AUGUSTA, Ga. — Felisha Westall stands in the empty living room that belongs to her friend, Larry. Months ago, he was a felon living on the streets, and now he is a man of God with his own apartment.
As she thinks of what he's been through, she feels nothing but pride in how far he's come and the vibration of her phone as supporters call in to offer help.
Matheny is one of the thousands Westall has assisted with her ministry, Walking Tall. The ministry is based in and is the only place in the community where the less fortunate are able to receive free, professional haircuts. Westall started doing free haircuts on the streets five years ago at the urging of friends, and the practice has grown into a multifaceted safe space for the homeless.
"Walking Tall ministries was founded by me by starting out with street haircuts for the homeless, and then it grew to an RV that had a shower so they could take a shower and get a change of clothes and get a haircut, and that grew to this ministry, which has so many more levels," she said.
Those levels include such services as a free hair salon, a daily soup kitchen, a food pantry, a clothing closet, hygiene products, an indoor shower and the only public outdoor bathroom in the area. The ministry also offers several programs centered on rehabilitation and counseling for the homeless and drug addicts.
The work programs and church study are led by Zak Moyer, who assists in job training with his construction company, Moyer Drywall. As a former addict, Moyer provides a unique point of view and ability when interacting with drug addicts.
"I always try to lead the people, to lead them with hope, that, 'Hey, I was right where you are right now,' because nine times out of 10, whatever they're on, I'm aware of and I've been through it and I can show them not just the biblical way out of it but a physical way to deal with it and to come off what they're on," Moyer said.
Before finding Walking Tall, Larry Matheny was barely surviving on the streets after serving 21 years in prison. Now, he's a godly man with a roof over his head, and he says it's because the ministry saved his life.
"(Westall and Moyer) helped me get counseling. I got a mental health counselor now; I got a vocational rehab counselor," Matheny said. "Plus, they helped me get started back with my food stamps and everything, and through them, by giving me clothes, and encouraging me and showing me that God
In addition to helping Matheny find an apartment, the ministry also helped him find furniture and supplies from donors to turn the apartment into a home. Matheny described how Walking Tall ministries is different, more personal, partly because unlike other homeless organizations, the ministry receives no aid from the government or corporate partners.
Westall likes it that way.
"Our whole ministry has grown from the very first day through Facebook, from me saying, 'If I do this for free haircuts, who would come?' to now, when I have a need, I just post it on Facebook," she said. "We're the only independent, faith-funded, free-haircut ministry that I know of."
Though she is happy with an independent ministry, Westall still accepts any support through donations of supplies and finances as well as volunteers from the community. She hopes to raise enough money to be able to expand, add another location and turn the ministry into a shelter where the homeless can sleep.
Westall still travels, offering haircuts and other assistance in her RV. She is currently raising money to go to New York for Christmas to give free haircuts and Christmas presents to the homeless.