Parkite sees Peace House job as a calling |

Parkite sees Peace House job as a calling

Steve Phillips, Record contributing writer
Debra DeCamp Ayer is the new volunteer coordinator at Peace House. She also owns the Cost Cutter Salon at Quarry Village in Pinebrook. Photo by Christopher Reeves/Park Record

Debra DeCamp Ayer says she was "delighted and excited" when she was recently hired as volunteer coordinator and prevention educator at Peace House, the Park City-based nonprofit dedicated to ending domestic violence through outreach, education, support services and shelter. "I’ve done a zillion different things," she says, "but this job is a calling."

After attending a training session about domestic violence with the employees of her Cost Cutters salon at Quarry Village in Pinebrook, Ayer says she was overwhelmed by the extent of the problem. "My experience working with women in cosmetology expanded my understanding of the struggles women face today. We brought this curriculum into our cosmetology schools and I think that experience will be especially useful in my new position."

Though not quite "a zillion," Ayer’s resume of jobs is extensive and diverse: choir director, camp counselor, marketing coordinator for Walt Disney Studios, insurance agency owner, realtor, owner of two cosmetology schools, and salon owner. It’s been quite a journey thus far.

Growing up in southern California as the eldest daughter of a single parent, Ayer says the family struggled with resources. "I learned the importance of hard work and self-sufficiency early on. Our connection to the community held out family together and pushed me forward." She was active in her church and a perennial member of both the church and school choirs. She called it her "extra-curricular constant."

Her fondest memories are of singing a solo at her high school graduation and getting the lead role in the high school musical, "Guys and Dolls." She was on the high school swim team and enjoyed most competitive sports. "I wasn’t a fierce competitor," she says, "but I saw sports as a way to compete with myself. My focus has always been on self-improvement." After high school she went on to take a degree in communications from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif.

Ayer moved to Park City in 2006 to open the Cost Cutters salon at Quarry Village. She and her husband also purchased and operated two cosmetology schools in Salt Lake City. When her marriage ended, she began doing volunteer work to stay busy and find new direction. A single mother (until recently) of two young daughters, Madison, 14, and Morgan, 12, Ayer found striking a balance between work, volunteering and family life a challenge.

"I want to have a meaningful life," she says. "Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: ‘The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.’ That’s what I’m striving for, but I think I can do my best while ensuring I am happy. I’m creating that now by dedicating myself to my family, my community and my wonderful new job at Peace House."

Ayer is passionate about helping to end domestic violence. "One in four women experience abuse in their lifetime, most often in their homes. That’s where they should feel the safest," she notes.

Though very busy with work and parenting, Ayer continues to volunteer in the community. This weekend she’ll close the curtain on her most recent volunteer acting gig with the Park City Follies, an annual fundraiser for the historic Egyptian Theatre. "I’ve been in the Follies for three years running now and I just love it," she grins.

She also appeared in last fall’s "Park City, Giving a Bleep" show, which raised funds for a variety of Park City nonprofits. "Interacting with the local cast of characters and being a part of the creative, collaborative process while spoofing our little mountain town is just a thrill."

She’s also been a hospice volunteer at Applegate Homecare and Hospice in Park City, worked with children and teens in crisis group homes for the Salt Lake Division of Youth Services, and last year provided meals, lodging and transportation for the visiting African Children’s Choir. Ayer is deeply involved in her church community as well. She sings in the Park City Community Church Choir and Praise Band.

Her single life came to an end last month when she married Donald Ayer. "We met on over a year ago," she explains. "He’s a professor at the University of Utah and leads a research group focused on cancer metabolism at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. I never would have put a college professor and a salon owner together, but we just really clicked. He’s a wonderful man," she gushes. The newlyweds will honeymoon in Bali and Singapore next month.

Ayer sees her life in Park City as a purpose-driven, ever-unfolding adventure. "I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to confront the pervasive problem of domestic violence from a mission-based standpoint in a strategic, passionate organization. It’s brought me a deep feeling of satisfaction. I’m astounded daily by how life simply unfolds for all of us. I don’t want a predictable existence and I remain open to the journey."

Steve Phillips is a Park City-based writer and actor. Send your profile comments and suggestions to him at


Favorite activities: "Walking the beautiful P.C. trails, especially around Pinebrook. Seeing a moose or elk remains a thrill." Also bicycling, swimming, singing.

Favorite foods: "At the moment, Atkins bars. When I’m not watching my waistline, I enjoy Main Street 2-for-1 coupons. The food here is fantastic!"

Favorite authors/reading: "Not much time for that. But I looks forward to the luxury of reading."

Favorite performers/music: "Unknown, talented local singer-songwriters and well-performed musical theater.

Bucket list: A heli-skiing adventure, learning to play the guitar well, a service trip to a developing country.

Animal companions: "None, but I get my ‘puppy fix’ by taking our step-dog, Jake, out for a weekly walk."


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