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Chopping it off: NMU student donates hair for children’s cancer

Clare Feneley, a graduate student pursuing her masters in business administration at Northern Michigan University, is pictured. Feneley has been donating her hair to childhood cancer initiatives since she was just 5 years old. (Journal photo by Ryan Spitza)

MARQUETTE — Do you ever wonder what happens to your hair after getting it trimmed at the barber or salon?

Believe it or not, most of it goes straight into the trash, and then to the landfill.

Therefore, why not have it donated for a good cause? That’s exactly what Clare Feneley is doing, a graduate student currently pursuing her Master of Business Administration at Northern Michigan University.

Actually, she’s done it six times now, the first time at 5 years old.

Feneley donates her hair through Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan, a nonprofit organization that provides wigs and other services to children and young adults dealing with hair loss due to cancer, burns or other serious illnesses.

The organization was founded in 2003 by Maggie Varney and operates primarily as a Wellness Center and Salon in St. Clair Shores in metro Detroit. It provides wigs at no cost to pediatric cancer patients among other services. The organization’s initiative has picked up across the country, with hundreds of salons now registered as “Maggie’s Salons” in 40 states, including 14 salons across the Upper Peninsula. One salon is also registered at the international level in the Faore Islands, an autonomous territory of Denmark.

Feneley, who’s originally from downstate Marshall, a small city near Battle Creek, said donating her hair simply turned into a tradition from a young age.

“I’ve been donating since I was about 5,” she said. “It’s not anything that was really planned. I wasn’t like ‘this is my life goal to donate,’ it just kind of became a tradition. When I was 5, I didn’t really know what was all going on, I just thought it was a good cause.”

About half of Feneley’s hair donations have come through Maggie’s. She chooses to donate through the organization due to the fact that wigs are cost-free to children.

“I originally donated to Locks of Love, which is not standard practice for anyone who donates, because they charge kids,” she said. “By my third donation, I was a little older and a little bit more up on the knowledge, so I started donating to Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids.

“Maggie’s is located in Michigan, they get donations from all over the U.S., and so that’s where I’ve been donating. This was No. 6 recently. I’ve donated six times, so about half of my donations have been going to Maggie’s.”

While Feneley couldn’t for sure verify what caused her to originally start donating at a young age, she believes the idea stemmed from an iconic doll that every young girl wanted growing up.

“I’d have to ask my mom to be 100 percent sure, but I’m thinking that the original idea came from an American Girl Doll magazine,” she said. “I want to say there was a doll that was representing kids with childhood cancer or hair loss. I think that’s what kind of spurred me. My mom was really behind the cause, as was my childhood hair dresser. She (the hair dresser) actually did the hair cut for free because she just loved that I was a little 5-year-old who wanted to chop my hair off.”

Feneley’s most recent donation came roughly three weeks ago now, after she had been growing her hair out for the last three years. Before her most recent trim, her last came in January 2018.

Feneley said she’ll more than likely continue to donate her hair until she’s no longer eligible to do so. Maggie’s donation guidelines state that hair must not be more than 10% gray, meaning as you get older, you can no longer donate.

“I think it’s pretty much tradition now,” she said. “I know a lot of hairstylists that every time I say ‘Yeah, I’m cutting off about a foot of hair,’ they’re like ‘Are you sure about that?’ and I say ‘I don’t think you understand, I’ve been doing this for years.'”

Asked if she’s gotten any friends or family to join in on the fun, Feneley said just one.

“I had one of my cousins decide to donate once or twice after I had originally been doing it,” she said. “Otherwise, most of my relatives are to the age where there hair is starting to gray out. After a certain point, you can no longer donate with a certain amount of gray in your hair, however you can donate and they will sell it to secondary wig companies and they’ll collect the profits.”

Other donation guidelines include a minimum of 10 inches of hair donated, although Maggie’s will sometimes accept 7 inches for shorter wigs, hair must be clean and dry, and may not be colored or chemically treated within the last two years. Hair is generally accepted from all ages as long as it meets the requirements, although most donations come from children helping other children, according to the Maggie’s website. Hair that was cut more than two years ago cannot be used.

Should you garner an interest in donating your own hair, Feneley said Maggie’s is a top-notch organization to approach. She also urged U.P. salons to become a Maggie’s-affiliated salon.

“Particular to my case, know where you’re donating to,” she said. “If I could go back and fix where I donated to, I would go back 100 percent. Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids has a certain way you need to cut your hair if you donate it, and the stylists themselves can send the hair in, but they’re not registered on Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids as a salon that is capable of donating.”

Cost Cutters is currently the only Maggie’s salon within Marquette County. Delta County currently has the most Maggie’s salons in the U.P. with five, including Cost Cutters, PM School of Cosmetology, Arts and Sciences, Serenity Salon, Studio di Capelli and Tangles Salon.

Chippewa County currently has two Maggie’s salons, Cloud 9 Salon & Spa and the Side Street Salon.

Cost Cutters and Salon 323 are Maggie’s salons in Dickinson County, while 7th Heaven Salon & Spa and Northern Highlights are two more salons in Mackinac County.

Menominee and Iron counties each have one Maggie’s salon, with Cost Cutters in Menominee County and Chris’s Hair Studio Inc. in Iron County.

Northern Highlights, located in Naubinway, is one of the most recent U.P. salons to partner with Maggie’s. As of March 27, owner Jennifer Lancour was seeking a volunteer to be the first to donate through her salon to Maggie’s. Anyone interested can schedule an appointment or have their questions answered by calling Lancour at 906-477-6201. The first haircut and style will be free, courtesy of Lancour and the District 10 Lions Clubs of the U.P. through its childhood cancer program.

The District 10 Lions are also partners of Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids.

Christine Smith, chairperson for the Lions’ childhood cancer program, said wigs are an important aspect in a child’s battle with cancer.

“Kids need to feel like kids and fit in with their peers,” she said in a press release. “As so many parts of their lives are disrupted during cancer treatment, a child who receives a wig can enjoy some feeling of normalcy and acceptance.”

The District 10 Lions have helped 24 U.P. families to date through its initiative, providing funding for travel, food, medical expenses and other services to each family. Among public donations and fundraising efforts, the program has also been funded by the Graymont Community Development Fund through Lake Superior State University.

For more information on Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids and to find out how you can register your local salon as an affiliate, visit www.wigs4kids.org.

For more information on the District 10 Lions Clubs and its childhood cancer program, visit www.uplionsserve.org.

If you know of a U.P. family who could benefit from the Lions’ childhood cancer program, contact smith at 313-682-8900 or lionchris906pcc@outlook.com.

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