Looking back over the past 30 years, Wigs for Kids founder Jeffrey Paul cannot believe his incredible journey.
He was a successful hairdresser with a thriving business. He traveled all over the world to work with powerful presidents and gorgeous models. But one day, his 15-year-old niece walked into his salon, crying. She tearfully begged him to stop her hair from falling out. His immediate thoughts were that it was not serious. But when he saw the look in her father’s eyes, he knew it was something more. It turned out that she had just been diagnosed with leukemia. “Uncle Jeff, you know I’ve been trying to get on the gymnastics team all my life,” she cried. “My hair is going to be falling out when it’s time to try out.”
Although chemotherapy would help save her life, it would also leave her with no hair. “I promised her that she would have hair,” Paul says. “And when you make a promise to a kid, you keep it.”
He did some research and learned that designing children’s wigs is complicated because kids are smaller and more active than adults. So, he worked with doctors and prosthetics specialists to devise a hairpiece that would withstand typical kid activities, such as swimming, gymnastics, and sleepovers. They came up with a wig that adhered to the scalp under the most aggressive conditions. And if it got wet, it would look like everybody else’s hair, because every strand of hair was hand-tied.
Paul’s niece was fitted with her wig in time for her gymnastics competition. “My heart was pounding as my wife and I sat in the stands,” he recalls. “And when my niece jumped off the apparatus, she looked up into the stands at us and pointed to her head. Tears ran down my face. I knew that God was taking me to another place in my life. The time was right for me to reach out.”
He got his chance after a local newspaper ran his niece’s story. Wanting to do something good for the community, he asked readers to send him their old wigs, which he would then refurbish and donate to needy patients. “The next day, I received 500 wigs that were beyond repair,” Paul says. “People meant well, but they sent us wigs that had been in their closets since the 1950s. So my wife and I used our own money to start a wig bank.” In no time, word got out that he was helping children and adults who needed wigs.
When a flood destroyed his salon and the insurance company would not cover the damages, he jumped at the chance to open his new business. And he found the perfect space — a medical office that offered the privacy he needed. “When you’re working with somebody who has no hair, you can’t work in an open salon,” he explains. Soon, instead of cutting and styling hair, Paul was custom designing full-cranium prosthetics, or wigs, for children and adults who lost their hair due to medical conditions. To this day, each handcrafted wig is made of about 150,000 strands of natural hair. The individual strands of hair are hand-tied onto the foundation of the wig, which is created from a mold of the person’s head for a snug fit. “I learned on the job and asked some great people to teach me what I didn’t know,” he says. “Quite by accident, I became an innovator.”
Paul didn’t accept hair donations at first. But one day a woman who had cancer came to see him with her daughter who had hair so long she was sitting on it. “Her beautiful, natural blonde hair hadn’t been cut in 18 years,” he explains. “After her mother’s consultation, her daughter said, “Mom, I want to cut my hair for you.” After we all dried our tears, I realized that this child could give her mother nothing more than a part of her body. The mother was so moved that I said I would do it.”
It didn’t take long for the charitable organization to grow. “I’d always been an educator and motivational speaker, so I trained people all over the world to do what we were doing: restoring beautiful hair by creating wigs for children, women, and men,” Paul says. He also informed medical professionals and social workers of the hair replacement and children’s wigs options for donating hair to cancer patients.
“There were a lot of kids in need,” he recalls. “The business was getting bigger than we could handle out of our pockets.” So on behalf of Wigs for Kids, he filed for, and received, non-profit status for his charity for children. Now, the hair donation program has volunteers sort the donations of hair, answer questions, speak at schools, and hold fundraisers. “We’re a small organization on the inside so we can make a big impact on the outside,” Paul says.