BERWYN – It’s 9 a.m. on Sept. 30 and Pershing Elementary School’s gym is packed with students, staff and faculty. Dressed in bright yellow shirts – each one with a message of hope, love and strength – they came together to spotlight Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and mark another tradition.
In the past few years, students from Pershing have volunteered to cut and donate their hair to help create custom wigs for cancer patients. This initiative began with gym teacher Gert August, who often participates in or hosts events to help give back to her community.
“I wanted to cut my own hair,” August said of the start of her effort, which is now in its fourth year. “And I know a lot of girls here have beautiful hair and I asked them if they wanted to be a part of it. We started kind of small and we’ve been doing it ever since.”
A group of girls stood in a line in the front of the room. Their long hair dangled in braids and ponytails as they patiently waited for their turn. Volunteer hairstylists, including Amy Wallace and Cristina De La Riva, prepped their makeshift stations.
Fourth-grader Rosemary Ceja and fifth-grader Jasmine Ramirez sat next to each other and looked out into the crowd.
“It’s exciting,” Ramirez said, just moments before her mother, Maria Isabel, snipped off her hair. As soon as they were cut, Jasmine showed off her braids, one in each hand. A round of applause and cheers followed from the audience.
“I can’t even express it,” August said as she thought of her “brave girls.” “Seriously, I want to cry. It makes me super happy.”
The hair was donated to Hair We Share, a nonprofit organization that makes custom designs for wigs and hair pieces for individuals who have lost hair as a result of a medical condition.
This particular event, however, put something else into focus. At the assembly, August and Principal Diona Iacobazzi shared that a fifth-grade boy from their sister school, Emerson Elementary School, has cancer, and this gathering was a way to extend their support for him and his family. Emerson Principal Jean Suchy and fifth-grade teacher Veronica Walinski joined the Pershing community on behalf of one of their own.
Before the event, Iacobazzi and her colleagues hosted a fundraiser to collect donations for the Emerson student. Iacobazzi later presented Suchy and Walinski with a donation of more than $2,000.
Iacobazzi grew emotional as she reflected on the meaning behind the rally. A member of their Berwyn South School District 100 is “fighting right now,” she said. “It’s one thing when you’re fundraising and it’s going toward a cause, right?” she continued, before trailing off into a painful memory about a close friend who lost her 2-year-old daughter to cancer.
Seeing Pershing unite, especially in times like these, makes Iacobazzi proud.
“I love the families,” she said. “I love the community. These kids make me proud on a daily basis. They’re always pushing themselves to be better, and they are huge fundraisers. Though they might not have the most themselves, they are always willing to help one another and do good for whoever needs it.”