Abuse survivor is using her 'dream salon' in Milford to help those escaping domestic violence

MILFORD — Jennifer Devine always dreamed of opening her own salon and spa.

But her hopes appeared dashed, as personal issues played a role in delaying her road to salon success. It was not until the height of the pandemic — with only three clients in hand — when Devine finally decided to embark on the journey toward entrepreneurship. Last week, she celebrated as her dream became reality.

"I went straight to hairdressing school after I graduated high school in 2006," said Devine. "I've always had it as a part of my dream, but I have really restarted my career during the pandemic. I started from ground zero in June of 2020, with three clients, and I decided I would give it my all despite having many people tell me to take a different path, and I wouldn't be successful.

"I stand here, just over a year later, in my own salon," she added. "It's literally a dream come true."

Devine's personal journey, which she said includes her experience as a domestic violence survivor, has also impacted her work. 

Going through the hard times made Devine find her purpose in her career.

"My purpose is to help others," she said. "I truly believe that God gave me this talent and gift because when I have someone's attention, I have their ears for them to listen.

"There's an expression that says God pulls you out of the fire so you can go back and help others out," added Devine. "I think that's why I went through my struggles."

Devine held the grand opening for her Devine Beauty Salon and Spa at its 100 Lansdale Ave. location on Sept. 18.

"I prayed for this place, and I got everything I wanted," she said. "My Realtor asked me what my dream salon looked like. I told him I wanted a big open space with plenty of lighting and big windows for natural light and a beautiful plaza with plenty of parking, and I also wanted extra rooms for additional services."

The real estate agent asked Devine when she wanted to move into the space, and she said she would like to be in before Christmas.

"I signed this lease in December before Christmas," said Devine. "My faith is much bigger than my fears, which helps me through."

Devine said her kids were her motivation.

"My kids always come first, and I wanted to have a career where my schedule worked around my kids, not my kids around my schedule," she said. "They are what motivates me and my why in everything I do."

Devine said there was a time when they didn't have hot water, and she needed to boil water on the stove to give her children baths.

"I never forget that moment," she said. "I looked my kids in the eye and said, 'I promise you, we will never be in this position again.' So failure is not an option."

Devine said she now tells people not to be afraid to ask for help.

"I tell people it's OK not to be OK, but reach out for help, don't be afraid to reach out," she said. "Reach out to friends because many people don't know what other people are going through, especially in domestic violence."

In 2021, the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence received 41,654 calls from victims requesting services or information and a total of 38,989 victims were served.

In Milford, The Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence Services states that from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022, it has received 224 clients who engaged in services, said Cindy Carlson, program manager.

"It's heartwarming when any person is successful in having free from violence. It's so important," said Carlson. "It should be all of our goals to help our neighbors, coworkers, and friends have a life where they are respected."

Devine said she created a series on social media called "We Only See Half."

"I created this makeup look, which is art, but it's so symbolic of people dealing with silent struggles," she said. "One side of my face is normal with normal makeup, but on the other side of my face, I have the struggles I have gone through in my life. I did this series because not all wounds are visible, especially when it comes to abuse, it's not only physical, and I think that we need to educate society about different types. If we bring awareness and education, we can potentially save lives."

Devine said she called the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) and The Umbrella Center.

"I think a lot of people stay because they don't know what kind of help is out there, or they think it is their fault," she said. "If someone is in a domestic violence situation, please reach out and create a safety plan before you leave."

Devine said she now uses her experiences and her talents to help others.

"I truly feel like my mission is to help others through my career," she said. "I want people to not only feel beautiful and pampered when they come but to feel inspired."

Even with the hard times she has gone through, Devine said she can confidently say she wouldn't be the same person she is today if she didn't go through those hard times.

"It literally rebuilt me, and I'm grateful for all the hard times," she said. "All the rocks people through at me, I'm using them to build my mountain top to climb."

Now that Devine has her business and is in a better place in life, she said she wants to give back to all the organizations that helped her in her time of need.

"October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I'm working with The Umbrella Center for collection and donations," she said. "Nobody should be turned away from a shelter when it comes to safety. All the proceeds from the fundraiser will go to The Umbrella Center to continue providing shelter for people trying to get out."

The Beauty From Ashes fundraiser is from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Oct. 23 at Devine Beauty Salon and Spa, where the featured speakers will be domestic violence survivors. There will also be raffles, hors d'oeuvres, and refreshments, and Devine said a $25 cash donation at the door is encouraged, with all the proceeds going toward The Umbrella Center.

Besides the fundraising event, Devine has opened her business as a drop-off location for donated items for The Umbrella Center. Items needed are twin sheets, comforters, pillowcases, deodorant (for men and women), brushes/ hair ties, shampoo and conditioner, travel-size toiletries, towels and socks.

"I don't want to be known as a victim of domestic violence. I want to be known as someone who has overcome the struggles," said Devine. "I want others to know that it's not their fault what happened, but it's their duty to overcome and restart their life and make their life what they want. They are the ones that are in control."