Sometimes you hear a story and it motivates you to do something, to make a change in your life that will positively impact others. This is exactly how I felt after listening to Mike DeSalvo, owner of HairanoiaSalon in the Hawley Green neighborhood on Syracuse’s Northside. His story has helped me think differently about hospitality, religion, and what it means to be an active member in the community.
Mike DeSalvo is a neighborhood man. He grew up on the Northside and now lives and works there. His home and salon are both beautiful, tastefully decorated and radiating a sense of peace and calm that welcomes everyone. Although such surface beauty is important, his acts of selflessness complete the picture. While working with the Jail Ministry in his earlier years, Mike created a strong support network for HIV positive prisoners. This type of built-in support system eventually became a part of his everyday life with the creation of the Friends of Dorothy Catholic Worker House.
Located on 212 Wayne Street, the old Victorian home that was once boarded up and falling apart is now intricately painted in 13 different colors and filled with years of memories. 20 years ago, Mike and his partner Nick Orth bought the building, renovated it, and opened their home to individuals suffering from AIDS. As a home-based, grassroots and community supported establishment, the Friends of Dorothy House provides a level of care that is unparalleled in this field.
Their home completely revolves around their guests, providing all the support, love and attention that a family member would give. Although they run a very small operation, they have a big impact. Having only 1-2 guests at a time allows them to give the kind of loving and primary care you cannot receive anywhere else.
Another amazing thing is that all of this is provided for free. Inspired and named after activist Dorothy Day, the house is committed to following her lead of voluntary poverty and mercy works as a way of life. This is a place where it doesn’t matter if you don’t have access to health care, money, or family. Every person is welcomed with open arms.
Both Mike and Nick are driven by their faith, which is manifested in their actions and attitudes. Christ, not the church, is their model. They have strong support from the community, especially from their current parish, St. Vincent DePaul’s Church.
Two weeks ago they held the last fundraiser event of the season for the Friends of Dorothy House. St. Vincent’s Parish was filled with friends, family, and neighbors young and old to remember and celebrate the work and lives of those who have found solace at the house. The food was delicious, but what was most impressive was the sense of community. The dinner brought together a diverse number of people all committed to the idea that the more we work together, share our stories, and help others, the better off we will be.