Volunteers In Profile
Eric McKnight & Christian Santiago
Giving Back Through Entrepreneurship
By Charles Johnson, Poverello Volunteer
When retired Police Detective, Eric McKnight, and his husband Christian Santiago (Chris) (whose previous career was Manager of Marketing & Special Events for a not for profit agency in New York) decided to open a barbershop in Oakland Park, their intention was to not only have a successful business, but also to find a way to give back to the community. Poverello’s latest VIP highlights this couple who put their community service-oriented career experiences together to open Dick’s Service Station, a barbershop located just North of Oakland Park Boulevard.
Opened in March 2016, they have been voted Best Barber Shop in Broward County three years running. Dick’s has been noted as a complete success, meeting its original vision as a business, while at the same time retaining its philanthropic commitment to local non-profit organizations.
“The primary recipient of what we do philanthropically is Poverello, however, there are several other local charities we support. Whether it’s through gift baskets or monetary donations, we generally try to accommodate as many requests within our community as we can,” remarks Chris.
“I did a lot of research,” Eric recalls. “I had a lot of friends who were barbers and they were looking for a new shop to work in. We listened to them and took into consideration their suggestions while keeping in mind the overall concept of the shop. We asked if we build it, will you come? So, we built it and they came. From the start, we wanted to stand out within the community. We didn’t want to just be an average barbershop. So, we created a service station themed shop reminiscent of the 1950’s era gas stations, and the name Dick’s Service Station was a natural fit.”
Eric continues, “We were in search of a primary community-based charity to focus our efforts.” Chris adds in, “That’s when we came across Poverello. We appreciate their philosophy and goal to alleviate hunger and treat each client as an individual.” In addition, they are one of the largest local organizations with over 400 active volunteers and approximately 3,000 clients served monthly. Their influence within our community is enormous. Poverello has been serving the community since 1987 and in 1992 they advanced to the next level of care by opening the Live Well Center where they give their clients an opportunity to participate in things like chiropractic services, massage therapy, foreign language classes and a full-service gym all free of charge. We thought that would be the ideal place to open a miniature version of our shop and assist Poverello in their efforts to provide free services to their clients. We outfitted it with everything needed to run a full-service barber shop and designed it to look exactly like our shop complete with a 1950’s service station feel. In addition, we send over barbers every week to give free haircuts.
Those haircuts make a difference to the individuals who receive them. When you look your best, often times you feel your best. Making people look their best is at the core of what we do at our main shop, so being able to provide similar services at the mini shop is just as important.
“Poverello’s efforts don’t go unnoticed by the community as a whole. And although we provided the equipment for the mini shop, we encourage anybody with a license to contribute their time and talent at the mini shop at the Poverello’s Live Well Center,” say Eric.
There is no doubt that the married business partners and philanthropists speak with one voice when saying, “We like the fact that Poverello is not just a hand-out organization, instead, it is a hand-up organization.“