Bristol kids shear locks in lesson about empathy

BRISTOL — If you’d asked six-year-old Katie Havey how she felt about her decision to chop off her long hair a few days ago, she probably would have had one word for you: nervous.
“There were a lot of tears,” her mother, Linda, confessed.
But Katie Havey and her twin sister, Stephanie, were both all smiles on Friday morning, just moments after they joined 20 other members at the Bristol Elementary School community who each had at least 10 inches of hair cut to donate it to Locks of Love, a charity that makes wigs for children suffering from permanent or long-term hair loss.
“I was afraid to do it in front of everybody,” Katie admitted bashfully, grinning a bit. “Then I heard ‘snip, snip,’ and it was all gone.”
In fact, the Havey twins weren’t alone in their smiles: Their peers, as well as the three teachers and an office employee who joined in for the mass cutting, were all buoyant after the morning assembly. They stood up together amid raucous cheers from the rest of the student body, gathered their hair into ponytails, and waited for the cut.
After the assembly, with the 22 ponytails all gathered up in a box, the students and their teachers hurried off to a classroom-turned-salon where four volunteer hair stylists tidied up their crooked, blunt cuts.
“Do I look different?” one student asked another. The girls squealed, taking turns touching each others’ newly shorn hair.
The idea for the mass cutting cropped up last fall, when reading teacher Heidi Abbott began planning to cut her long hair for the charity in a few months. When her five-year-old daughter, Jada, expressed an interest in donating her hair too, Abbott wondered if there weren’t other children at Bristol Elementary who might be game for a cut, too.
Abbott floated the idea for a school-wide event in September, and soon a number of students and two other teachers had signed up. The teachers posted photos in one of the elementary school’s hallways and kept track of how long each participant’s hair grew over the winter.
The enthusiasm for the project was infectious: On Friday morning, four more donors signed up at the last minute to cut their hair, too. Other students are still waiting for their hair to grow to the required length for the cut, and Abbott hopes the event could become an annual one.
In the classroom-turned-salon, the students waited turns for their speedy trims. Jada Abbott shook her head, trying out her new bob, and impatiently awaited her chance for a final trim with one of the hair stylists. Meanwhile, her little sister Mackenzie, 4, grew more and more eager to cut off her own pigtails to join in the fun.
“Do I look good with short hair?” Jada asked Mackenzie. The littler girl threw her arms around her big sister.
“Yeah, I really like it.”
Heidi Abbott — as well as fourth-grade teacher Julie MacDonald, second-grade teacher Sarah Scrodin, and BES office staffer Mary O’Connor — all sported shorter hair as well. They said the event came in the midst of a school-wide lesson about empathy, and expressed pride that so many students had agreed to cut their hair for the sake of children who are suffering.
Locks of Loves needs between six and 10 ponytails to make one hairpiece. These wigs would normally cost anywhere from $3,500 to $6,000, but the charity provides the hairpieces at no cost, or on a sliding scale, to families that need them.
Stylist Ruth Costello said that she has customers coming in every month to donate their hair. Friday’s event had additional meaning for Costello, who was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Her cancer is in remission and her hair is starting to grow back, but she said she knows first-hand how difficult hair loss can be.
“I think I took the cancer better than I did losing my hair,” Costello joked, snipping away at Stephanie Havey’s bob. “I think it’s great that they’re doing this for other kids.”
Stephanie and Katie’s mom, Linda, donated her own hair to Locks of Love. Her hair had grown long during her pregnancy with her youngest child, and after she gave birth she wanted to put that hair to good use.
At the time, she spoke with her twin daughters a lot about what she was doing, and why it was important. On Friday, Linda said she was delighted to see her daughters both act so brave despite their initial anxiety about the big cut. For the twins, the haircut was the first of their lives aside from occasional small trims.
“I am so proud of them,” Linda said.
Bristol Elementary students who cut their hair for Locks of Love were: Jada Abbott, Katelyn Benson, Josie Brennan, Avery Brooks, Kai Correll, Shyanna Cram, Eva Ginalski, Katie Havey, Stephanie Havey, Kiah Hines, Anna Igler, Kelsey McCormick, Abby Reen, Emma Reen, Abby Perlee, Megan Swinton, Elizabeth Trombly and Cosmo Warnock-Ruiz.
Adults who donated their locks at the event were Heidi Abbott, Julie McDonald, Mary O’Connor and Sarah Scrodin; plus four other adults who were not at the event but cut their hair and donated it were school staffers Sherri Rougier and Priscilla McQuade and Bristol citizens Tom Abbott and Brent Crum.
Reporter Kathryn Flagg is at [email protected].

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