Friday, May 17, 2013

A bold move for a big cause

Bellevue girl, 11, shaves her head for charity

Express Staff Writer

Bob Brand, owner of the Third Floor Salon in Hailey, cuts the hair of Gilly Macdonald, 11, Thursday afternoon as Macdonald’s younger sister Elise looks on. Macdonald had her head shaved as part of an effort to raise money for children with cancer.
Express photo by Roland Lane

     Kids are notorious for saying whatever pops into their head, but 11-year-old Gillian Macdonald was thinking about the top of her head when she was hit with a brilliant idea.

     “I wanted to shave my head,” said the impish girl from Bellevue, known for self-expression either through her writing or her fashion sense. She’s sported a pixie cut since way before it was Hollywood chic.

     The impulse was followed by some introspection, she said.         

     “Then, I started looking for a reason.”

     She recalled seeing motorcycle riders vrooming north on state Highway 75 each year, their shaggy beards and long hair blown back and wide, smiles revealed. She came to find that they were headed up to Camp Rainbow Gold, a summer camp north of Ketchum for children with cancer.

     After a bit more research, she realized that she could be a symbol of solidarity with them in her community and her school, Pioneer Montessori in Ketchum.

     So, over the winter she sold the prospect of her sheared scalp to anyone who would pledge a donation. By the time she plopped down in the chair at Third Floor Salon in Hailey on Thursday, she had raised more than $3,500. And, her gracious act inspired her younger sister Elise, 9, to champion a cause as well. She helped Elise raise nearly $600 for the Make A Difference campaign, which provides funds for orphans in Africa.

     “My first goal was $200,” said Gillian, better known as Gilly.

     “When we tallied it all up in the end, she said, ‘Mom, I think I am going to faint,’” her proud mother, Jessica, recalled.

     More impressive than the staggering generosity of people who found out about her and Elise’s pet projects through the jewelry sales booths they had around town were the words of support and inspirational stories that were sent along with the money.

     “They told me I was brave, and thanked me,” the young writer said. “Even little kids sent their allowance and stickers.”

     She’s kept every one and plans to respond to each, Gilly said.

     The whole endeavor was “hard and exhausting,” and not without sacrifice from both girls, who had to decline invitations sometimes because of a commitment to their fundraising.

     Elise said she wanted to emulate her sister so as not to be left out, but once she learned how even a little bit could go so far, she was driven to keep working. She mostly sold handmade jewelry sent from the orphanages to raise money, and now she and Gilly will have a pen-pal relationship with some of them.

     “It felt good to do something every day that helps someone,” Gilly said. “To take a minute to not just think of yourself.”

     Along the way, she had some hesitation. After giving a presentation to her schoolmates and inviting anyone to join in the haircut commitment, people thought she was courageous, but weren’t willing to make the same gesture. And then she saw a real bald head on the news and thought maybe being a “cue ball” would be tougher than she anticipated.

     “But then I saw some fuzzy heads and I wasn’t worried.”

     Jessica said she and her husband Alex have always admired their children’s compassionate natures, but reasoned it was largely their youth and innocence, until now.

     “I really saw the strength of character coming through,” she said.

     The selflessness fed on itself as the girls got momentum. At one point, Gilly set her sights on an iPod Shuffle MP3 player, a prize from her gymnastics program, with the intent of sending it to the orphans. A day before her head was shaved, she raised an additional $200 offering free cookies with donations.

     Soon to have summer’s wind in her ears, Gilly is looking forward to some lazy days in the sun writing the fantasy and fairytale stories she enjoys. Her hobby is writing for contests. She spent a whole Sunday writing her first-ever poems, and won a contest that Iconoclast Books in Ketchum hosted for Poetry Month.

     Gilly also hopes to be able to volunteer at Camp Rainbow Gold this summer and follow her head to her next heart-centered venture.

     “Once something pops into my head, I do it,” she said. “Right now, I hope that a lot of kids with cancer are going to be happy.”

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