La Jolla students, teacher host 'cut-a-thon' to donate hair

A group of former Children’s School students are starting the summer with a fresh new ’do — hair they can feel great about each time they run their fingers through their shortened locks.

Anna Sohn and some of her school mates, inspired by math and science teacher Tina Brown, organized themselves to collectively donate more than six feet of hair to the Michigan-based Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids (formerly Wigs 4 Kids). In early June, they gathered at a house in La Jolla Heights for a “hair cut-a-thon” that yielded enough hair for several wigs.

“Wigs can cost a tremendous amount of money and many families in need cannot afford them,” Anna wrote to La Jolla Light. “I am donating my hair because, while it may mean something small to me, it means something way bigger to someone who does not have it.”

Anna said she grew out her hair for the entire year, and at the end of the last school year — before she starts high school at Francis Parker — lobbed off nine inches of toffee-brown hair. The minimum to donate is seven inches. “I thought it was a great way to start summer and help someone,” she said.

“I wasn’t nervous until about 30 seconds before, and then I thought, ‘Oh my god this is happening!’ and people gasped when they saw me. They let me hold the hair, which made people laugh because it was so crazy. Then all the others wanted to do it. I love it now ... you don’t realize how much your hair weighs until you cut it off. It was hard to manage ... plus, for me, it will grow back.”

She said the group decided upon Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids because it accepts hair donations and pushes for legislation to have insurance companies cover wigs like they do prosthetic devices.

Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids serves children in Michigan affected by predominantly cancer, but also alopecia (an auto-immune disease that attacks hair follicles), trichotillomania (an impulse control disorder in which patients pull out their hair) and other hair-related conditions.

According to the nonprofit’s press material: “Each wig retails for $2,500-$3,000, and costs Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids about $800 and 16 hours of labor to provide. Thanks to our generous hair donors, we receive a medical discount from the manufacturer to create the wigs. At Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids, no child is turned away and no family ever pays. Since 2003, thanks to the kindness and generosity of the community, Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids has changed the lives of over 4,000 children in need.”

Anna said she was inspired in this endeavor by her teacher Mrs. Brown: “She said something about how getting a wig could give kids the confidence to go to school or just feel ‘normal,’ for lack of a better word, and that really resonated with me.”

Brown, no stranger to hair donations, said she chopped off and donated her hair following her wedding, and again after the birth of her daughter last year. But it all started with a former student named Sam.

“I’ve been teaching middle school for 10 years,” she explained. “During my fourth year, student Sam, who had brain cancer and was undergoing chemo, didn’t want his peers to know. He didn’t lose all his hair, but most of it. He passed away in high school and never ended up getting a wig, but in my mind, if Sam lived longer and wanted one, it would have cost thousands of dollars, which his parents couldn’t afford with all the medical bills.”

So in her first round of donating hair, she cut off 12 inches — in tears — as a way to remember Sam.

“I told these girls that story and that I was going to do it again,” Brown said. “They wanted to grow their hair out and do it, too. I’m floored by them because this is completely selfless and so giving. I think back to me in middle school and there is no way I would have done it! These kids are my inspiration. They are going to be some powerful women when they grow up.”

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