Wigs For Kids

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NEWS ARTICLE from The Morning Journal, 6-24-07, by MEGAN KING, Morning Journal Writer

``Avon resident spurs on Wigs For Kids

AVON -- There's a reason Susan Ross is on a first-name basis with her mail carrier, Buzz. Each week, Ross receives scores of packages, some from as far away as Thailand, filled with hair.

Ponytails of at least 12 inches in length come in almost daily for Ross, her part-time employee and a group of volunteers to open, process, and send on to be made into wigs for sick children.

Ross, a Westlake native who lives in Avon, serves as the executive director of Wigs For Kids, a Rocky River-based nonprofit that creates custom wigs for children with cancer, alopecia, and other conditions that cause hair loss.

Founded in 1983, the organization's mission is to help sick children ''look themselves again'' by fitting them with a customized wig that with natural hair.

''We get tens of thousands of ponytails from all over the world, which is amazing.''

Founder and stylist Jeffrey Paul works with each child to design a wig that matches how the child's hair once looked -- down to the length, color and how the child wants to style it.

Accomplishing the mission is neither simple nor cheap.

It takes 60 to 85 hours and at least $1,500 to construct one wig. It takes 20 to 30 ponytails to make one child's wig.

The wigs are specially designed so that a child can do normal daily activities, without worrying about having difficulties while swimming, having sleepovers, or playing sports.

Participating children must be experiencing hair loss due to a medical condition, unable to pay for a hairpiece and referred by a medical professional to receive a wig.

One part of the organization's goals is to educate people, especially children, about childhood diseases that cause hair loss. They make presentations to schools and other groups to promote an understanding of the needs of children with hair loss ...

''It's an amazing place to be. We really do touch and change the lives of the children,'' Ross said. Ross said finishing a work day, knowing that she has helped the lives of sick children, makes her work worthwhile.

''Some of these kids have been in the hospital for months on end, and if there's a little happiness we can bring to them, it's why we're here.''

Ross' office is decorated with artwork from children the organization has helped. It also has pictures of smiling children with their new hair.

One 5-year-old child, she recalled, had a rare disease and she never grew hair. Ross remembered how thrilled the little girl was when she first put on her wig. ''She felt like Cinderella and was constantly playing with her new hair.''

Despite the hours of work and the expense that goes into making a wig, Ross said the organization has never turned a child away. They are receiving more and more requests. ''Word is starting to spread,'' Ross said. ''They don't have organizations like this overseas.''

In addition to hair donations, Ross said Wigs For Kids is always in need of volunteers to help staff the office and staff fundraising events. ''We're small in size for an organization that's reaching out to the nation,'' Ross said.

Paul, who founded the organization in 1983 after his teenage niece was diagnosed with leukemia, also operates his own salon which specializes in hair replacement.

Paul said Ross' passion for helping others has made her a successful director for the organization. As a mother herself, Paul said, Ross is especially attuned to the needs of children. ''Susan's been a real blessing to us.''

Ross, her husband, Michael, and two children, Kayley, 5, and Zachary, 4, have lived in Avon for several years. ''The community's great. We love everything about it,'' she said.

Ross, whose background is in journalism and public relations, previously spent 10 years working with the Cleveland Animal Protective League.

She enjoys nonprofit work because she can make a difference in other people's lives. ''To be able to go to work and make a difference in the life of someone else, when it was with animals and now children, you feel great at the end of the day.''

To donate to Wigs For Kids, contact 440-333-4433 or visit www.wigsforkids.org

Hair donations must be clean and dry, at least 12 inches in length, and be secured with ponytails every inch or in a braid. Wigs For Kids does not accept hair that has been chemically-treated, such as permed, colored, or highlighted hair.''

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