by Lynn Meredith
When literacy teacher Jenni Siebert sat down in the stylist’s chair in front of 20 eagerly waiting John Stewart Elementary girls on Feb. 26, she had more than a haircut on her mindâ€”she had a promise to keep.
For the past two-and-a-half years, Siebert has been growing her locks long enough to donate to Locks of Love, the result of a promise she made to a student whose own hair had once gone to cancer patients until she herself was diagnosed with the disease.
“I knew she had given her hair to Locks of Love in July 2006 and was growing it out again for another donation when she was diagnosed (with leukemia),” Siebert said. “When she told me she was sad because she was going to lose her hair and wouldn’t be able to give another ponytail to Locks of Love for a while, I made her a promise.”
Siebert was inspired by Amanda Eckstrom when she had her as a first-grade student and Eckstrom found out she had leukemia.
“It was toward the end of the year. I’ll never forget it,” Siebert said. “She is one of the brightest students I’ve ever encountered. She sees things others don’t. Amanda has a gift. She sees the big picture.”
The promise to donate her hair in honor of the little girl who can’t while she undergoes treatment for cancer was a natural response for Siebert. Her own brother, Jason Gould, had leukemia. He passed away three years ago due to complications from the disease.
“In light of the illness that claimed my brother’s life three years ago and affected Amanda and her family so deeply, I feel obligated to do something. Leukemia seems to be an epidemic lately,” Siebert said.
Seven years ago, Siebert donated hair to the organization, just as she did this year, at the After Class Enrichment program at John Stewart Elementary. One of the classes offered for four weeks in February is hair styling. Sue Filek, owner of Hair Directors in Elburn, along with three of her stylists, volunteer to teach styling to the elementary students. On the last day of the class, Siebert came in and had her ponytail cut off as the girls watched.
“It’s a wonderful thing if you have hair that grows that fast,” Filek told the girls as she showed them the cut end of the ponytail. “See how much hair you have.”
During the years she was growing her hair, Siebert could not use highlights or bleach that would damage it. She cut about four inches off every six months to let the color grow out.
“It’s been a long two-and-a-half years, let me tell you,” Siebert said.
Siebert is quick to give credit to Eckstrom and remind everyone that leukemia is a disease that needs money for research.
“If I can get Amanda, leukemia and other cancers, or Locks of Love any of the credit they deserve, I’ll be happy,” Siebert said.
The family of Jason Gould is starting an annual fundraiser beginning with a pig roast on Sept. 12, 2009, at the St. Charles Moose to raise money to support leukemia, lymphoma and related research in Jason’s memory.
“We are trying to raise money for leukemia research and the funding of a vaccine that was developed by Ohio State that may have saved my brother’s life after his transplant,” Siebert said. “I’m hoping Amanda will be a guest of honor at the fundraiser. She’s such an inspiration to all of us.”
Photo: Teacher Jenny Siebert gets her hair cut by Sue Filek, owner of Hair Directors in Elburn. Mrs. Siebert is donating her locks in honor of former student Amanda Eckstrom (left) who is struggling with lukemia and used to donate her own hair to Locks of Love. Photo by John DiDonna