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Chestatee Middle students' hair gets shorn to help patients tomorrow
Jennifer Atkins, 14, an eighth-grader at Chestatee Middle School, reacts to her hair being cut by stylist Diane Freeman at Hair Dimensions Salon Monday. Nine middle school girls volunteered to donate their hair to Locks of Love, an organization that collects donated hair to make wigs and hair pieces for victims of cancer. Atkins, whose father has colon and rectal cancer, says she “thanks God everyday” that her father is still alive. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

On Monday morning, nine students at Chestatee Middle School came to school with hair cascading over their shoulders. When they went home Monday afternoon, it was considerably shorter.

The nine, all girls, donated at least 10 inches of their hair to Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children younger than 18 who suffer from long-term hair loss from any medical diagnosis.

Cindy Mize, a nurse at the middle school, invited students to participate and found nine willing, albeit nervous, participants.

"My daughter gave her hair to Locks of Love last fall," Mize said. "We decided to do it for a school effort to raise awareness for the needs of children with hair loss."

Jennifer Atkins, 14, had her hair cut as a tribute to her father, Scott, who is undergoing treatment for colon cancer.

"Whenever I think about how it’s going to bless people, like God has blessed me with my dad and helped us get through this, it makes me feel better," Atkins said.

She was surprised when her mother, Wanda, also donated 10 inches of her hair to the program on Monday.

The cuts took place at Hair Dimensions on Dawsonville Highway. Five hairstylists cut and bundled the ponytails and provided the girls with cuts they selected from stylebooks.

Most of the girls sat nervously in the styling chairs as their hair was measured, placed in an elastic band and then cut with scissors.

Most opted for a bob cut as their shorter style. However, one student, Sonia Alcantar, a 14-year-old eighth-grader, had thick black hair that extended a full two feet below her neckline. A total of four ponytails were cut from her hair, leaving 14 inches of hair in place.

Katie Glover, owner of the salon, said the five stylists donated their time and find the effort rewarding.

"Everyone has been touched by cancer, either family or friends," Glover said. "It’s hard to imagine losing your hair. That’s a real part of you."

Mary Lawson, a counselor at the middle school, watched as her daughter, Patty, 13, had her hair cut.

"I’m very proud of my daughter and all these girls," Lawson said. "It’s scary for them to cut off their hair. Their hair is so much a part of who they are. By cutting it off, they’re going to go back to school and get so much attention, and I think that scares some of them."

The donated hair is sent to Florida-based Locks of Love, where volunteers open and sort the donations, and the manufacturer hand assembles each piece, which requires approximately four to six months. Children comprise over 80 percent of the donors. It takes approximately six ponytails for each hair piece.

According to the organization’s web site, most of the applicants suffer from an autoimmune condition called alopecia areata, for which there is no known cause or cure. Others have suffered severe burns, or endured radiation treatment to the brain stem, in addition to many other dermatological conditions that result in permanent hair loss.

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