When Melissa Marantz Nealy died in 2005, her close-knit family was devastated. At 28, Nealy had been diagnosed only a year earlier with a neurodegenerative muscular disorder.
In response, Wendy Levine, Nealy’s sister, along with their cousin, Alicia Liotta, devoted themselves to honoring Melissa, who Levine describes as a “fiery redhead” who was “committed to fighting her disease.”
They knew that during Nealy’s illness, she had been comforted and uplifted by pampering treatments, like manicures and hairstyling, at home.
“Getting beauty treatments improved her quality of life,” Liotta said.
To provide that same experience to others in Nealy’s situation, Liotta and Levine launched the Beauty Bus Foundation in January 2009. The organization is dedicated to arranging in-home beauty treatments free of charge for people suffering from one of seven designated diseases, including cancer, multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig’s disease. The foundation also provides treatments for caregivers.
Running the company turned out to be no small task, and both Liotta and Levine eventually found themselves leaving their careers – Liotta as a communications specialist, and Levine as an attorney – to work full time on building and managing the organization. Neither took a salary until recently.
“We’re lucky to have husbands who are amazing, and extremely supportive,” Levine said.
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For clients, the time spent with both a beauty expert and a volunteer from the organization — called a “beauty buddy” — offers a welcome respite from persistent thoughts of their illness, and a chance to be taken care of by someone other than a health care professional.
“People in my situation think there’s no hope,” said Patricia Webb, 69, a longtime client who is homebound with leukemia. “To know that someone cares enough to do a pedicure on you when you don’t have the strength to do it yourself is heartwarming.”
In addition to visiting clients at their homes, the organization travels to communities such as the Ronald McDonald House and Leeza’s Place, where people with serious illnesses live on site.
By teaming up with heavy hitters in the beauty industry like Robbie Schaeffer, owner of the OPI Concept Salon in Studio City, and Ann Mincey, a veteran of the beauty industry, both of whom sit on the foundation’s board, the organization has grown exponentially since its launch.
During their inaugural year, Liotta and Levine estimate that they made two or three visits to clients each month. This year, they’ve done close to 300.
“We never imagined that it would grow and get this big,” Levine said.
To accommodate their growth, the foundation recently moved into a modest office on Olympic Boulevard and hired its first employee. As they gain momentum, Levine and Liotta hope to continue to expand their services.
“We have a lot of ways we can expand,” Levine said. “We can expand nationally or cover more diseases.”
But between their unprecedented growth this year, and the contact they receive from people as far away as Costa Rica who are interested in what they’re doing, there’s one thing they know for sure, Levine says: “We know there’s a need.”
For more info, visit beautybus.org