Ponytail Roundup

Ponytail Roundup sets new goal for 2003 to

help disadvantaged, ill children

By David Howell, Canby Herald

The local community has backed many charitable and nonprofit efforts for many years.

From helping support youth sports to backing fund-raisers for services to seniors.

From raising money for ill or injured children and adults to participating in school PTAs.

From helping keep history alive to helping keep us all alive by planting oxygen-producing trees.

So it should come as little surprise to community-minded citizens that two local women's drive to assist children with permanent medical hair loss has been successful in its first year.

In fact, JillMarie Wiles and Kendra Mikulec are beyond thrilled with people's reactions and responses.

Currently, the duo have received about 260 ponytails, which they have sent on to Locks of Love, a Florida-based nonprofit group established in 1997 to provide custom-made hairpieces -- which cost up to $3,000  -- to financially disadvantaged children under 18 with medical hair loss.

So far, a total of about 2,800 inches have been donated to the Canby cause -- or about 230 feet of hair.

Among the donations, the average length of which is 10-and-a-quarter inches, is a ponytail that was chopped 55 years ago.

The goal is to reach 300 ponytails by spring 2003.

Wiles, a local award-winning auctioneer, and Mikulec, a longtime employee at Cutsforth's Thriftway, began "The Ponytail Roundup" at the Canby Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Feb. 6, 2002.

Mikulec's boss, Frank Cutsforth, bid $450 to cut off her long, dark-haired mane -- and, since then, many other women, men and children have followed suit.

"Initially, we were only collecting 140 ponytails to raise awareness for Locks of Love, and we began by auctioning off cutting rights for Kendra's 16-inch ponytail at the Chamber lunch last February." Wiles said.

"That was the plan . . . then a web site was donated by Joanne Rabun, Front Street donated before-and-after photos, and then one friend told another.

"Donations began to roll in -- ponytails were being given to us in the grocery store, at soccer games, at civic group meetings, and at our front doors.

"There were donations from children to grandmas, from women, and from men. Cancer survivors were donating and encouraging others to donate. Area salons were calling us for pick-ups. People donated ponytails they had saved for years and others cut their hair on the spur of the moment.

"Before we knew it, we reached our goal of 140.

"We celebrated crossing the finish line, but the momentum of the success took over and the ponytails kept coming in.

Wiles said Canby's Ponytail Roundup received ponytails from all over the United States, including Chicago, Champaign, Ill., Lincoln, Neb., Las Vegas, Phoenix, and we even received a ponytail from Mexico.

Wiles said her friend Maggie Hubbard did missionary work in Mexico through Canby Christian Church, and encouraged a girl she saw getting her long hair cut to donate to the cause.

Ponytails have been donated by more than 100 Canby residents, plus people living in Aurora, Hubbard, Woodburn, Baker City, Klamath Falls, Silverton, Sherwood, Estacada, Eugene, Wilsonville, Turner and Dundee.

"It's all because they had heard about the Roundup from a friend or loved one in Canby, and wanted to help," Wiles said. "Each month, we continued to mail our box of ponytails to Locks of Love and, in December 2002, our tally reached 256.

"Kendra and I continue to be amazed at what our little town of 13,000 has done to help the Locks of Love organization . . . I often go up to people and ask them to consider donating. It's just people talking to people, and seeing if they would like to help a worthy cause."

Although 10 inches is the preferred length, donors can give ponytails that are 6- to 10-inches long and of course longer lengths are expected as well.

Wiles grew her, too, and had the 8-inch ponytail chopped last summer in Florida.

"Last July, I was able to have the `cutting rights' to my hair auctioned off at the National Auctioneers Association's Conference and Show in Orlando," she said. "The top bid for cutting my ponytail sold for $400 in a crowded ballroom. It was a great opportunity to share the message with auctioneers from all over the world about the works of Locks of Love and the Ponytail Roundup.

"I spoke briefly to the crowd before we began the auction and told them that collecting hair was about giving the opportunity to children with permanent medical hair loss to have hair if they wanted it.

"I told them how hair loss can create voids of self-esteem and issues of acceptance for some children, and how important it is to make sure the cut hair makes it to an organization that can make a difference. I briefly addressed how alopecia, burns, and cancer creates permanent hair loss for children.

"After my hair was sold and cut, I walked off the stage and a boy about 13 asked if he could talk to me. I noticed he was completely bald. He said, `Thank you for making them understand, and for doing what you did. I have alopecia.'

"He said he had just recently chosen to go completely bald, but how important it was for kids to have a choice.

"I was so touched by this kid's courage and sincerity. He really left an impression on me about the importance of creating awareness in a positive way while collecting donations of ponytails and funds."

While in Florida, Wiles arranged to visit the Locks of Love headquarters, and took a tour.

"I was fortunate enough to be there on mail day, and see the process of how the envelopes of hair are opened, and then sorted by color, length and texture," she said.

"It takes approximately 14 ponytails of all the same color to create one hairpiece. I also was shown the thorough process of how applicants are selected, and then the steps in creating the custom-fitted hair piece.

"From the time the custom molds of each child scalp is produced, then shipped out with the hair for construction, to the time the finished product is sent out to the child, the final product takes months to complete.

"The attention to detail is incredible and creates an extremely realistic hair piece, which is more like a prosthesis than a wig. The child can swim, sleep, shower, horseback ride, play sports, and be completely uninhibited without ever fearing the hair piece coming off on its own.

"I was able to see one being shipped out that day to a child and it validated the work we were doing here in Canby with the Ponytail Roundup."

Mikulec also said she was inspired by stories she heard.

Shelby Hellman, a local 8-year-old, had a birthday party last year and told her guests she didn't want gifts -- instead they could bring either a ponytail or a monetary donation for Locks of Love.

She collected $125 and a few ponytails, including her own.

Mikulec has also had numerous contacts with Hispanic community members, including Rosa, the "cover girl" on the web site, www.ponytailroundup.com.

"Kendra is very visible at Cutsforth's Thriftway, so a lot of donations were collected through her," Wiles said. "There was also a documentary made by some college students with Kendra as a project, and an OCTS volunteer is involved with collecting footage.

"As people can see, it truly has been a community affair -- with the Herald, the Chamber, Thriftway, Columbia River Bank, area salons, OCTS, Front Street Photography, and so many local citizens participating to get the word out.

"I think of all the hair that would have been swept up and thrown away when there are children with permanent hair loss.

"The Ponytail Roundup has evolved to an ongoing campaign. People understand, and we have made it easy for them to participate.

"It's a nice feeling to know that we've made a difference in getting the word out, and that in our town of Canby ponytails don't hit the ground."

Added Mikulec: "People have lots of compassion. They say, `Hey, man, it's to help a kid.'"

Wiles said it's important for people to know that to donate, the hair needs to be washed and completely dried, secured, measured if possible, braided (so it stays together better in shipping), secured at the bottom, then cut.

"Kids get to select a hairpiece, and many choose to have it the way their hair was before they lost it to alopecia, cancer, or burns," Wiles said. "Each hairpiece hair is put in place by hand in a company in California."

If donors include their name and address, Locks of Love will try to send a `thank you' postcard, Wiles said.

In addition, the Ponytail Roundup has created "Tail Tags," which makes donation easy, and they can be picked up at Thriftway Customer Service, or online at www.ponytailroundup.com. The Ponytail Roundup also accepts monetary donations in a special account set up at Columbia River Bank in Canby.

"The first week of each month financial donations and hair are boxed and sent directly to Locks of Love," Wiles said.

"Our goal is to create awareness, and insure that it is easy for people to send the ponytails to the organization on a regular basis. If people know of a child under 18 with permanent medical hair loss, and would like to know more about the efforts of Locks of Love they can contact them through our web site."

Wiles and Mikulec hope people will contact them.

"We would like to help a local child, as we have yet to hear of any needing assistance locally," Wiles said.

Hair salons currently participating in the Ponytail Roundup are:

Canby Hair Design, Kris Clark and Paula Hoffstadt, 275 S. Ivy St., Canby. Tel: 503-266-8000.

Grant Street Hair Design, Lisa Lavarnway, (owner), 131 N. Grant St., Canby. Tel: 503-263-4642.

International Hairways, 239 N.W. 2nd Ave., Canby. Tel: 503-266-4390.

Hair of Today, 348 NW 1st Ave., Canby. Tel: 503-266-2290.

Canby Supercuts, Sue Smith (manager), Canby Market Center, 1477 SE 1st Ave., Suite 111, Canby. Tel: 503-651-2840.

Park Avenue Salon, 266 N.W. 1st Ave., Canby. Tel: 503-266-7272.

The Inn Stylist, 403 N. Water St., Silverton, OR 97381.

Wiles and Mikulec said they recently presented framed "certificates of appreciation" to the participating salons.

For more information, visit www.ponytailroundup.com, or call Wiles at 503-263-4747, or Mikulec at 503-824-3960.

For more information about Locks of Love, write to 2925 10th Ave. North, Suite 102, Lake Worth, Fla. 33461, or call 561-963-1677.