By JACKIE STARK
Journal Staff Writer
MARQUETTE - On any given Sunday, at-risk youth can find a home at the Kolor 2 Dye 4 salon along U.S. 41 in Marquette Township, where they work to help create a better community for those in need.
Kolor 2 Dye 4 salon owner Rena Yelle makes birdhouses with Marquette Alternative High School student Deserae Fortin. Fortin was one of the original members of the K2 Krew. (Journal photos by Jackie Stark)
"I opened this salon with the intention of using the profits to open up a rescue ranch for teenagers and horses," said salon owner Rena Yelle. "That's been my dream all my life."
But as she saves for her dream ranch, Yelle said she still wanted to do something to help at-risk youth, a group of young people she identifies with, having been in their shoes at their age.
With the help of a core group of young people, the K2 Krew was born. The group of students comes to the salon every Sunday, crafting items to sell, which raises money to donate products to local nursing and youth homes - products like shampoo, lotions, activity books and more.
The group has also knitted lap blankets for the wheelchair-bound and made fabric pockets that can hang on walkers. Some weeks, the K2 Krew visits nursing homes, handing out their hand-crafted gifts. Other times, they'll spend the day making items in Mattson Lower Harbor Park that they later sell.
Deserae Fortin, a Marquette Alternative High School sophomore and one of the first members of the K2 Krew, said she wants to help erase the stigma that comes with the word "alternative."
"We're all kind of judged by everyone else for the way we look and the kinds of things we like to do," Fortin said. "So, we just kind of wanted to turn our reputation around and show people that while we look different, we still can do good things."
Sunday at the salon provides a time and a place for the alternative high school students to come together and not have to feel the pressure to conform to a set of rules they don't feel comfortable following.
It's an atmosphere where hard rock and wild hairdos are as normal and average as a cup of coffee and a pop tune by Katy Perry, where designer clothes give way to skinny jeans and holey T-shirts, where interests and hobbies don't have to be concealed for fear of the labels that would come with them.
But for the students that prefer a so-called alternative lifestyle, it's as normal as every day - and it doesn't mean they're bad kids.
Tyler DaToivo, an MAHS junior and one of the founding members of the K2 Krew, said the group was started as a way to help people. As it grew, it became a way to also show the community what he and his friends are all about.
"I wanted to couple with the community, to show everyone that these alternative kids aren't that bad," DaToivo said. "We're not judging at all. No one judges. There's no hate, no drama, nothing - it's a good place to hang out. It's safe for anyone."
Yelle said the weekly get-togethers began with a food-drive suggested by DaToivo, which turned into having the teens work on projects in the salon on Sundays.
Soon though, the salon was too busy to house the group of teens and customers, so Yelle decided to close down on Sundays to focus on working with the K2 Krew.
"I've had kids come in where they come in for a day or two and then you don't see them for three months, but I have probably five that are here every single Sunday," Yelle said.
"Each of these kids, if you take the second to get to know them, they have their own story."
Some of the kids also stop in the salon during the week, working to pay for hair coloring or cuts they likely couldn't pay for otherwise.
This Sunday, the teenagers were finishing cribbage boards, making necklaces and creating rustic birdhouses.
Andy Auston, a junior from North Star Academy, said he's been going to the salon on Sundays since the program's infancy and enjoys being able to help out others within the community.
"It's just a good feeling to see someone smile, and it's a good feeling to know that you're the one that gave them that smile," Auston said as he sanded a cribbage board.
In talking to the teens, it's easy to understand their simple message: They want the freedom to be themselves and to help others.
"We're the K2 Krew," DaToivo said. "If you need anything, get ahold of us."
For more information on the group, visit their Facebook page or call the salon at 225-0194.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.