Jamiann Hasselquist, owner of Knock Out Hair & Nails, sorts the hair collected through her Juneau Hair Drive this summer. The hair collected will go two organizations that make free wigs for children and women battling cancer and other ailments. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Jamiann Hasselquist, owner of Knock Out Hair & Nails, sorts the hair collected through her Juneau Hair Drive this summer. The hair collected will go two organizations that make free wigs for children and women battling cancer and other ailments. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Community effort helps create wigs for those in need

In memory of sister, Juneau hairdresser organizes hair drive for children, women

Jamiann Hasselquist has seen firsthand what good hair can do to a person’s self-esteem.

Hasselquist, a hairdresser and owner of Knock Out Hair & Nails, has worked with Project Homeless Connect in recent years to give free haircuts to Juneau’s homeless population. Long before she was involved with that, though, she learned how important hair can be.

“I firmly believe that confidence begins with a haircut,” Hasselquist said, “and in my sister’s case, it began with a wig.”

Hasselquist’s sister, Drena Ann Austin, battled cancer up until her death in 2004. Wearing wigs, Hasselquist recalled, boosted her sister’s self-esteem later in life. With a project this summer, Hasselquist tried to give that gift to others as well.

She spearheaded what she dubbed the Juneau Hair Drive, which involved Hasselquist collecting hair from numerous salons around town. In all, the drive collected 846 inches (about 70 feet) of hair.

Hasselquist did a similar hair drive 10 years ago, she said, which collected 253 inches of hair. Since then, Hasselquist said, she has experienced multiple addictions, an abusive relationship and a brief stay in prison. Now that she’s healthy and back on her feet, she said, she decided it was time to revive the hair drive.

Hasselquist wrapped up the drive and sent the hair out this past Thursday — her sister’s birthday. Though the hair drive was inspired by her sister, Hasselquist wanted this event to be associated with the whole city.

“I’m not putting my sister’s name on there,” Hasselquist said. “I’m putting a community, because this is a community-wide effort. It would be really cool to put Juneau on the map as us having a hair drive and us donating big quantities of hair to these special organizations that are helping people.”

She chose to split the donations between two organizations. Most of the hair went to Children with Hair Loss, an organization that makes personalized wigs and sends the wigs and maintenance products to children free of charge. Some of the donations went to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, which supplies free wigs to women with cancer. Both are nationwide organizations, and Hasselquist hopes at least a couple of the wigs end up going to people in Alaska.

Hasselquist said she was particularly interested in Children With Hair Loss after seeing just how well constructed the wigs are.

“They can hang on monkey bars, can have someone pull their hair, and they can just run and be a kid without their hair falling off,” Hasselquist said. “That’s really cool.”

Those who donated hair were also drawn to the cause. Juneau resident Joe Nelson said he walked into Hasselquist’s studio located at Suite 104 at the Jordan Creek Mall just looking to get a trim for his long hair.

When Hasselquist told him about the hair drive and that the hair donations were going to children, Nelson said he couldn’t turn that down. Nelson said in an interview that last year, he spent a couple weeks in the Seattle Children’s Hospital when his 2-year-old son was experiencing complications from pneumonia.

Nelson said his son has recovered and is now fine, but seeing so many children who were fighting cancer and other severe ailments stuck with him. When he had a chance to give back, he said, he couldn’t pass it up.

When Nelson left the shop, instead of just getting a trim, he had donated eight inches of his hair.

Prior to sending the donations, Hasselquist spread them all out in front of her at the studio.

“This hair’s so pretty,” she almost whispered as she arranged the donations in front of her. “There’s so many different colors.”

Many of the donations, including Nelson’s, had a story behind it. Hasselquist immediately recognized her sister Darlene’s dark, wavy hair. Darlene, 60, won her battle with cancer and when her hair came back, it came back curly. It hadn’t been curly before, Hasselquist pointed out.

The youngest donor, Hasselquist said, was her niece Holly Stauffer. It was the 5-year-old’s first haircut, Hasselquist said, and Stauffer was elated to share eight inches for the cause.

Hasselquist, 46, hopes to make this an annual event and said people can donate hair to her at any time. She’s aiming to make two donations a year, with one coming on Hasselquist’s birthday in February and one coming on Drena’s birthday, Aug. 30. She said people can talk to their stylist about the project, and the stylist can save their hair and get it to Hasselquist.

People can reach out to Hasselquist on the Knock Out Hair & Nails Facebook page or by calling 500-4580. As she was packing the hair up to get it ready to send out Thursday, Hasselquist said it’s always a rush to get a new donation. To her, and to the eventual recipient of the donation, it’s more than just hair.

“I picked up a box of hair today and I was just so excited at all the different braids and the colors that were coming through,” Hasselquist said, “and all the love that’s felt behind it.”

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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