Cancer treatments, alopecia, trichotillomania and burns.
Those are among the reasons why a child may lose his or her hair.
About a year ago, Ruth Myers of Seymour saw a commercial on television that showed children in the hospital due to cancer.
“You see their little heads with no hair and you think, ‘Wow! If they were going to school, kids would make fun of them,’ and that’s what kind of brought it to me,” she said of her decision to let her hair grow out so she could donate it. “I thought, ‘Hey, wait a minute. I’m retired, I’m not on a 40-hour workweek and I don’t have to get up and updo my hair and all this stuff, so I can let it grow.’”
Through online research, she learned about Children with Hair Loss, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization established more than 20 years ago that provides human hair replacements at no cost to children and young adults facing medically related hair loss.
When a child’s hair is lost, the painful effects are far deeper than just cosmetic, according to the South Rockwood, Michigan-based organization’s website, childrenwithhairloss.org.
“Each year, the number of children requesting our hair replacements increases, and with your support, we can continue to increase the number of children we are able to help in the future,” the site states.
After deciding to let her hair grow, Myers said she definitely wanted to donate it to children.
“Adults usually have the income or they can buy a wig if they need one. Kids don’t,” she said. “Usually, a child suffering with cancer or another disease that causes them to lose their hair, parents don’t have the funds or they are not looking for a wig for their child. There are too many other things on their mind.”
She found some other organizations, but Children with Hair Loss stood out because it’s a nonprofit.
“I got so excited over this, and I just think a child, they get ridiculed for everything, whether they have cancer or a broken toe or whatever, if they are not like everybody else, so I thought, ‘I can do that for that child,’” Myers said.
As she began letting her gray hair grow out, Myers admitted a few times, she got tired of it. She went to her cosmetologist, Kelly Speer, the salon manager at JCPenney Salon in Seymour, a few times and asked if it was ready to be cut.
“‘No, go a little bit longer,’” Speer told Myers. “OK, I can do this. Once you get into it, you’re like, ‘I’m going to keep going’ because I have these little children pictured in my mind, and I want to help them in any way that I can.”
Early Wednesday afternoon, she finally was able to walk into the salon to get her hair cut.
Speer divided Myers’ hair into six braids — each about 12 inches long — and snipped them off in a matter of minutes before styling her new ‘do.
“I’m going to like this, but I’m probably going to miss it,” Myers said, laughing. “With my long hair, I was pretty lazy. I just tied it back. I didn’t do a lot with it, and I didn’t want to cause any breakage because as you get older, your hair does get thinner.”
According to the organization’s website, donations of 8 to 12 inches are appreciated, and 12 inches or longer is preferred and most useful. Even if the hair is layered, color-treated, gray or highlighted, it’s still accepted.
Myers recently filled out the hair donation form and will mail it along with her six braids to Children with Hair Loss. The organization provides a complete hair care kit and a human hair replacement and provides support and education to recipients and volunteer cosmetologists and barbers.
Everything received is free to the child and his or her family, and the services and products are continued to be provided free of charge to recipients annually until they are 21.
In 2022, people’s hair donations helped more than 620 recipients, and since 2000, it has provided more than 7,620 hair replacement and care kits, according to the Children with Hair Loss website.
Speer, who has been a cosmetologist for 34 years, said it used to be more common for people to grow their hair out so it could be donated.
“You just don’t hear about it as much,” she said. “I worked as a designer for JCPenney and they used to offer it. They used to do free haircuts for people, but it got too complicated with the companies and stuff. It just became easier for them to donate their own hair. We just cut it.”
When Myers, who has worked at JCPenney since 2015 after retiring following nearly 25 years with Meijer, initially shared her plans with Speer, she was pleasantly surprised.
“Over the years doing hair for as long as I have, it’s like it went through a time, maybe in the ’90s, everybody wanted to do it, and then it has just kind of dropped off and you don’t hear about it,” Speer said. “When she came in and she said she wanted to do it, I was like, ‘I haven’t heard about that forever,’ so it’s a good thing and it’s still there. Those babies still need hair, wigs.”
Myers said her hair was the longest it had ever been before she got it cut Wednesday.
She hopes she inspires other people — no matter their age — to consider growing out their hair and donating it.
“I know a lot of women, as they get older, they want their hair short,” she said. “It’s easy to care for and they’ll color out the gray, but I’m kind of proud of the gray, and now, I’m getting a little white in there and I’m like, ‘Hey, that’s all right.’”