Photo above: Rhyleigh Conley, who donated her hair to Wigs for Kids, experienced getting a blow dry for the first time, which she said “tickled.”
By Kat Walsh
Rhyleigh Conley was always the little girl with the long, golden hair, the goldilocks of Broad River Elementary School.
For three years, she was a regular sight at the school, dropping off her big brother Elijah or tagging along with mom Christina’s active involvement as a school volunteer.
“We’ve known Rhyleigh since she was a year old,” said Kelly Adams, one of her pre-K teachers. “We have watched her grow up, and always knew her for that long, golden hair.”
Until one morning, a few weeks ago, when a dramatically different Rhyleigh bounced into school.
“Your hair! You’re all grown up!” said Adams.
Rhyleigh had 12 inches of hair cut off, which the 4-year-old had been growing her entire life.
She took that 12 inches of hair and donated it to Wigs For Kids, an organization that provides wigs for children who have lost their hair to medical treatment.
“For the last month, Rhyleigh had been really wanting to cut her hair short,” her mom, Christina Conley, said. Conley was already familiar with Wigs For Kids – a friend of a friend had a daughter with leukemia and found the organization to be wonderful.
So she made a suggestion to Rhyleigh: If she was going to cut her hair short, why not donate it?
However, there was a catch: The requirement for donation was 12 inches of hair, more than Rhyleigh had in mind.
“At first, she felt scared because she was losing her hair,” Conley said. “But then, she said that donation is a good thing.”
A Worthwhile Charity
Wigs For Kids began in 1981 when hairstylist Jeffrey Paul made a promise to his 15-year-old niece who had just been diagnosed with leukemia. The chemotherapy that would save her life would also take her hair, and he promised she would have hair.
“And when you make a promise to a kid, you keep it,” Paul said.
The promise was a challenge to keep, for Paul soon learned that designing wigs to withstand typical kid activities is difficult.
Working with doctors and prosthetics specialists, he created a hairpiece that adhered to the scalp under the most aggressive kid-centric conditions. From soccer, to swimming to sleepovers, it would look like everybody else’s hair.
“Kids can count on them,” said Paul, who kept his promise to his niece in time for her gymnastics competition. “And because the kids look just the way they did before, they feel better about themselves. They look in the mirror and their eyes light up. To see that light – that’s priceless.”
“Ambassador Salons,” volunteer salons all over the country, represent Wigs for Kids through fundraising and ponytail harvesting.
Shear Sensations in Okatie – one of two Ambassador Salons in Beaufort County – joined Wigs For Kids earlier this year.
“Rhyleigh was our first donation to the charity,” said salon owner Kristi Swank.
Tia Campanella, Rhyleigh’s stylist, had heard about Wigs For Kids from another client.
“We found that with this charity, there’s absolutely no out-of-pocket expenses for these families to get a wig for their sick child,” she said. “And that’s why we started working with them.”
The First Cut
A first haircut can be a tear-inducing experience for any child. When that first haircut involves losing the majority of your hair in front of a group of supportive strangers, it can be downright intimidating. “Rhyleigh told me numerous times that she was nervous and scared, but everyone there assured her that she was going to be just fine and would love her new haircut,” said Conley.
With the help of Campanella – “Ms. Tia” – Rhyleigh and her mom agreed on a short, simple bob.
“She was an angel with a little spark in her eye,” said Campanella. “While I cut her hair, we talked about how she was helping another little girl or boy and she really seemed eager to help.”
For Rhyleigh, the best part of her first haircut was the blow dryer.
“It was the funniest thing because it tickled so much!”she said.
She also appreciated the award she received from a stranger.
“Another client came over and told Rhyleigh how proud she was of her and what an amazing thing she was doing and gave her an ‘award’ of $10,” said Campanella.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that she would want to do this. Rhyleigh is such a thoughtful and giving child,” said Adams. “For a 4-year-old to be so generous, that deserves recognition. Now, she’s even encouraging the other girls in her class to get their hair cut and donate it.”
For more information about Wigs For Kids and donations, visit www.wigsforkids.org or Shear Sensations at 843-705-9999.