Locks of Love

Moffat County High School student shows she's a cut above

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Fourteen-year-old Erin Bennett was born in Craig. She has a delicate demeanor, short black hair and is quick with a smile. However, Erin's hair used to be longer. In fact as recently as May 22, it was roughly 10 inches longer than it is today.

Some may describe Erin as a typical Craig teenager. She goes to Moffat County High School. Her favorite class is English. In her spare time she hangs out with her friends, reads, plays computer games and rides her horse, especially in the summer.

But Erin Bennett is far from a typical teenager.

Erin and her mother, Alphi, on May 22, went to The Hair-Tage and cut off between 10 and 13 inches of Erin's hair in order to send it to an organization called Locks of Love.

Locks of Love is a non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children under the age of 18 suffering from hair loss due to a medical condition.

Donors provide the hair, and Locks of Love hand assembles custom, vacuum-fitted hair prosthetics made entirely from donated human hair.

The hairpieces are then provided free of charge or on a sliding scale to children whose families meet the Locks of Love guidelines. The organization began in 1997, and has helped more than 650 children. Children constitute more than 80 percent of the donors.

Most of the Locks and Love applicants suffer from an autoimmune condition called alopecia areata. Other applicants suffer from radiation treatment or severe burns.

Erin doesn't remember how she heard about Locks of Love, and when you talk to her you can tell it doesn't matter, you can tell that particular detail is irrelevant. Still, she admits she feels badly for not being able to answer the question. The truth is, it doesn't matter.

But ask Erin why she did it, and that quick smile shines.

"I've always thought it would be something kind of fun to do. I always felt like it was a good idea and I realized right away it would help someone out."

For Erin, it was simple. She wanted to help. She said she wished to provide comfort to someone she will never know.

"This helps people. I haven't seen the effects of cancer first hand but we learn about in school, you see videos and stuff. It's important to me to give back to people," Erin said. "I have so much that . . . if a little bit of my hair is going to help them, make them feel better, then why not?"

Alphi admitted that it took several trips to The Hair-Tage before Erin was ready to go through with it.

"I wanted to cut my hair," Erin said. "But, I'm like 'ahh.' I thought about this, and I said, 'How long does it have to be?' My mom looked it up and told me ten inches. I finally said 'alright.'"

"This was about the third time she said, 'OK, let's do it,'" Alphi said. "Then she would get there and say, 'I can't do it, I just can't do it yet.'"

Eventually, the fourth Wednesday of May came around and Erin went through with it.

However, Erin's new look took some getting used to.

"It was kind of scary the first time I saw myself," Erin said. "I was just like 'Whoa.' I'm still getting use to it. I'm still trying to figure out how to do it. It puffs out in the middle of the day."

From her friends, Erin received mixed reviews. "Most of them thought that it was a pretty good idea. They liked the idea behind it. Others were like, 'You did that!' 'Why did you cut your hair?'"

Alphi said that she had nothing to do with the idea, that it was Erin that told her about it.

"She's talked about wanting to do this for several years. She just hasn't been brave enough to go through with until now."

And the proud mother gleams when she speaks of her daughter self-sacrificing act of kindness.

"I think it's wonderful, just a wonderful idea," Alphi said. "Like Erin said, any child that, if just a little bit of hair can make a difference in their self-esteem, go for it. If you have it, do it. It's just hair. It will grow back.

"I am so proud of Erin. I wouldn't trade her for anything. Most of the time she does think of others. She's very willing to be there to help, whether it's a community activity or someone at school. She's always there. She just likes it. It's part of her."

The Hair-Tage's Peggy Hough, who cut Erin's hair, said she hoped this act would motivate others.

"I think this is a very, very caring thing to do," Hough said. "If one girl does it, then it gets the other girls talking. You get enough people talking about it and hopefully others will do it, too."

Hough said that any hairstylist should be able help those who are interested in making a donation to Locks of Love. Cathleen Cason, an executive assistant with Locks of Love, said such donations make a tremendous difference to the children who receive the hair prosthetic.

"Many times we get letters from parents who tell us their child became totally withdrawn and self-conscious once they lost their hair," Cason said. "They would get to the point where they wouldn't even want to go outside. Especially girls, who like to braid and do different things with their hair. But once they got the hairpiece, it totally changed their personality. They became involved in school activities again, they wanted to go swimming, they wanted to spend time outside.

"What the hairpiece is is basically a band-aid. It gives these children self-esteem. It gives them the ability to face their peers and classmates."

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