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A birthday first

Many of us can probably vaguely remember our first haircut. It may have even included a few tears as a complete stranger handled sharp scissors and buzzing clippers so dangerously close to our heads.

For Lillian Dowling, however, her first encounter with the scissors was one to remember for a completely different reason. The West Montrose girl had her tenth birthday party last Saturday afternoon at the Guys & Dolls Salon and Spa in Elmira, where, surrounded by a dozen or so of her closest friends and family, she had her first haircut.

Lillian’s 61-cm (24-inch) long ponytail didn’t end up on the floor or in the trash bin, either: it went straight into an envelope and is now headed to Mississauga to help make wigs for other children who have lost their hair due to cancer treatment or other medical causes.

“I was getting tired of my long hair and I wanted to see how it would be with shorter hair,” explained Lillian as to why she thought it was a good time to get her hair cut for the first time. She had grown so attached to her hair and putting it in different styles she has even developed aspirations of becoming a hairstylist.

A CUT ABOVE Lillian Dowling (centre) is all smiles after her first hair cut during her 10th birthday party on Saturday. Her parents, Barbara and Tony Dowling, are proud of her decision to donate the hair to charity.

Sitting in her living room on Monday evening, and given the time to reflect on her new hairstyle – a shoulder-length bob – Lillian says she likes her new haircut as much as her old one, and that it was certainly much easier to handle.

Despite the brave face she wore during Saturday’s haircut, Lillian admits that she was a little nervous.

“It was taking so long because it was so thick, and I wasn’t sure how my hair was going to look after it got cut,” she said.

And after her first day back in her Grade 4 class at Conestoga Public School, she says that all the boys were really shocked by her new hairstyle, and that her best friend didn’t even recognize her when she came out of the bathroom.

Lillian’s mother, Barbara, said that she was supportive of Lillian’s decision to have her locks shorn for the first time, but said that she wanted to make it a little more meaningful than just a simple haircut. That was why she sought out a charity to donate the hair to so that it could be made into a wig.

“It is a sort of a sad thing to grow your hair for nine years and to make that transition to shorter hair,” Barbara said.

“So we thought it would make for a neater transition, and make us happy, to donate it to a worthwhile cause.”

They decided on the Canadian charity A Child’s Voice Foundation. Formed in 1995, the organization has two main mandates. One is to collect donated hair and money to create wigs for children who have lost their hair free of charge, called the Angel Hair for Kids program. The second is called Kids Life-Line, aimed at providing sick children and their families with support such as medical supplies, specialized furniture, or nursing care.

Each ponytail must be a minimum of 25 cm (10 inches) long to be accepted, and it takes anywhere from 10 and 15 ponytails to make one wig, costing in the range of $800 to $1,000. Last year alone, the foundation donated 30 wigs – also referred to as hair prosthesis – to children for free.

“A lot of people like the Angel Hair Program. They can see where their donation is going and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a monetary donation,” explained executive director Rosyln Yearwood. “I get a lot of calls from parents who are so proud of their children and so surprised that they come up with the idea to have the hair donated.”

For Lillian, that charitable instinct has been a strong part of her upbringing. She was adopted from China at the age of one, and her parents Tony and Barbara have kept Lillian involved with everything from Jump Rope for
Heart to raising money for the West Montrose BridgeKeepers, of which Tony is a member.

“I hope this gives more visibility to the foundation,” noted Tony. “Not just to give money, but to say ‘Hey, this is a good idea, why don’t I cut my hair and donate the ponytail to wigs for kids.’”

Barbara also said that they would be trying to raise funds to donate along with the hair. So far they managed to raise $180 at the birthday party by asking for donations in lieu of gifts, as well as $100 at Tony and Barbara’s workplaces.

For Yearwood, the hard work and sacrifice that goes towards helping those in need is incredible. She says that a child’s outlook on life or their medical condition can change enormously once they receive their wig.

“You wouldn’t think it is that important, but it truly, truly, truly is. They know it’s a wig but that doesn’t matter because they look like themselves again.”

Anyone interested in donating their hair to A Child’s Voice Foundation can simply mail their ponytail to their Mississauga office, or make a cash donation as. Any donation over $20 will be eligible for a tax receipt.

For more information visit their website, www.acvf.ca.

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