A Wigs 4 Kids Love Story
JNAP Worker Donates His Hair to Lift Spirits of Cancer Victims
Feb 15, 2017
Story by Ron Russell
JNAP Photos by Michael DiStefano
DETROIT – UAW Local 7 member Ryan Warren goes to great lengths to help boost the self-esteem of kids who lose their hair when battling cancer or other chronic medical challenges.
Warren gets a haircut once a year, and when he does, it’s always a special occasion. He parts with his ponytail to benefit the Wigs 4 Kids Wellness Center and Salon, a charity that provides free hair replacement for sick children.
“These kids can be devastated psychologically when they lose their hair due to a medical condition they’re dealing with,” said Warren, a production operator at the FCA US Jefferson North Assembly Plant (JNAP) for the last six years.
“For me, it’s just a matter of donating some of my hair to help a great cause, and it always grows back. But for the kids, there’s a whole lot more at stake – the chance to look like themselves again, and help get their lives back to normal.”
Since 2010, Warren has contributed about 5 feet of his hair to the St. Clair Shores, Mich.-based Wigs 4 Kids, never less than 12 inches worth, to help make age-appropriate, custom-fitted hairpieces.
He topped out his first year as a donor with the gift of a 21-inch ponytail. His most recent contribution on Jan. 7, 2017 – the fifth he has made – measured 14 inches. A minimum donation of 7 inches is required.
The wigs are provided to kids, aged 3 through 18, who experience hair loss due to chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer, or other illnesses such as alopecia and trichotillomania. Burn survivors also may benefit from wigs created by Wigs 4 Kids.
“I think it’s great that they don’t charge families for the wigs,” the 29-year-old Warren said. “All of the wigs they give to the kids are covered through fundraising and donations of hair.”
Since it was established in 2003, Wigs 4 Kids has helped to give about 3,300 Michigan children a new lease on life by overcoming the stigma often associated with hair loss at an early age.
Wigs 4 Kids Founder and CEO Maggie Varney said the non-profit organization depends on people like Warren for their support because it takes 10-12 ponytails to create one wig.
Varney is especially impressed with his extraordinary commitment to the cause, since the vast majority of hair donations are made by women or girls.
“We have only a few Ryan’s in our program who donate multiple times,” she said. “As a male, he goes above and beyond the call of duty to support our mission. That tells you a lot about his level of love and compassion for these kids in need.”
Varney said Wigs 4 Kids is the only program of its kind in the world. Last year it received about 14,000 hair donations from 53 countries – enough to meet the growing need for the wigs it provides. “We’ve been able to keep up with the demand – at least so far,” she said.
The non-profit group also provides free support services for children and their families. In 2010, it established a Wellness Center that offers emotional, psychological and social support programs that include art and music therapy, nutrition education and field trips, as well as individual and family counseling.
Warren also has made a positive impression on his coworkers on A Crew in JNAP’s Chassis Department. And it’s not just because he has a strong work ethic.
“There are many great things I have to say about Ryan,” said his Team Leader Frank Gennero. “It comes to me as no surprise that he has participated in such a huge charity as Wigs 4 Kids for several years. No thanks are big enough for what he has done to help me and our team, as well as this charity designed to help children in need.”
Warren already is hard at work on a new ponytail that he plans to donate to Wigs 4 Kids by the end of this year.
“I plan on donating my hair as many times as I can in the future,” he said. “I always leave enough length after it’s cut so it will grow back fast enough to keep my Wigs 4 Kids tradition alive and well.”
For more information about donating hair, making a financial contribution or volunteering, visit www.wigs4kids.org or call (586) 772-6656.
(Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from one first published in the January 2017 issue of What’s the 411?, the employee newsletter at the Jefferson North Assembly Plant.)