Students Let Down Their Hair for Others

Times Staff Writer

Tatum Winslow thought she was ready.

The 13-year-old Balboa Middle School student had prepared all year to give up her long, brown locks for children suffering from medical hair loss.

But when the moment of truth arrived Wednesday morning, the Ventura eighth-grader couldn't help but shed a tear for her own loss. Fourteen inches. Gone in a single swipe of a stylist's scissors.

"The whole thing didn't really dawn on me until today," said Tatum, one of a dozen girls who had their tresses snipped as part of the Locks of Love hair drive. "But I'm really happy that someone is going to get my hair."

The hair-cutting campaign was organized by middle school teacher Therese Yasukochi after learning from a niece about Locks of Love. The Florida-based program provides custom-fitted hairpieces to children who are losing hair from ailments ranging from severe burns to autoimmune disorders.

Yasukochi began spreading the word last year through a service club she supervises on campus, giving students plenty of time to grow their hair long. Then she and other Balboa teachers convinced three stylists at the Michael Kelley Salon in Ventura to volunteer their time and skills.

The event came together Wednesday in a classroom-turned-beauty salon, where one student after another broke from the image-conscious nature of middle school to be of service to others.

"I think that teenagers being able to look beyond vanity is really an amazing thing," said Yasukochi, who also got a haircut for the cause. "I want to encourage that as much as possible, especially if it's going to help others."

Locks of Love Executive Director Susan Stone said she will take all the help she can get.

The organization has helped more than 900 children since it began in 1997, as thousands of bundles of hair have arrived from all over the country. But it takes the hair from 10 to 15 heads -- 150,000 strands hand-stitched over four to six months -- to make just one hairpiece.

The group produced nearly 170 hairpieces last year and hopes to help an additional 250 children this year.

"I know these girls have given away something that is part of their identity," said Stone, adding that 80% of donors are under 18.

"But they are allowing somebody to like who they see in the mirror again," she said. "I can't tell you what that feeling is like."

It was not a sacrifice taken lightly.

Aside from a couple of trims, Abagale Taylor had never cut her hair. The 12-year-old was hospitalized at birth and had her head shaved during her stay. Her mother, Sheryl, swore from that point forward that her daughter's hair would always be long.

Then came Locks of Love and Abagale's insistence that she take part.

"I just want to help people," the sixth-grader explained before becoming the first to lose her locks. Like the others who followed, Abagale's hair was professionally styled after the cut.

Nervous parents and smiling teachers looked on. A reporter for the campus newspaper and a cameraman for the video yearbook recorded the scene.

Seventh-grader Christina Hamilton won a $5 bet from a teacher who doubted she would go through with her cut. As a stylist snipped 10 inches from her mane -- the minimum required to take part -- she wondered if she would be able to meet the recipient of her golden hair.

"I'd like to see what someone else looks like in my hair," the 13-year-old said.

With a vice principal filling in for her second-period class, Balboa teacher Deanna Antunez watched as her daughter's hair began to fall.

Ten-year-old Yvonne Antunez was the youngest to participate, walking over from nearby Mound Elementary School.

"I give all of these girls big kudos," said Antunez, whose 17-year-old daughter, Shannon, also contributed hair.

"Some of these girls have been growing their hair out most of their lives," she added. "This is a big leap of maturity, giving part of themselves to help someone else. It's very impressive."

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