After 33 years in the modeling and talent business, Janie Olmstead thought she had seen everything. Then she met her new friends, Hilda and Wilda.
Hilda Bevins, 47, lives in Clay City with her twin sister, Wilda Bryant, and her ex-husband, Gary Bevins. Bryant can't work because of a heart condition. Hilda Bevins has a job at the Arby's in Stanton, but she has no health insurance.
Bevins used to have a mouthful of bad teeth, with gaps in between where some had fallen out. She hated to work the drive-through window and would cover her mouth with a hand so customers wouldn't see. But that wasn't the worst of it.
"She would wake up every night crying, trying to hold the pain in," Bryant said of her sister. "I was trying and trying to think of a way to get her some help."
Bevins couldn't afford a dentist and couldn't get into a free clinic. So Bryant wrote to Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and other TV stars, asking them for help. None replied.
Then Bryant found a business card for Olmstead, a former Miss Kentucky who owns Images Model and Talent Agency in Lexington. One of Bevins' grown sons had picked up the card somewhere years before and had left it in a kitchen drawer. Bryant wrote to Olmstead in February 2009, asking for a makeover for her sister.
"We would like to just look as good as some of your models," she wrote. "But we are having a hard time."
Olmstead couldn't get the hand-written letter out of her mind. She wrote back and eventually drove to Stanton to meet the twins. Making arrangements wasn't easy; they don't have a phone, so Olmstead had to reach them through letters or the fast-food restaurant's pay phone during Hilda's afternoon break.
Olmstead thought she could enlist friends to help her give both twins makeovers. "Wilda set all this up, but I wanted to do it for her, too," she said.
Then she saw Bevins' teeth. After several dentists turned down her requests for help, Olmstead explained the predicament to Georgetown insurance agent Becky Jordan at a businesswomen's luncheon.
Jordan suggested she contact a childhood friend, Dr. Joseph Lasheen. The dentist and Dr. Gregory Erena, an oral surgeon, donated their services, removing Bevins' remaining teeth and fitting her with false ones.
Olmstead also noticed that Bevins didn't see well. Dr. Tammy Hoskins, a friend and optometrist in Harrodsburg, examined Bevins' eyes and gave her glasses.
With Bevins' health issues addressed, the makeovers began. Margaret Wagner of Insignia Hair Salon and Pam Nystrom of Seasons Salon went to work on the twins' long hair and neglected eyebrows. Anthony Adams of the Kroger at Beaumont Centre provided grooming supplies and jewelry. Heather Hay of Mary Kay cosmetics gave them makeup and taught them how to use it. Images model Melissa Stocker taught the twins poise and etiquette.
Sandy Hicks of Dillard's helped them choose new clothes, shoes and handbags. The twins said it was their first visit to Fayette Mall — and their first ride on an escalator.
"Each person gave them something, and I was happy to help make it happen," Olmstead said. "I like to pay it forward when I can. That's what we do in my business, is give you self-esteem and self-confidence."
The twins said the generosity of strangers has changed their lives. "People didn't recognize me at work," Bevins said. "My hair was shorter and colored, and I had new teeth and glasses."
The twins said they now dress more carefully and take better care of themselves. Bevins thinks she gets more respect. "You've got more people coming up and talking to you when you look better," she said. "When you aren't in pain and ashamed of yourself and your clothes."
After high school, Bevins said, she had wanted to study nursing, but she ended up in food service. Now, she dreams of returning to vocational school. Bevins would like to be an aide in a nursing home.
"I hope to make a better future for myself," she said. "I'm not afraid to smile now."