her clients -- braiding hair at homes, a local church, and numerous braiding shops.
          Starks says she has braided hair -- some laced with beads and jewels, others with colorful strands of red -- until she could no longer feel her fingers, all so kids will be ready for their first day of school.

          Inspired to spread kindness

          Starks' commitment to spreading kindness is infectious. A cheerful mother whose life revolves around her children, it's hard to notice anything but her smile and compassion.
          But her life hasn't been easy. The past few years have been strained with everyday battles including homelessness, depression, and the challenge of caring for a sick child.
          After losing her job and home in 2017, Starks also began to lose hope.
          "I had started planning my death. I wanted to commit suicide. I was leaving little notes for the kids, so they could find them when I was gone," she said. "It was a horrible time."
          As fate would have it, a car accident nearly did kill her in 2019. It was that moment, she says, that aroused in her a desire to spread kindness in all the ways she could.
          Starks became focused on taking every opportunity she had to help those in need, from grocery shopping for the homeless to raising money for a former coworker who also lost a home.
          She became a constant source of brightness in other peoples' lives, even when her struggles cast a shadow over her own.
          Starks' motivation to spread kindness was reignited this summer, when she realized she didn't have enough money to buy school clothes for her children and a friend came to the rescue.
          "I was stressing about it until a family friend bought over two backpacks with clothes and school supplies. I was just so grateful that I had something for them to wear," Starks said. "The way that made me feel, the happiness, I knew I wanted to give other parents that feeling."

          Committed to helping families

          Starks has always enjoyed styling hair for children and adults. From faux locs and knotless braids to box braids and beaded cornrows, there's not much she can't do.
          But her favorite part of the job, she says, is watching a new hairstyle transform a child's personality.
          "I had one girl come in who didn't speak and kept her head down the whole time. But when we were done, and she saw herself in the mirror, she became a different person," Starks said. "She had the biggest smile on her face. She was so much more engaged. It made me so happy seeing what nice hair did for her confidence."
          Experiences like that have kept Starks motivated to keep braiding hair, no matter how much time and sleep she has to sacrifice.
          While it usually costs parents hundreds of dollars to get a child's hair braided, Starks does it for no cost -- a gesture of kindness to families who don't get enough of it.
          Yulanda Norton, a single mother of six, had lost her job as a nursing assistant during the pandemic and could only afford the necessities.
          Yet she desperately wished she could give Janae, her 12-year-old daughter, the hairstyle she wanted before going into sixth grade.
          "With me being a single mother, my funds just wouldn't allow me to pay for having her hair done the way she wanted it," Norton told CNN. "She wanted to look good like all the other kids. She didn't want to look like we didn't have money."
          When Norton came across Starks' post, she felt a surge of hope she hadn't felt in a long time.
          Starks made an appointment for Janae with one of her volunteers, who worked on Janae's hair to give the girl her dream hairstyle: knotless braids with added red hair.
          "You can see a big difference in her attitude and the way she presented herself," Norton said. "Her dream is to be a cheerleader or in a dance group, so she's driving for a lot and has big ideas in life. Making sure she feels confident is important to get to those dreams."
          The requests keep rolling in, Starks says, with many parents wiling to come from out of state.
          To better organize the effort, Starks and her team of volunteers are planning to set aside one day every month when they will do nothing but braid hair for the children of struggling parents.
          The next date planned is September 25.
            Although Starks was initially paying for hairstyling supplies herself, she has since launched a GoFundMe to help cover the cost. The goal was to raise $15,000, but donations have eclipsed that.
            "As a single parent who has gone through so much of the same struggles they did, I know what these parents are feeling," Starks said. "And if I can help in any way, even if it's just putting a smile on their faces and easing this burden, I'm going to do it."