At Isabella Geriatric Center, a nursing home in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, Yazmin Ramos places a kit of nail polishes, clippers, cuticle nippers and other care tools on a table as a group of mostly Black and brown elders crowd around, eagerly waiting to be pampered during their free monthly manicure.
Since 2013, Ramos has been visiting facilities like this one around New York as part of her nonprofit Polished Angels, a traveling salon that provides complimentary beauty, mostly nail care, services and priceless conversations with her community’s seniors.
“A nursing home can be a very lonely and depressing place. It can be difficult to be in that circumstance and have strangers care for you, especially when you’re getting to an age where you know you don’t have much time left. So I wanted to give joy back to them, that’s what Polished Angels is doing, making them feel good and like they are not alone,” Ramos, 34, told FIERCE.
She started Polished Angels on Christmas Eve almost six years ago. A woman of faith, she was inspired to give back during the holidays, but wasn’t sure what she could do. With a long-time passion for manicures, Ramos, a producer at The Wendy Williams Show and the executive producer of the web series Faith Works, decided to turn her favorite self-care pastime into a service for others. She contacted a local center to see if they would be interested in having her gift their residents with free nail treatment, and they agreed.
But Ramos never expected the enthusiastic response she received.
“I thought I would just be painting a few women’s nails, but apparently word got out that there were free manicures that it turned into me being there till 11 p.m. I didn’t want anyone who had been waiting to not get their nails painted,” Ramos, who is of Honduran descent, said.
After posting about the event on social media, her inbox was flooded with messages from people who wanted to help her. Just like that, her Christmas present to the elderly turned into a nonprofit with a team of volunteers. Among them: Dascha Polanco. The Orange is the New Black actress learned about Polished Angels through a mutual friend and immediately wanted to get involved. She asked Ramos if they could serve elders in her hometown, Washington Heights, and that’s how the nonprofit started working with residents at the Isabella Geriatric Center.
These days, Ramos visits a set of nursery homes and women’s shelters about once or twice a month. With help from volunteers, some days her manicures, which usually include a gift of polish or skincare products at the end, also come with makeovers and massages as well.
Like any good manicure, though, the service is always accompanied with some girltalk.
“I just want them to feel like they can be comfortable, like they can speak their mind and vent. I don’t want them to keep things bottled up. I let them lay it on me,” Ramos said.
And they definitely do. According to Ramos, they chat about everything, reminiscing about their lives and families, spreading the latest center gossip and giving all the details on the people they’re dating there.
“They love to date in that place. The women there have more boyfriends in the time I spend with them than I’ve had in my whole life,” Ramos jokes.
For the Bronx native, the talks are the most impactful, especially because she didn’t grow up with her grandparents and the elders she serves often don’t have relatives who live close enough to visit them frequently.
“They’ve lived for like 80-plus years, and there’s been a lot of ups and downs, and now they’re here in this situation they may or may not want to be in. Some get visitors from children or grandchildren, and that makes them feel good, but a lot don’t have loved ones around that can be there because sometimes they are out of the state,” Ramos said. “… So they’re in this place where they feel boxed in and have no independence, no freedom, with someone dictating when they can eat or sleep. That takes a toll on anyone, so imagine if you’re older going through that.”
Ramos, who currently funds Polished Angels with her own pocketbook, hopes to receive grants that will allow her to expand her services to other New York boroughs and even across the country.
“It’s important because seniors are forgotten easily and are sometimes even seen in a negative light. Their time is almost approaching, and they should make the best of it, because any time we have on this earth is a blessing and we should use it to uplift each other,” she said.
If you’re in the New York area and are interested in volunteering, message Ramos about her next manicure event at Isabella Geriatric Center on February 23.