Needham Catholic school students donate hair to help women with cancer

The girls from St. Joseph Elementary sport their new, short hair styles. Pilot photo/courtesy Gail Hvidsten

NEEDHAM -- It's not always easy to try a new hairstyle, but that didn't stop nearly 20 elementary school girls from St. Joseph Elementary School in Needham from donating their hair to cancer survivors June 8.

"Part of our mission statement is 'serve each other and the world'... and this is a perfect example of how we are serving each other and people in the community," said St. Joseph Elementary School principal Charlotte Kelly in a June 14 telephone interview.

The girls' hair was donated to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, a partner of the American Cancer Society that helps make wigs for women who have lost their hair from chemotherapy.

This is the fourth year girls from the school have donated their hair. Kelly said she brought the idea for the annual event from her previous school, St. John the Evangelist School in Canton, after successfully doing it there for 11 years.

She said the first year St. Joseph held the event, five girls signed up. Seven girls signed up the following year, and 12 signed up last year. This year, 18 girls and one teacher agreed to participate.

The girls received their haircuts from Avante Salon in Needham, which closed their doors to their regular customers to accommodate them all. The salon refused to accept payment or tips.

"They couldn't have been any more gracious in wanting to be part of our school community," Kelly said of the salon.

Susan Fitzgerald, one of the owners of Avante Salon, said, "it's a lot for these kids to give up their hair."

"It's their way of helping, so our way of helping is to give them the gift to do it," she said.

For two hours, seven hairdressers worked on the girls' hair, and Fitzgerald said the girls were offering each other words of encouragement during the whole process.

"It was really cute," she said, noting that the hairdressers had a lot of fun with the girls.

The salon has already said they will participate in next year's event.

"We do it just because it's our part, it's what we can do. It's our way to give back," said Fitzgerald.

In the days after the girls received their haircuts, Kelly said a number of boys from the school expressed interest having their heads shaved during future events and donating money. Parents and additional teachers have also told Kelly they would like to donate hair next year.

The support "made my eyes fill up with tears," Kelly said, before predicting that, with all the additional participants, the event will become "larger than life."

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