By Art McQueen, USAG Baden- WAfA1/4rttemberg Public AffairsMay 1, 2008
HEIDELBERG, Germany - When you're a small child, the world can seem like a big place where you have little influence.
For Carolyn Bradley, a third grader at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Heidelberg, a decision to sacrifice her own hair for those less fortunate proves that even little kids can do big things.
Carolyn, 9, said she was first told about a nonprofit group called Locks of Love two years ago. The organization provides hairpieces for free or on a sliding scale to the families of children suffering from long-term medical hair loss.
Most of the children helped by Locks of Love, according to the organization's Website, have lost their hair due to a medical condition called alopecia areata, which has no known cause or cure. "The children have lost more than their hair; they suffer from a loss of self ... Many children are ... teased ... embarrassed ... and withdraw," the site states.
"Some of the other children they help have cancer," Carolyn added. "The kids took special medicine which makes them bald."
Carolyn donated 12 inches of hair - which represents the hair growth for one-third of her life - at the Heidelberg PX beauty shop.
"The salon was very helpful," said Carolyn's mother Lt. Col. Mary Bradley. "After assisting with the hair donation, they cut her hair into a really cute style."
Carolyn admitted, however, that losing so much of her hair was a bit traumatic.
"At first it feels strange, and a little sad," she said, "but then you think about how you are helping someone who needs your help."
A stranger also helped put things into perspective. "We met a young (Soldier) who had donated her hair a few years earlier," Bradley said, "and she made Carolyn feel good about what she had done. Carolyn has already decided to start growing her hair again to donate when it gets long enough."
Bradley is pleased with her daughter's decision. "She is always looking for ways to help others," she said. "She collected money for (Hurricane) Katrina victims when she was only 6. I'm proud of her."
"I miss it a little bit, but I like this hair now; you can do different styles," Carolyn said of hair, shaking what remains of her dirty blond locks. "I can't wait to do it again."
According to the salon staff, they have performed several such cuttings this year.
Locks of Love was created to rebuild the spirit of children who face a lifetime of baldness, and who also face a variety of problems with regular wigs.
Most wigs are made to fit adult heads, requiring the use of irritating tape or glue to keep them secure. Additionally, styles of adult wigs are not always age-appropriate, and synthetic wigs can mat and frizz with excessive styling.
"While wearing a hairpiece is certainly not a cure, it can help restore some of the normalcy to (the children's) everyday lives that most of us take for granted," says the Locks of Love mission statement. "It is our goal to help provide a foundation on which they can begin to rebuild their self-esteem."
According to the Website, the hair prosthetics the organization provides normally cost between $3,500 and $6,000. The special hairpieces form a vacuum seal, like a suction cup, and does not require the use of tape or glue. Therefore, children need not worry about classmates pulling off their hairpiece, or losing it at recess. Plus they can swim, shower and do gymnastics - in short, they can be kids again. Each hairpiece is made from real human hair, and arrives long, so the recipient may style it to fit his or her face.
The Locks of Love Web site, with photos, testimonials and instructional materials can be found at www.locksoflove.org.