Cuts for a good cause

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

COUNTDOWN FOR THEIR CUTS — Stevens Brook Elementary School fifth graders (left to right) Olivia Thompson, Abby Bricault and Brenna Barboza prepare for their class’ big moment — a haircut to benefit the Wigs for Kids program. Teacher Allison Sands and several of her students will shed their locks to help others next month. Before that happens, all three girls pictured will play roles in the school’s upcoming production of “Cinderella” with Brenna taking on the lead character. (Rivet Photo)

Matthew Mayo always thought it would be cool to shave his head.

“Then, I could look like my grandpa,” the Stevens Brook Elementary School fifth grader said. “I’ve had buzz cuts before.”

Matthew’s parents nixed the idea until their son told them he had a very good reason for wanting to sport a bald look.

“I think they thought I would look a little weird, especially since I am going to a number of sports camps this summer,” Matthew said. “A lot of sports athletes shave their heads, so I think it will be cool.”

Next month, Matthew, along with several classmates and his teacher, Allison Sands, will be buzzing their heads and cutting their locks to benefit the Wigs for Kids program.

“I’ve had these students for the past two years. Last year, one of the students — Felicia Gesimondo-Granger — came to me and said she had a friend who cut her hair for Wigs for Kids. So, we decided as a class that we should do it too since we would all be together for two years,” Sands said.

When children lose their hair, whether as a result of medical treatments, health conditions, or burn accidents, they don't just suffer physically. The change in their appearance can drastically undermine their self-image and sabotage their self-esteem. To combat this additional trauma, Certified Cosmetic Therapist™ Jeffrey Paul founded Wigs for Kids, a nonprofit organization that has been serving children suffering from hair loss since 1981.

According to the Wigs for Kids website, the program is a cooperative effort among Certified Cosmetic Therapists™ throughout North America who share a common goal.

“Children shouldn’t have to worry about how they look, especially when they’re in the middle of a health crisis,” Paul said. “We want to give these kids the opportunity to feel good about themselves again.”

The “wigs” are custom-made hair replacements.”

“Each prosthesis is hand-tied and is made completely from human hair. We make sure they look just like a child’s own hair,” Paul said. “They won’t come off on the baseball field or in the playground. Kids can count on them. And because kids look just the way they did before, they feel better about themselves. They look in the mirror and their eyes light up. To see that light in their eyes — that’s priceless.”

Paul was personally touched by a child’s heartache. According to the Wigs for Kids website, Paul — a successful hairdresser with a thriving business — traveled all over the world to work with powerful presidents and gorgeous models. But one day, his 15-year-old niece walked into his salon, crying. She tearfully begged him to stop her hair from falling out. His immediate thoughts were that it was not serious.

When Paul saw the look in her father’s eyes, he knew it was something more. It turned out that she had just been diagnosed with leukemia.

“Uncle Jeff, you know I’ve been trying to get on the gymnastics team all my life,” she cried. “My hair is going to be falling out when it’s time to try out.”

Chemotherapy would help save her life, but the potent drug would also leave her with no hair.

“I promised her that she would have hair,” Paul said. “And when you make a promise to a kid, you keep it.”

Through a great deal of research and consultations with doctors and prosthetics specialists, Paul devised a hairpiece that would withstand typical kid activities, such as swimming, gymnastics and sleepovers. They came up with a wig that adhered to the scalp under the most aggressive conditions. And if it got wet, it would look like everybody else’s hair, because every strand of hair was hand-tied.

Paul kept his promise to his niece, and he has since made a major difference in the lives of many other youngsters through the Wigs for Kids program.

Paul’s niece was fitted with her wig in time for her gymnastics competition.

“My heart was pounding as my wife and I sat in the stands,” he recalled. “And when my niece jumped off the apparatus, she looked up into the stands at us and pointed to her head. Tears ran down my face. I knew that God was taking me to another place in my life. The time was right for me to reach out.”

Each handcrafted wig is made of about 150,000 strands of natural hair. The individual strands of hair are hand-tied onto the foundation of the wig, which is created from a mold of the person's head for a snug fit.

Hair and donations help bring some normalcy to children battling difficult medical situations.

About three or four months after the Stevens Brook Elementary School class decided to take on the project, Felicia arrived at school one day wearing a pretty short haircut.

“She forgot that we were doing this (project)! So, she suggested that students should have the opportunity to raise money for the organization instead of cutting their hair,” Sands said.

Since it cost between $1,500 to $3,000 to create wigs from donated hair, Sands thought seeking pledges by students who decided not to cut their hair or shave their heads was a way to involve the entire class. Permission slips were sent home to parents listing four options — cutting one’s hair a minimum 10 inches, shave one’s head, no cutting or shaving but participating with the pledge drive, or no participation in the project.

“We’ve had a great response,” Sands said.

Sarah Lowell DeKubber, owner of Running with Scissors in Bridgton, will cut the girls’ hair and assist with shaving the boys’ heads on June 12 at SBES.

“It’s sad to see kids lose their hair because of cancer, so we felt it was a way to help,” said student Mindy Miller, whose hair measures out at 15 inches, at the moment.

Classmate Olivia Thompson, whose hair has reached 23 inches in length, said it will be “weird” to sport a shorter cut, something she hasn’t had since she was “little.”

Sometimes, short haircuts become a necessity. One girl said her mom cut her hair “up to the bottom of my ears” one year because of a “bug problem.” This time around, the young lady is looking forward to a short hairdo.

Student Keiser Garcia said he is going to feel good about himself knowing he is helping others, who are battling serious illness. “If it makes them feel better, it is worth it,” he said.

Students said their teacher’s willingness to join the effort has been inspirational.

“It’s neat that Mrs. Sands is helping us in this act of goodness,” said Keiser, who proudly noted that his hair measured out at 7 inches.

“I think it’s important to set the right example,” said Sands, whose hair measured out at 24-inches, tying Brenna Barboza for the longest locks at press time. “I wanted the kids to feel confident in what they were doing, and knowing they weren’t alone in this.”

Sands can’t wait to shorten her hair.

“I’m going through a lot of spray detangler,” she said.

“I hate that,” said Brenna, who will play the lead role in the upcoming school production of “Cinderella.”

“Long hair can be a pain, really. When I get up in the morning, I brush it out for about 10 minutes. It really hurts. It pulls and hair comes out,” Mindy said. “It’s going to be different having hair just down to my ears. I’m a little scared about that.”

“Yeah, do you notice all the hair on the floor of the bathroom?” Sands asked her students.

“I find it’s easier to comb my hair out in the shower so that doesn’t happen,” Olivia Thompson said.

Matthew Mayo is ready for his shave.

“I know when I look at myself in the mirror the first time, it will look weird,” he said. “I’ll probably just laugh at myself.”

But, he knows it was all for a very good cause.

Anyone interested in making a donation to the cause can contact Mrs. Sands at Stevens Brook Elementary School or send an e-mail to allison.sands@lakeregionschools.org

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