Ponytail Roundup

The Oregonian

Canby women rustle up tresses for Locks of Love

March 28, 2002

BY NELLE NIX

CANBY -- Kendra Mikulec has never been one to obsess about her hair. So it might seem odd that today she often finds herself admiring other people's gleaming tresses -- and wondering whether they'd be willing to cut them off.

It's all for a good cause, she explained as she eyed the curly mane of a woman seated near her at Cutsforth's Thriftway, where she is customer service manager.

That cause is helping children affected by permanent hair loss, and it's one that Mikulec and JillMarie Wiles, her friend and fellow Kiwanis Club member, have teamed up to promote. They are in the midst of what they've dubbed a Ponytail Roundup for Locks of Love.

Launched in December 1997, Locks of Love is a nonprofit organization based in Florida that provides custom-fitted, handmade hair pieces for disadvantaged children ages 18 and younger who have suffered medical hair loss because of cancer treatments, alopecia or burns.

With more than 30 plastic bags in hand bearing black, brunette and blond ponytails, Wiles and Mikulec are excited about the possibility of meeting their goal of rounding up 140 ponytails by June 1.

Kids with permanent hair loss "It takes 14 ponytails of 10 inches or longer to create one custom-fitted handmade hair piece," said Wiles, the owner of Beneficial Auction Services. "These hairpieces, which are really prostheses, are only for children who find themselves with permanent hair loss."

After learning about Locks of Love and realizing how much a person's self-esteem can be wrapped up in hair, Wiles cut her blond braid last July and donated it to the organization. Now she's willing her hair to grow again as fast as it can, and she's planning to auction the rights to cut her ponytail during the National Auctioneers Association conference in July.

On Feb. 5, Wiles and Mikulec kicked off the Ponytail Roundup by auctioning off Mikulec's 16-inch braid at a Canby Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

A handful of people bid for the right to lop off the middle-of-the-back mane. When the cry of "Sold!" rang out, Frank Cutsforth, Mikulec's boss, had earned the right to wield the scissors with his $450 bid.

"It was 1 inch for each year I've worked here," said Mikulec, who started out in the Thriftway bakery as a 15-year-old. "For a lot of people it's a big decision (to cut their hair). I would've done it long ago, but my husband was still getting used to the idea."

In the weeks since Mikulec auctioned off her braid, other ponytails have trickled in. Often they are donated by Thriftway customers, including a 5-year-old girl, who were jolted into action by the shearing of Mikulec's hair.

The recent publication of a letter from Mikulec about the roundup in The Oregonian's Back Fence column gave the event a real boost.

After reading that letter, a 68-year-old woman from Tillamook offered to donate both a braid she had cut off long ago and kept, and her current braid, to aid the cause.

A Hillsboro woman planned to send in her braid of more than 10 inches from a cut she had three years ago. A mother-daughter duo from Salem each cut braids to donate. And e-mails from other interested residents of Oregon City, Lake Oswego and Canby arrived in Mikulec's e-mail in box.

The roundup's organizers have set up a bank account so they also can accept financial donations. Contributions can be made to the Ponytail Roundup account at any Columbia River Bank branch.

But as Mikulec said: "We're in it for the hair."

"Really, our goal is awareness and letting people know that they can make a difference."

Even donations of hair that is inappropriate for a child -- hair that's gray or too short, or has had some processing -- is useful because its sale to wig manufacturers can be used to underwrite the $1,000 that Locks of Love pays for the creation of a single hairpiece, Wiles said.

If the Ponytail Roundup is successful -- and Wiles and Mikulec are sure it will be -- they would like to help others around the state conduct similar events.

"It really is a community project," Wiles said. "We have a template that could be moved to other areas. For instance, we can't go to Bend and do it, but if somebody else wanted to do one there, we'd share what we know. It's about building awareness of Locks of Love."

As for Locks of Love, which has helped more than 650 children since it was launched, the Ponytail Roundup has its representatives excited, too.

"Since we only have one office, located in Palm Springs, Fla., we rely on volunteers in other areas to spread awareness and publicity for Locks of Love," said Cathleen Cason of Locks of Love.

"It's very exciting to hear from volunteers who are eager to plan and organize hair drives in their area, especially since we haven't had many hair drives in Oregon. It's nice to know that our mission is spreading throughout the country, and more people are willing to help." You can reach Nelle Nix at nellenix@aol.com.