Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- It’s not uncommon for clients at Hair Update to leave the salon feeling much more beautiful than when they walked in.
The local salon has been lending a hand to various cancer charities since opening its doors nearly two decades ago, and in addition to the sassy new hairdos they’re sporting, many clients go home with the knowledge they’ve made a lasting difference in the life of another.
This week, staff members sorted through dozens and dozens of ponytails they’ve collected over the past six months, hair that will soon be sent off to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths charity to make wigs for strangers who’ve lost their own hair during cancer treatments.
Each stylist seems to have a story to tell. One recalled a 5-year-old client who allows her hair to grow for annual donations.
“We’ve always collected here,” hairstylist Kristen Martin said on Thursday afternoon as she twirled a long, auburn ponytail between her fingers. “Some clients come in and end up getting six or seven inches cut off when we mention the idea of donating their hair. Many decide to donate because a loved one has cancer. ” According to salon owner Joe Santos, the staff at Hair Update began collecting hair about 18 years ago, at first collecting and donating ponytails to Locks of Love, a charity providing free hairpieces to financially challenged children battling cancer in the United States and Canada.
Several years ago, when students and staff members at Londonderry High School began what’s become an annual tradition of hosting a school-wide haircutting benefi t, the good folks at Hair Update knew they wanted to help out even further.
Since then, Hair Update stylists have annually donated their time during the event, styling the hair of over 200 hair donors. Many of those donors had grown out their hair specifically to donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, which provides free hairpieces to cancer patients of all ages.
“It all comes full circle. Some of our clients have gotten cancer and benefitted from a free wig,” Santos said this week. “We’ve been able to help a lot of these women.”
Martin said it hasn’t been very difficult encouraging clients to donate their hair.
“I’d say half of the people who come in seem to have someone in their lives coping with cancer,” she said, noting that her own aunt was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, a disease that claimed the life of her grandmother.
“Sometimes the clients ask us to send it out. We do it in bulk,” she said of the most recent pile of hair donations. Over the past six months or so, staff members at Hair Update have collected approximately 100 ponytails.
Londonderry High School teacher Steve Juster, who organizes the high school’s Beautiful Lengths event each winter, praised the salon’s ongoing efforts, noting the community’s support is vital for the event’s continued success.
Juster said he plans to send out Hair Update’s most recently donated ponytails sometime in the coming week.
“It’s a yearlong effort,” he added. When students return to classes next week, a date will be set for the 2012 event and Juster will yet again begin the long process of calling past donors who’ve since gone off to college.
“We start early trying to trigger our collections,” he said.
When Londonderry’s eighth-graders visit the high school this spring, Juster and his colleagues plan on taking a moment to tell the soon-tobe- freshmen about his favorite event.
“We try and encourage them not to cut their hair over the summer and wait until January to do it,” he said with a grin.