Haircuts for a cause

Jonathan Valley Elementary students, teachers donate to Locks of Love
By Caroline Klapper | May 15, 2013
Photo by: Caroline Klapper Fourth-grader Ashley Hinson holds up her ponytail, which will be donated to Locks of Love.

Going from long to short hair can be a nerve-wracking experience for anyone but just try getting such a drastic haircut in front of an audience.

At Jonathan Valley Elementary, that’s exactly what more than a dozen brave students, teachers and even a few parents decided to do when they donated their hair to Locks of Love. The nonprofit provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children who have long-term medical hair loss, but first, all that hair has to come from donations.

Jonathan Valley teacher Michelle Knapik has donated to Locks of Love four times before, but this time, some of her students wanted to get involved.

“We had talked about doing it, and they asked if we could wait so they could grow their hair,” she said, explaining that she is a cancer survivor herself.

With permission from their parents, many of the students have been growing their hair out for more than a year in preparation for the big day when they would have it cut in front of the whole school.

That day arrived on Monday, and fourth-grader Sammie Smith, 9, was feeling a little nervous as she contemplated having her long blond hair cut for the first time in about a year and a half. She was helped by the fact that her mom, Kimberly Smith, was donating her hair, too.

“My mom was talking about cutting my hair, and I said, ‘No, why don’t we save it for Locks of Love,’” Sammie said. “I think it will be good for the kids I’m donating it to.”

Kimberly has been growing her hair for three years, and she said she is proud of her daughter for being willing to cut her hair to help others.

“It’s something good for us to do together, too,” she said.

Savannah Boynton, 7, also had some support in her decision to grow and then cut her hair for Locks of Love when her friend McKenna Coley, 6, agreed to do the same.

The two first graders waved to the crowd of students watching in the school’s gymnasium before getting their hair cut, and after the deed was done, both proudly showed off their severed ponytails to wild applause.

Unlike most of the girls participating in the Locks of Love event, Charlie Rathbone — the only boy — was looking forward to getting rid of his long locks.

“I’m very excited,” the third-grader said as he waited to have his hair put into a ponytail for cutting.

Rathbone had been growing his hair for about a year and a half after learning about children who lose their hair from cancer treatment or other causes at school.

"Charlie actually came home and said to me, 'Momma, how can I help little kids who get sick and don't have hair?'" his mother, Kim Rathbone, said. "I'll never forget it because it just brought tears to my eyes that he'd even think of doing that."

Not long after making the decision to grow his hair for Locks of Love, Charlie found out his uncle was diagnosed with cancer. A few months ago, his uncle died, which made Charlie's donation even more meaningful for him.

“This is what I wanted to do with it,” Charlie said.

Although his friends thought it was “cool” that he decided to grow his hair long to help others, he said he’d be relieved to finally be rid of it, especially since it requires a lot more care than his usual short style.

As the ponytails piled up, the other students cheered the donors on, and the loudest applause came for Knapik as her long brown hair was cut into a short bob.

She won’t miss her hair, though. What’s more important to her is helping the children who will benefit from it. During her cancer treatment, she lost most of her hair and she said, “I know what it feels like.”

She also knows what it feels like to have people supporting her every step of the way — a fact that was clear in the gymnasium that day.