For Jeffrey Paul, co-founder and executive director of Wigs for Kids, and his wife, Zina, who live in Westlake, a decades-old promise to an 11-year-old has now become a lifelong purpose.
When Laura, the daughter of Paul’s best friend, received a cancer diagnosis from the Cleveland Clinic, she asked “Uncle Jeffrey,” as she called him, if he would help her keep her hair.
The hairdresser, who had traveled around the U.S. and Europe for his profession, said chemotherapy was a new cancer treatment during that time, and the side effect of hair loss was devastating to his “niece,” who was a gymnast and was worried about an upcoming competition.
“I made a promise she would have her hair,” he says, adding that with the help of a friend in manufacturing, he created a custom wig for Laura. “The wig stayed throughout her last gymnastics event; it was very emotional.”
For more than 30 years, the Pauls have worked to provide children with hair replacement, which includes prosthetic hair (wigs) made from donated ponytails.
“People from around the U.S. send ponytails,” Paul says, adding there is a need for donated ponytails measuring 14 inches and longer because of requests for longer hair. “We need to have that to make that wish come true.”
Wigs for Kids does not turn away children or charge for the hairpieces. It also provides brushes, products and training on how to manage the hair. The wigs are hand-made for each child, which allows them to continue activities without worrying it will come off.
Paul says it’s not just for children who have cancer, but also for those with alopecia, trichotillomania, burns or other issues that cause hair loss.
He adds that it’s about providing children with a deeper level than beauty — it’s about inner beauty and self-esteem.
“This gives a child their lifestyle back,” Paul says. “The (children) can really stand up and be strong. It’s been a great journey, everytime you see a kid smile.”
While Laura beat cancer, Paul says she sadly passed away at age 20 due to legionnaires’ disease.
“In her 20 years of life, she made an impact on people and her legacy is still making an impact,” he says.
Wigs for Kids is still in need of volunteers and hair & financial donations. Visit facebook.com/supportwigsforkids this month to learn more about how to strengthen hair growth and donate. You also can visit wigsforkids.org to learn more.