ST. JOSEPH — Tamekia Swint wants to help people and bring families together.

It’s one of the reasons she started her nonprofit, Styles 4 Kidz, which emphasizes hands-on instruction of simple hair styles, including how to braid and detangle Afro-textured hair.

Swint and a handful of assistants were in Southwest Michigan on Saturday as part of a Styles 4 Kidz hair workshop at the Maud Preston Palenske Memorial Library in St. Joseph.

In the four-hour workshop, Swint taught parents the ins and outs of how to handle and maintain African American hairstyles for their children.

“It was this big revelation for me, that maybe it was something I was supposed to be doing instead of selling insurance,” Swint said when asked about her workshop.

Everything can be traced back to her time on a mission trip in Poland teaching English. While there, she taught a hair-braiding class for fun when a girl expressed a dream of having her hair in braids.

When she returned to the U.S. in 2006, Swint started working on kids hair.

Since opening up its services in its own Chicago salon in November, Swint said Styles 4 Kidz has helped nearly 500 children.

“We’ve been living in this bubble of Chicago. I learned that after I went on Windy City Live to promote the business,” Swint said. “I got a call from New York, Maine and California saying ‘we need help too.’ This was a larger problem outside of Chicago.”

After that, Styles 4 Kidz began holding workshops in regional areas from Atlanta to Ann Arbor.

“We get requests every day,” she said.

During the presentation portion of the workshop on Saturday, Swint went over different hairstyles including twists, combed coils, Afros/Afro puffs, pony tails, crochets, corn rows and blowouts.

Swint told attendees to never use grease products in their child’s hair. Instead, she recommended four products – moisturizing shampoo, hydrating conditioner, hair moisturizer and natural oil.

“You have to remember, African Americans in slavery had to use anything they could get, which included grease. But that wasn’t the best thing,” she said. “We have learned better and now we do better. That means using natural oil as opposed to grease.”

Swint talked about age appropriate practices parents should do when it comes to their children’s hair, from combing babies hair at a young age to avoiding chemical products to prevent long-term damage.

Above all else, Swint said getting a hair cut at a reliable barbershop or salon is key. She said it’s all about the cultural experience.

The second part of the presentation was more hands-on. During that time, Swint taught attendees how to do pony tails and twists and the trick to adding beads to their child’s hair.

The workshop was brought to the area as part of a collaborative effort between the Benton Harbor, Bridgman and St. Joseph libraries.

Tiffani Carlsen, a library assistant with the St. Joseph Public Library, said her director noticed a news clip highlighting Styles 4 Kidz.

Carlsen said she thought the workshop would be great for the area, having grown up in St. Joseph.

“We moved here when I was a baby in the early ’80s, and we were one of the few black families in St. Joe,” she said. “There are a lot of foster families in the area, who need help. It’s something as simple and complex as hair and how to connect with your child.”

The nonprofit group will provide another hands-on effort and hair services today from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Twin Cities Beauty College. They will help people on a first come, first serve basis.

To learn more about the organization or to donate, visit www.styles4kidz.org.

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski