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Ready for Your Close-up? GlamourGals Opens the Door to Seniors in Isolation.

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Steve Warnke

In this season 2 episode of Back of the Napkin, social entrepreneur Rachel Doyle, owner of GlamourGals, merges makeovers and service to bring joy to isolated seniors. Listen to the episode. 

BOTN-S2E7 -GlamourGals-Opens-the-Door-to-Seniors-in-Isolation

"Rachel, do you know Oprah?" 

That’s not the standard question a high school principal asks a 17-year-old as she’s summoned to his office. Unless you’re Rachel Doyle, the founder of GlamourGals, during the early stages of building her successful non-profit. 

While the average high school student struggles to make class on time, Doyle was the student involved in every activity, including community service. “I had always been involved in service,” said Doyle. “But I felt like a lot of the service we did we never actually met the people whose lives we were trying to impact.”

On one of her last visits to her grandmother’s nursing home, Doyle decided to hit the mall and do a kitschy makeover and photo shoot. That trip inspired GlamourGals, a unique way to connect with seniors and fulfill a service project relevant and relatable to a teenager.

Doyle went to a local senior home and pitched the idea, giving beauty makeovers and chatting with the seniors. Sessions generally start with “‘What color lipstick would you like.’ Before you know it, their nails are painted. They've got lipstick and blush,” said Doyle. “And they're telling me about their first boyfriend.”

A press release, a New York Times article, a piece on Oprah, and Doyle was off and running. Twenty years later, what started as an opportunity to honor her recently deceased grandmother has grown into a global nonprofit, with Doyle now widely recognized as a social entrepreneur

The Oprah Effect Before the Oprah Effect.

During her first pitch, the senior home activities director asked Doyle some pointed questions, including “who is the adult in charge?” and “who is your corporate sponsor?” A request to Mom and several cold calls later, Doyle lined up a Mary Kay representative and set the date for her first GlamourGals event. A press release from the senior home was picked up by the New York Times, which eventually led to the Oprah call.

“She had read the Times article,” said Doyle. “And I remember it was a really big deal that they let me make the long-distance phone call from New York to Chicago out of the principal's office.”

That call opened doors as the segment eventually ran on Oprah several times. Doyle was able to say, “Oprah likes us!” to potential sponsors and volunteers. The secretaries at her high school ran interference and handled media calls. But Doyle notes she didn’t get the full benefit of the “Oprah Effect.” “My biggest regret with that is that I didn't have a thing called a website,” said Doyle. “I couldn't get on ‘Dateline’ for the Oprah effect.”

But she did learn about the power of controlling your narrative and utilizing the press. “In the beginning, it was more of other people driving the story,” said Doyle. “I think that's great when your idea is novel, but if you can utilize the press to grow your business, it's helpful.”

A COVID-19 Pivot And Staying True to the Mission.

Prior to the pandemic, 60% of seniors went without visitors; that number grew exponentially due to COVID-19-related restrictions. Doyle recognized the need to pivot to remain connected with seniors and keep the GlamourGals volunteer network engaged. Within a week, Doyle launched the #MyDearFriend note writing campaign. “We didn't want any senior to feel left out,” said Doyle. “We wanted to make sure we could do a service that's easy, accessible, and could still have the same impact.”

The #MyDearFriend has been successful and Doyle hopes to hit a target of 50,000 letters to seniors this year. In addition, GlamourGals has issued more than 3,000 coloring books with images from actual interactions with volunteers. “Seniors are able to, not just color any old thing, they can remember the past,” said Doyle. “I always feel like anything that's worth remembering, you put it in a book. So, we did that.”

While introducing these new elements, Doyle was able to tap into the creativity and agility of her staff and volunteers during the pandemic. At the same time, she is conscious of scope creep and not wanting to lose sight of the demographic they hope to impact. With the Baby Boomer population growing older, they need to keep that focus. “This is a demand that's going to be continuing,” said Doyle. “Keeping that creativity to make sure that the longer-term impact of addressing elder isolation is still top of the list.”


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