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Wigged out

Aquinas students shear locks to benefit cancer patients

by John Heuertz

OVERLAND PARK — Sometimes the sound of charity goes something like this: SNIP! SNAP! SNIP!

The sound of true charity could be heard in the snapping of some stylists’ scissors, as 56 girls from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park lost their ponytails to a good cause.

The girls were all participants in Wigs Out 2009, an event organized by Aquinas speech and drama teacher Kim Harrison. The hair will be used to make wigs for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

The ponytails were donated to the Wisconsin-based Pantene Beautiful Lengths program, which provides wigs to both women and children undergoing chemotherapy. About six ponytails are needed for each wig.

“It shows what can happen when teachers and young people are able to work together to do something valuable for other people,” said Aquinas president Dr. William Ford.

This was the second year Aquinas has undertaken Wigs Out. The students also raised about $2,000 for the American Cancer Society through a raffle and the sale of T-shirts donated by Center Sports in Lenexa.

“This year our daughter took part in it, too,” said Center Sports co-owner Leta Pyle. “I think it’s great those young girls sacrifice their hair, especially with prom and everything coming up.”

Each girl chose someone close to her to do the cutting at the all-school event.

The donors then went to the Xenon International Academy in Olathe.

“My younger sister Madeline asked me if I could help cut her hair off at the school last year,” said Xenon instructor Mandy Giesler. “So this year, I asked my boss if we could just have a day of donated time.”

Xenon closed its doors for two hours while its cosmetology students styled hair and makeup for the students.

“They cut it off there [at Aquinas] and we fixed them here,” Giesler said. “The radio station was here, the girls were dancing, the whole shebang. It was a good time.”

“The Catholic community and the Aquinas community were so giving,” Harrison said. “Once people understood what we were doing, they were more than willing to help.”

Harrison started the program last year in honor of a nephew who was undergoing cancer treatment at the time.

“He lost all his hair four times, and seeing people stare at him in public made him feel more sick,” she said. “So my thinking was, I could donate my hair for a wig.”

Harrison started promoting the idea to her students, got the administration’s approval, and ended up with more than 10 pounds of hair from 60 girls the first year.

Aquinas boys are ineligible to donate because the school’s dress code doesn’t allow them to grow their hair long enough to meet the minimum eight-inch length required for a chemotherapy wig. But Ross Conner was ready this year.

“Last year was my senior year, and I had a class with Mrs. Harrison,” he said.

“She saw me recently and asked me to donate, and I said, ‘Sure! Why not?’”

“Someone needs the hair more than I do, and mine will grow back,” said Conner, now a business major at K-State. “It’s time for a haircut anyway.”

Wigs can be very important to a chemotherapy patient’s emotional well-being, said Aquinas senior Ginny Carlson, who went through successful chemotherapy at age 13.

“I think getting her wig helped her feel a lot better,” said Carlson’s best friend and fellow Aquinas senior Kathleen Gier, who helped Carlson through nine months of intensive cancer treatment at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.

“A wig is a big thing for an eighth-grade girl,” said Gier. “It’s like, ‘Oooh! I can look however I want.’”

“The wig was a way of fighting back, of saying, ‘I’m still me,’” Carlson recalled. “In my mind I was no longer defined by my illness, but by my strength,” she added.

In an address to the student body before the hair cutting, Carlson told her fellow students that the event was “truly a rally of generosity and support.”

“I’m planning it again for next year’s Community Service Day Mass at Aquinas,” said Harrison, “and I’d like to invite anyone in our parishes who would like to grow their hair and donate to join us.”

It’s a donation that sends a low-key, but powerful, message of true charity.

“If we can stand up to cancer,” said Carlson, “then we can defeat it. And defeat it we shall.”

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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