A 12-year-old girl losing her hair will have a new chance at confidence, thanks to a donation by Operation BeYoutiful, a nonprofit organization founded at Ohio State.
Gabrielle Poulakis, from Summerville, South Carolina, has alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes her hair to fall out. She is the most recent girl Operation BeYoutiful has helped by donating a specially made wig at an event called a “wig reveal” on Feb. 5.
Lauren Palmar, a third-year in nonprofit management, said the goal of OB is to help girls with any type of cancer or hair-loss-related medical illness get wigs, which are presented at a wig reveal, where the girls are shown how to put on and wear a wig properly.
“We raise money … and with that money we find girls with alopecia, trichotillomania and hair- loss-related diseases and provide them with a wig, a flower crown, a reveal, a necklace and a dinner,” said Vice President Ashley Riegert, a third-year in business. “(The wig reveal is) just kind of a special ceremony to remind them to be confident with themselves, you are beautiful no matter what, this wig helps you feel beautiful, but really the beautiful part is you.”
Palmar said she founded OB in 2013 with Taylor Campbell, a student at West Virginia University, to help children like Gabrielle who need wigs. Palmar said she did not like the way the nonprofits they were working under were run and how the money was spent, so they decided to start their own.
The Poulakis family looked into a couple of wig companies, such as Locks of Love, but they were not having any luck with finding an organization to help until their neighbor put them in contact with OB.
“(For) Locks of Love, you have to reach a certain income specification,” Riegert said. “So they didn’t meet that specification, so they really had no options for wigs because wigs are so expensive. They’re like $1,500.”
Kim Poulakis, Gabrielle’s mother, said that everyone involved from OB and the Columbus community worked to put together so much for their family.
“Everyone’s been so kind,” Kim Poulakis said. “They make (Gabrielle) feel special and she’s so excited.”
Palmar and other members of OB’s executive board, including Riegert, showed Gabrielle and Kim Poulakis around Columbus and OSU before her wig reveal on Friday.
At Gabrielle’s reveal, she was presented with a wig crafted just for her, with the help of OB’s wig specialist, John Rutter, owner of two salons who specializes in hair replacement, Palmar said.
Palmar and Riegert said that their sponsors, such as Melt Bar and Grilled and Lily Nails and Salon, are incredibly important. One such sponsor, the restaurant Nada, donated a pair of ice skates, tickets to see Disney On Ice and dinner to Gabrielle and her mother.
The Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity of California University of Pennsylvania also helped make the reveal a reality when it donated $2,500 to help Gabrielle get her new wig made. Anthony Agostini, a member of the fraternity and a friend of Palmar, said this year, the group wanted to help OB.
“I saw Lauren and her family do this nonprofit, and I really wanted to help,” he said. “I was president at the time, so I got to make the call, and I said, ‘Let’s do it for Operation BeYoutiful.’”
Riegert said that OB needs to get the word out about the group’s mission in order to help more girls.
“It’s really hard to connect with people who need wigs, so that’s our biggest need right now … We have a lot more money to give and we want to help a lot of people,” Riegert said.
OB recently received a grant from OSU, but it can only be used to help Ohio residents and it expires April 1. This past week, the group sent in the wig measurements of a 15-year-old girl from Ohio who is battling ovarian cancer for the second time.
Palmar and Riegert said that Gabrielle blossomed after her wig reveal. They went to dinner together afterwards, where Palmar said Gabrielle kept her flower crown on and took selfies.
“(Gabrielle) kept brushing her fingers through her wig,” she said. “She kind of opened up after the reveal.”
Riegert said that she and Palmar plan to stay in contact with Gabrielle through FaceTime to help her learn wig care and that a visit to South Carolina might be in their future.
“My favorite thing about this is seeing the change that it makes in them. You can literally see it on their faces,” Riegert said. “And not just because it’s a wig and they have hair now, but because they see that people are generous and that people want to help.”