By Melissa Beth Ruiz
The Londonderry High School held its their annual Day of Giving live and in person again this year, with dozens of students past and present dotting to this very worthy cause.
Friday, Jan. 6, marked the 17th year of the charitable tradition, where students (known as Angels) gather to donate at least eight inches of their hair to people losing their own while battling cancer.
This year, donations went to Children With Hair Loss, Wigs For Kids, and Locks of Love, said LHS teacher and pep rally/Day of Giving presenter, Steven Juster.
Some of this year’s Angels had waited years to take their place on the floor, said LHS student, Sarah DeFazio, in her greeting to the audience. DeFazio was the first student to pledge for this year’s Day of Giving, and in her own words that day was, along with her fellow pledgers, “anxious, nervous, and also very excited.”
Among those who had been waiting years to give, included Angel Linsday LaBossiere, who had been growing her hair for five years after first hearing about the Day of Giving when she was in the fourth grade.
Student, Lexi Apoltz, was a repeat Angel this year, having given her hair three out of her four high school years, said Juster. During one of her donating years, Apoltz was the only student to submit an “after” photo for the school’s social media, an otherwise seemingly simple gesture that at the height of the COVID pandemic would help lift the spirits of the Lancer Nation when it was needed most.
In addition to holding a Guinness world record for its Day of Giving, LHS also remains the only secondary school to have an American Cancer Society real-hair wig bank, said Arianna Soucy, student and pep rally floor team member. Over nearly two decades, the students have been able to provide thousands of wigs to thousands of cancer patients all over.
“All Lancers, all of you, are part of this legacy.” said Soucy.
LHS Senior and 2023, Angel Danielle Goodall, told Londonderry Times that walking into a full gym this year “just felt more complete,” and that having everyone there in person helped give everyone a better perspective of what it means to donate hair.
Goodall gave a message of encouragement to her fellow students, as well as anyone else who might consider donating hair, when asked how she would like to see the event grow in the years to come.
“It’s not as scary as it seems,” said Goodall. “The act of giving (hair) away is better than having (extra).”
Math teacher and newcomer to LHS, Caroline Chaput, gave her hair for the first time at the gathering on Jan. 6 as a way of advocating for preventative care and cancer screenings.
Chaput told the Times that her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, and when Chaput herself underwent screening, she discovered she carried genes that made it more likely for her to develop the same cancer at some point.
“Seeing what this event does and all the awareness it brings…I felt like I could play my part in this for people who aren’t able to get preventative care.” said Chaput.
Haley Buonomo, another LHS Angel, spoke at the event on behalf of the school’s Foods class, highlighting a fundraiser in support of the school’s Foods Class teacher, Shannon Shurtleff. Buonomo said that Shurtleff had been working through treatments for Leukemia through this past semester, adding that thankfully the teacher was able to be home for the holidays.
Among the students to stand was Katie Croteau, whose aunt had been diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. Croteau was present for her aunt’s decision to shave her head while undergoing treatment, said Juster, and at that moment knew that she would donate her own once she got to high school. Croteau’s aunt was there to be the one to cut her hair at the occasion.
Student, Cassidy Reidel, was donating her hair in honor of her grandmother who had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Juster said, “Cassidy worried the loss of her (grandmother’s) hair would take away her sparkle, but she received a real-hair wig and never lost her spirit.” Reidel’s grandmother was called out among the crowd, and her cancer-free diagnosis was met with applause from all in attendance.
Mya Gaspie, joined by sister duo, Reiley and Brooke DeVall, were also there to give their hair for the cause. The younger DeVall sister was a guest from Cawley Middle School in Hooksett. The older DeVall, along with Gaspie, recalled the ripple effect that was the joy of Day of Giving their freshman year and had decided in that moment to donate their hair their senior year. This was that year for the two friends, and a bittersweet one, at that.
The DeVall sisters had tragically lost their younger cousin to cancer, who passed at only three years old. Their combined donation this year was about more than completing a pledge, said Juster.
Among all the Angels was one with “a story Hollywood could not write,” said Juster. Shortly after coming to the school district, teacher, Kerin O’Brien, would find herself in her own fight against cancer. Juster went on to explain that O’Brien would receive a wig through the donations of students in 2016 with the help of LHS teacher and coach, Chrystena Ewen. The following year, O’Brien would cut Ewen’s hair at the 2017 Day of Giving.
This year, the touching story would come full circle. Having made a full recovery, O’Brien was on the floor to give her own hair to help someone else facing a battle similar to her own.
As the final story was about to be told at the 2023 Day of Giving, a hush quickly fell over the spirited crowd.
Juster read to the audience a story put together in LHS Senior, Teresa Bompastore’s, words, which recalled the passing of her mother when she was a little girl. Before her mother’s passing, Bompastore saw how receiving a wig helped make her mother “feel more normal and a little more like herself during her battle…more like a ‘regular’ mom again to me and my brothers…”
“I want to be able to do the same for another woman, just like another brave person did so generously for my mom.”
Bompastore later told Londonderry Times that seeing the whole school rally together that day made her feel “so happy inside,” recalling how unifying the Day of Giving was her freshman year, before the pandemic.
Bompastore said that she has originally heard about Day of Giving through her four older brothers, and that she had been anxious to give her own hair for years, and had worked up the courage to do so for this year’s event.
When asked what she might say should she ever have an opportunity to meet the family of the recipient of a wig made from her hair, Bompastore said she would tell them she understood what they were going through, that she had seen for herself the difference between having a real hair wig made for her loved one. She added that she would say she was hopeful her wig would help bring them the same sort of comfort during such a difficult time.
The joy at the end of the final act of the ceremony was palpable, as Juster made sure to have the audience stand so that for the first time in three years, they all could see with their own eyes the beauty of the moment as Bompastore called out, “Three, two one…CUT!”
Once again, the Lancer Nation proved, even as individuals, they were all cut from the same cloth, in the sense that each of them shares an enthusiasm for helping their community.