When a haircut means more than a haircut

Seven-year-old Sequim girl donates her hair to Locks of Love

by Mary Powell

For the Sequim Gazette

To cut or not to cut: that was the question 7-year-old Violet Phillips faced when wondering what to do with her very long tresses.

With the hot weather in full swing and swimming in a chlorinated pool turning her blond hair a greenish color, she and her mother tossed around the idea of getting her hair cut for a couple of weeks before the actual event.

But there was another, more important reason than tangled, green hair that Violet and her parents had frequently talked about. That reason: To donate her cut hair to Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children under the age of 21, who have suffered from long-term medical hair loss.

Quite a noble goal for a 7-year-old, who really, really liked her long hair.

“We actually started thinking about (donating) a year ago and had a plan,” Kelly Phillips, Violet’s mother, explained. Hair cut into ponytails must be between 8 and 10 inches, Kelly said, “so we started growing and measuring.”

When her hair grew enough for the 8-inch donation, Violet decided to wait until she had enough for the 10-inch donation.

“I wanted kids to have long hair just like me,” she said.

A precocious child who is quick to smile and giggle, Violet loves to swim, dance, read and play with her dog Tito. She also is inquisitive enough to look at the Locks of Love website, where she and Kelly read about the organization.

On the site, Violet noticed a photo of a child about her age with no hair. That’s when the questions began about cancer. It was a bit difficult for Violet to comprehend why the child was bald, but she did come to an understanding that her own hair would benefit a child who had lost his or her hair.

Although both Matt, Violet’s father, and Kelly wanted Violet to decide for herself whether she wanted to donate her hair, Kelly said their daughter began telling friends she was “going to donate her hair for cancer.”

Locks of Love recipients are not only those with cancer, but include children and young adults of ages 21 and younger who are suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis, including burns, cancer or skin disorders that cause permanent hair loss.

In the beginning, Locks of Love was connected with a for-profit retailer, but in December 1997, the organization obtained its 502(c)(3) certification. The charity installed a volunteer board of directors and began operation with its own bylaws. The organization was spearheaded by Madonna Coffman, a retired nurse who had a great deal of experience working for not-for-profits in the Palm Beach area.

Coffman knew exactly what it was like to lose one’s hair. In her 20s, she developed alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that affects the hair follicles, resulting in total hair loss. To make matters more difficult, years later her 4-year-old daughter developed alopecia and lost all of her hair.

It was the incentive to take on Locks of Love as a full-time volunteer. The charity took off quickly and has over the years received much support throughout the country, including newspaper and magazine articles and television coverage.

After learning a bit about the organization, Violet made her decision and her mom made the appointment for the big day. Sheri Leh-mann, who works for Envy Hair Techniques, has been Kelly’s hairdresser for some time, so it was Lehmann who did the deed.

It takes six to 10 donated ponytails to make one hairpiece, according to Locks of Love. Children under six years old receive synthetic hairpieces because they are still growing. Those ages 6-21 receive hairpieces and wigs free of charge or on a sliding scale based on the financial need of the family.

The retail cost of the hairpieces is between $3,500-$6,000. Thus, Violet’s donation of eight ponytails is a big deal and will certainly help a child in need of some beautiful hair.

Did she think so? Violet said, “It felt good.”

And she said she doesn’t really miss her long hair, especially after seeing the new, fashionable haircut.

The next step is to mail the ponytails to Locks of Love, where they will decide how to fashion the hair into a hairpiece. The Phillips family will never know who the recipient might be due to privacy issues. While it would be nice to know, Kelly said, they just wanted to give back.

Will Violet do it again? “I don’t know,” she shrugs, flipping her new style back with her hand. “I like long hair.”

The best part, at least in a 7-year-old’s way of thinking, was going for frozen yogurt after the haircut. Cherry, with sprinkles and gummy bears on it.

A good way to end a great day.

For more information about Locks of Love, either for those wanting to donate or those needing a hairpiece, visit www.locksoflove.org or call 888-896-1588.