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Butterflies BBI transforms children with new tresses

HAPPY MOMENTS – (Above) Anissa, shown with Butterflies BBI founder Erna Blackman, receives a custom-made wig. (Below) Blackman is shown with another wig recipient, Aishah. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and Alopecia Awareness Month, but young clients of Butterflies BBI receive their new hairdos throughout the year. — Photos by Elijah Blackman


BW-BUTTERFLY-copyHair loss at any age can be devastating. But for children and teenagers who are subject to peer pressure, it can be worse, especially if the child is undergoing chemotherapy.

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In 2012, Erna Blackman, a retired PEF-represented parole officer, volunteered as a wig stylist for the American Cancer Society. At that time, she had an aha moment about starting a non-profit business to help inner-city children who have hair loss, either from cancer treatment or who suffer from alopecia, permanent hair loss.

That was the beginning of Butterflies BBI, a one-stop shop for any child who has medical hair loss.

“Butterflies represent transformation and beauty. We want the children who are recipients of our products to know they are beautiful. We help them become the person they want to be,” Blackman said. “Their parents have told us when they get their new hair, they have transformed. They are no longer an introvert. They blossom and become something beautiful.”

During its first year, Butterflies BBI changed the outlook of five children with new wigs. The company, a 501c3, runs solely on donations, with non-paid volunteers and staff. Initially it started in Queens, and through word-of-mouth, it has grown and taken on a life of its own.

“Now we are getting requests for services from people as far away as Honolulu and Chicago. And we get hair donations from international organizations. Recently, we received 40 pounds of hair from Dubai,” Blackman said. “The hair donations are used to make the wigs.”

This year, Butterflies BBI partnered with the New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in Manhattan, where two clients received wigs, and two more are awaiting custom-made wigs. It has also provided headbands to 50 children at St. Jude’s, and distributed New York Knicks basketball team hats, that were donated from Madison Square Garden, to boys who have alopecia and feel self-conscious going to school.

The regular wigs cost around $300. For girls with alopecia, they receive custom- made cranial prosthesis wigs that run around $3,000 and are made by celebrity stylist Egypt Lawson of Hairline Illusions.

“The children with alopecia get the higher-priced wigs, because their hair will never grow back,’ Blackman said. “Every client is different and receives individualized attention. Everything is measured and color coded to match the skin tone. We don’t provide a one-size-fits-all hair replacement.”

All the wigs, headbands and hats are given to the children free of charge.

“We put in extra effort to assure our clients receive high quality, age-appropriate hair replacements that are similar to the look they had prior to their hair loss. Appearance shouldn’t be a concern, especially for a child.”

To make a donation, either monetary or with hair, visit the website at https://butterfliesbbi.org.

PEF members may also contribute to Butterflies By Blaq Icorporated through SEFA.

Table of Contents – October 2018