A single mother, Hai Vo’s spare time is scarce, but of the free time she does have, she donates much of it.
“Some people have money and I don’t, so I volunteer my time,” she said.
Many of Vo’s donated hours are spent utilizing her talent for cooking. She periodically leads cooking classes at her church and volunteers time to make large batches of food to donate for community fundraising events such as the Oak Harbor Music Festival.
Sick or grieving friends and acquaintances are also often presented with home-cooked meals.
Longtime friend and customer Debbie Skinner said Vo “creates the most gorgeous dishes.”
“She is very considerate and kind-hearted,” Skinner said. “She’s always ready to help.”
In addition to having a giving heart, Vo is also a master of the mani-pedi and an expert esthetician.
The owner and sole employee of Hai Nails in Oak Harbor, Vo works in her salon six days a week, Tuesday through Sunday. Mondays are reserved for laundry and errands, including out-of-town store supply runs.
She has built a solid reputation for her salon in the community.
“If you like cleanliness, value your relaxation time and appreciate genuineness, then this is the place for you,” wrote one reviewer on the review site Yelp. “Hands down North Whidbey’s best kept secret.”
“I highly recommend Hai if you are in the area! She doesn’t rush, is a perfectionist in the color, super sweet lady and very accommodating to your needs and does an amazing job,” wrote another.
Vo’s intricate nail designs, soothing spa treatments and a commitment to a healthful salon environment — Vo said she uses no acrylic due to the harmful chemicals — represent but a small portion of the ways in which Vo makes the world more beautiful.
Her nurturing spirit extends to her home country of Vietnam, to which she regularly delivers basic food items to impoverished villages.
Because her income is relatively small, Vo crafts jewelry pieces that she sells in her salon to fund her purchases, usually nonperishable items such as rice, ramen and chips.
Vo explained that she usually relies on her sister’s good friend to direct her deliveries in Vietnam. In addition to villages — many of which have no running water — Vo visits orphanages and homes for the mentally ill.
“We’re human and we need to help each other,” she said.
Vo emigrated with her parents from Vietnam in the 1970s. Both parents have since died, and Vo has few family members in the United States. She struggled for some time to support herself and her son, now 14.
Prior to moving to Oak Harbor, Vo worked for several years at SEH America in Vancouver, Wash., while attending beauty school. After being laid off during the big recession, Vo began working as a custodian at the area school district, doing nails on the side.
She eventually relocated north, working at a Whidbey salon while living with several fellow Vietnamese immigrants in order to save money. Her son stayed in Everett with a family member while Vo worked to scrape up enough to open her own business.
It was during this time Skinner said she met Vo.
“I thought that was an incredible show of a mother’s love to me that she was working so hard to be able to save to be able to live with him on her own,” Skinner said.
Once she was able to afford her own living space, Vo relied largely on the Boys and Girls Club to assist in caring for her son when she was at work. It is there her son now volunteers his time, taking after his mother in his desire to give back.
Vo’s dedication to community is evident to any who step foot in the shop, as she also encourages fellow business owners to leave business cards at the salon counter for patrons to pick up.
Particularly in a small town like Oak Harbor, Vo said, it is important to help one another.
“She is one of the most giving people in this community, truly,” said Skinner. “I love her and I think she is completely amazing.”
Hai Nails is located at 31600 State Highway 20, No. 3, Oak Harbor.