- Associated Press - Saturday, March 10, 2018

DANVILLE, Ill. (AP) - Jennifer Wright’s heart filled with joy as she watched her daughter, Sophia, 6, get her first real haircut and donate her long dark blond locks to help cancer patients.

It nearly exploded as she watched a steady stream of adults and other children stop in to the Danville hair salon to make a donation of their own.

By the end of the three-hour event, at least 13 people had donated a total of 154 inches of hair to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths program, which provides free wigs to cancer patients.

“I am so beyond words right now,” said Wright of Tilton. “This is just awesome, and I can’t thank everyone enough.”

Sophia, a first-grader at Southwest Elementary School in Danville, has competed in a couple of pageants, including the Beauty of Hope Pageant that benefits the American Cancer Society. Wright said her daughter was inspired to make a hair donation by fellow “pageant sisters,” including Haley Carlton, of Danville, who donated their hair to similar programs.

When Wright called Montana Schmidt - a stylist at Kevin & Co., who had done Sophia’s hair for a pageant-related event - for a cut and explained what it was for, Schmidt offered to provide free cuts and styles to anyone else who wanted to make a donation.

Wright made up a flier and posted it on Facebook. That afternoon, she decorated the salon with purple balloons and other decorations, and provided cancer ribbon-shaped cookies, purple punch and gift bags for everyone.

Sophia flitted around the salon, talking with friends and relatives - including dad, Robert; grandparents; an uncle, aunt and cousin - until it was time for her to take the chair. She chewed on a Twizzler while Schmidt combed through her tresses, put them into two ponytails, then measured how much she would cut off.

A small crowd cheered when Schmidt sheared 8 inches off her left ponytail, then her right, and handed one of them to Sophia, who was all smiles.

“She was ready,” Wright said, adding her daughter’s hair was so long, she could sit on it. “When I brushed it, it took a while.

“She’s happy that it’s going to help people with cancer,” Wright continued, adding her daughter enjoys giving back and frequently volunteers with her and her husband. “I know that’s going to continue as she grows older.”

Other people who made donations included Rylee Hardesty, 7, who also attends Southwest.

“She said Sophia’s doing this, so could she do it, too?” Emilee Hardesty recalled her daughter asking.

“I’m proud of her,” Hardesty said as she watched Schmidt style Rylee’s bouncy bob. “Her (great) aunt has breast cancer. She was diagnosed in October. So she’s happy that she can help.”

Next up was Shelby Dickinson, of Covington, Indiana. She and Laura Bell, who was also at the salon, are the Beauty of Hope pageant directors.

Bell said Dickinson usually sweeps her long, auburn hair into a ponytail. But when Sophia saw it down, she told her she convinced her to make a donation.

“I’m excited,” she said. After all, “We started the pageant to help people with cancer.”

Wright was excited to see two more donors - Elizabeth Jewell of Sidney and her 18-year-old daughter, Jolyn. Jewell said she got to know Wright and her daughter when she worked at a kids’ clothing store in Champaign.

“When I saw Sophia, I said, ‘Oh, you have really pretty hair.’ Then I pulled mine down,” recalled Jewell, who has long, wavy chestnut tresses. “We kind of bonded over that.”

When she saw Wright’s Facebook post, she wanted to support Sophia - and those battling cancer.

“As much as I love my hair, can’t imagine going through that and not being able to buy a wig,” she said. “My hair will grow back.”

Through the throng of people, Wright noticed a couple and their two sons walk through the door and went over to greet them. Heather Irelan, who lives south of Danville, introduced herself and her husband, Jason, who was sporting a long, dark ponytail, was holding a large cardboard sign with the words “I donate hair because I care,” decorated with a pink cancer ribbon and the names of five survivors - Donna, Christal, Tiffany, Diane and Linda.

Heather Irelan held a plastic baggie with about 8 inches of her husband’s hair from two years prior.

“We didn’t know who to send it to, so we saved it,” she explained, adding they read about this event in The News-Gazette.

Heather Irelan said her husband is Native American.

“Usually, the only time they cut it is if there’s a life change,” she said, adding that changed several years ago when they read a story about a young girl who was in a fire and needed hair.

Since then, her husband has made a donation every two years.

“We have a couple of friends who have breast cancer, and they lost their hair,” Heather Irelan said.

“To me, (having a wig) brings back a sense of pride and self-esteem,” Jason added.

Sophia said she’s looking forward to her next donation.


Source: The (Champaign) News-Gazette, http://bit.ly/2ogcYvU


Information from: The News-Gazette, http://www.news-gazette.com

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