CLEVELAND (WJW) — It was in the city’s Central neighborhood that Waverly Willis said he was at his lowest.

That’s why the Saturday event there offering free back-to-school haircuts for kids is “near and dear” to the barbershop owner’s heart.

Willis gets to give those kids his best, he told FOX 8.

“When I tell people I was homeless, I don’t mean I was couch-surfing,” he said. “I really was the guy that slept down the street on 18th and Superior, with the steam coming up. I was the guy at the Greyhound station picking up cigarette butts on the ground.”

The one thing he didn’t lose or sell in his time chasing a drug addiction on the Central streets was his hair clippers, he said. He always had a passion for cutting hair, he said, and barber college was where he met his first sobriety sponsor.

Willis, now in recovery, is a barber college instructor who also owns the Urban Kutz barbershops along Detroit and Lorain avenues and Pearl Road. He and his students formed a nonprofit, The Urban Barber Association, or TUBA.

Each year the association offers free back-to-school haircuts — they called it “project kids giving back to project kids.” You can find them at the Ward 5 back-to-school festival set for noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, at Friendly Inn Settlement, 2386 Unwin Road.

“This is one of the neighborhoods that’s near and dear to my heart,” Willis told FOX 8. “I spent many years tearing up the neighborhood and sowing bad seeds. This is my way to give back to the neighborhood and sow good seeds.”

Saturday’s free event also features a free lunch, a backpack and school supply giveaway, hair braiding, games, tournaments and live entertainment from Z107.9 radio personalities, according to a news release.

Transportation is available for Ward 5 residents. Call 216-664-2309 for details.

But the promise of a free haircut is just how they get kids in the chair, he said. The real work is below the scalp. Children in underserved neighborhoods often “see things they don’t need to see. … They see gun violence, they see domestic violence, they see drug abuse, they see alcohol abuse,” Willis said.

“We want to get them in the chair and love on them and encourage them, tell them that we’re proud of them — tell them the things they might not hear, unfortunately, at home or in their neighborhoods,” Willis said.

Some of the kids in those barber chairs say the haircut is their favorite part of TUBA events. It also saves their parents time and money, according to the release.

TUBA’s record for haircuts is 103, but with its “army of barbers” having all hands on deck, they’re determined to break it.