By Jacqueline G. Goodwin, Ed.D.
U.S. Army veteran, cosmetologist, medical aesthetician, salon owner, do it yourselfer, community volunteer. . . these are just a few of the roles Desiree Woof treasures. But at the end of the day, Woof considers herself a change agent. And while she enjoys transforming clients in her salon and day spa, Woof says it is her diverse life experiences and her upbringing that have molded her into what she is today—a kinder, more hopeful and determined person.
When we are children, we have dreams of what we will be when we grow up. And Woof, owner of SASS Salon and Day Spa, was no different. Born on the bayou in rural Louisiana, she left home at age 17 to join the U.S. Army.
“ My Dad died when I was 6 years old and I grew up really poor,” says Woof, who was one of nine children. “My Mother, Darlene Brantley, a strong, independent women for her time, did everything she could to keep us together, making money through little businesses such as flower arranging, and sewing. She was a very creative woman. She sewed little cabbage like dolls and designed hair barettes that she made for money. She definitely taught me to not give up. And she lead by example.”
Woof’s Mother went on to remarry and opened up a baseball/comic book shop. “She and my step Dad also owned their own shrimp boat and became shrimpers until the boat sunk,” says Woof. “My Mother was a really hard worker,” says Woof. “She now takes care of my brother who is autistic and still runs her own antique shop. She is my role model.”
Like her Mother, Woof always worked. “I babysat when I was 12 years old and then worked at the local hospital as a secretary as part of my business co-op classes during high school. I just wanted to learn as many skills as I could so I could eventually set out on my own and leave the state.”
Woof says her Mother knew of her dream to leave Louisiana and set out on her own. “My Mother knew I wanted to leave Louisiana after I graduated from high school,” says Woof. “So after I received my diploma, I went to my Mother and said, ‘sign these papers.’ I was too young to sign on my own and my Mother knew it was best that I join the U.S. Army. By signing those papers she made it possible for me to get out.”
Woof was sent to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina for basic army training and then to Ft. Benning, Georgia where she received AIT Training in personnel administration. She eventually was sent to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina where she was stationed, serving as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne.
“During my stint in the Army, I was the first female boxer to represent Ft. Bragg,” Woof says. “I was actually pregnant during my first fight and didn’t even know it,” Woof adds. “I left the Army after three years with the rank of E4 promotable.”
Woof says she arrived in the Harrisburg area after she married her ex-husband and they moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to his family.
“When I got to Harrisburg I decided that I wanted to attend beauty school,” says Woof. “I enrolled in Empire Beauty Schoo,l and got a job as a salon assistant at Sculptured Images.
“Sara Munoz recognized my potential. Before graduation from beauty school she hired me,” adds Woof. “I worked there for 2 ½ years.” Woof also worked at Kenneth and Company for 2 ½ years.
In 2005, Woof’s dream to own her own salon materialized when she decided to open SASS on Carlisle Pike with a friend, another hair stylist. “One year later I bought her out,” says Woof who eventually opened a beauty clinic and medical spa on the premises.”
Woof says things were going great until August of 2018, when SASS suffered serious damage due to a disastrous electrical fire.
“I lost everything,” says Woof.
Instead of giving up, Woof credits her staff for believing in her to devise a plan to allow them all to continue to work in the beauty business.
“The fire happened at 9 p.m. The next day I called a meeting at my house and told my staff that ‘I felt defeated.’ I also told them that I could go and work somewhere else since I have more than surpassed my goals. But they didn’t want me to give up. They told me they wanted me to be their leader,” explains Woof.
“That’s when I knew I had to continue. Not only did I do it for me, but I did it for my staff.”
With the help of family, friends, and other stylists, Woof was able to pick up the pieces, find another location and preserve.
“After the fire, the whole community reached out and lent a hand,” says Woof. “Donna, owner of Kenneth & Company, let my staff and I work at her place until we moved to the new location at 931 Kranzel Drive, Camp Hill. Because of her kindness, I didn’t miss a paycheck.”
“As soon as I found the new location, I hired Dave and R & D, now D & D to do the bulk of the work to refurbish the space so we could open as the new SASS,” says Woof, who also pitched in as much as she could, do some painting and design work when time allowed.
Woof says not only did she create the salt room, she removed and replaced carpeting, helped sound proof walls, and shopped and purchased lighting and furniture among other things. In October 2019, Woof held an open house to showcase what the new location had to offer: a full service beauty clinic.
SASS offers a full menu of beauty services including hair, nails, facials, waxing, and makeup, as well as skin treatments including professional microneedling technology, electrolysis, salt therapy, laser treatments and massage and body treatments. Woof, a medical aesthetician who is certified in laser treatment, says SASS offers a laser and pulsed light treatments including photo dermatology, laser hair removal, and tattoo removal.
“We also offer a weight loss program,” says Woof. “We’ve teamed up with Dr. Edward Lamargue and wife, Jeannie, an RN at Central PA Weight Loss Center, so our clients can benefit from custom weight loss programs.”
Woof believes that sometimes dreams change. “As we begin to grow up, sometimes our dreams change, sometimes because we have changed, or sometimes because the world has told us we need to change our dreams. And sometimes we have no control over what happens,” says Woof.
“But I do know that my diverse life experiences have contributed to the passion and commitment it takes to succeed in what I love to do,” says Woof. “And what I love to do is excel in the beauty business. It’s great being able to blend my passion with my profession.
“From day one I’ve said ‘yes’ to every opportunity that came my way, and looked at every failure as a teachable moment. But most of all, I’ve stayed true to my values,” she adds. “That’s what I was taught growing up.”