As a 10-year-old, Alissa M. received news no young girl wants to hear: She had been diagnosed with alopecia, a disorder where one’s hair falls out.
“I lost my hair, eyelashes, eyebrows, everything,” Alissa, now 20, said. “They said stress causes it.”
At the time, her family discovered that hairpieces are incredibly expensive, even those available from some well-known charities. They eventually found Children With Hair Loss, a small nonprofit based in Michigan that sends a free hairpiece kit every year to a child who meets the criteria. The kits included a hair piece, hair products, bandannas and head wraps.
“At first I let alopecia affect my life in a negative way,” Alissa said, noting that her life leading up to incarceration had a lot to do with how she dealt with her hair loss. “I let my self-worth go down the drain with my hair.”
Ten years after her diagnosis, and four years after her hair grew back, Alissa brought up the idea of a cut-a-thon during a group meeting at Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility. How many people could she get to donate hair to the charity that had helped her for all those years?
Moved by Alissa’s desire to give back, staff members supported the idea. Christina Williams, a group life coordinator at the time, looked into requirements for how and where to donate, as well as logistics of hosting a donation drive at the facility. GLC Cody Richardson helped Alissa recruit volunteers. Leading up to the April 4 event, they were a bit discouraged, but the outcome floored them.
“We originally had eight hesitantly sign up,” Richardson said. “We ended up with 21 donations!”
Two donations were from staff: Richardson and another GLC, Shirley Jones. The rest were youth at Oak Creek and the neighboring Young Women’s Transition Program.
“I thought now is the time to give back to the people that helped me out in a time of need,” Alissa said. “Seeing all the people that donated their hair warms my heart and gave me reassurance that this was the right thing to do.”
To make a donation, each volunteer had to cut off at least eight inches of hair, which had to be gathered in a braid or a ponytail. It was an emotional decision for Alissa to donate her own hair.
“It was hard to snip my hair off,” she admitted. “I know that sounds kind of silly, but it was the longest it ever was. I worked hard to get it! It was emotional in a way. But I felt it needed to happen.”
Alissa pointed out that she wasn’t as upset as some of the other youth volunteers.
“One girl was super upset but then she looked at the website,” Alissa said. “She said OK, it’s worth it, and didn’t complain anymore.”
Richardson said she’s proud of all the youth who volunteered.
“They can hold their heads high,” she said. “Yes, they got a haircut out of it, but they helped those less fortunate.”