Hair salon aiding Relay for Life

Employees at Visible Changes hair salon on 21st Street are decorating a pine tree, normally reserved for holidays, with paper star and moon cutouts that are symbolic of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life campaign. (CNJ photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Tucked behind lanes of swivel chairs, mirrors and shears at Visual Changes hair salon sits a small artificial pine tree.

Typically decorated to commemorate holidays, employees of the 21st Street establishment gladly exchanged Easter’s pastel eggs for paper star and moon cutouts that are symbolic of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

The cutouts can be purchased for a dollar and hung on the shop’s tree, with the proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society.

Rebecca Holt, a Relay team captain, laid plans for the tree and the shop after a chance visit.

“We raffled off an Easter basket to raise money and the winner came from the beauty shop,” Holt said. Her sister, a cancer survivor, was already a Visible Changes customer, and Holt jumped on the opportunity to pitch a a fund-raising idea for the annual relay.

“Within 24 hours the tree was full. So far, they’ve raised over $100,” said Holt, who later learned several of employees had their own intimate struggles with cancer.

As the winner of the Easter egg basket, hairstylist Josephine Lamb was an essential agent in the tree’s transformation. Although it was her luck that brought Holt into the shop, she only chuckles at the serendipity of the situation. It seems she would much rather ponder the gravity of a disease that has taken so many lives.

“I think everyone has or will be touched by cancer. I have three generations of women in my family that have had cancer. Some way or another, we are all connected to cancer,” said Lamb, who will attend the Curry County Relay for Life event May 6-7 at Ned Houk Park for the first time.

Shop owner Yvonne Griego, who lost her maternal grandparents to cancer, was delighted to help. Her customers, she said, had similar reactions.

“We have a big mixture of customers, but all the girls at the shop were excited about the idea,” Griego said. Despite differences in ages and backgrounds, Griego said most of her customers and employees seem to be familiar with the pains of losing a loved one to cancer.

She said the tree has opened discussion of the trials cancer brings.

“We have this little boy, one of our client’s son’s, who has cancer and he is only 5 years old. It’s really sad. Our customers confide in us. And they talk to us about chemo(therapy) or their loved ones; they’re able to talk to us about it,” Griego said. “It makes me feel really good that I can help in this way.”

Griego hopes that decorating the tree in moons and stars will become a tradition — just as the tree is dressed in shamrocks to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day or pastels to celebrate Easter it will also be dressed to honor those fighting cancer, those who have survived cancer, and those lost to cancer.