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The long and the short of a hair-a-thon, with Tricia Cunningham

Published 04/18/2012 12:00 AM

At the many events which celebrate holidays, mark the passage of the seasons and bring the people of Mystic together, Tricia Cunningham is a signature presence.

With her bright hair, warm smile and flashing blue eyes, Cunningham stands out. As the president of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, she is a staunch and visible supporter of its membership. And during the recent "Hair-a-Thon" fundraiser she conducted, she saw that advocacy returned to her in a heartwarming way.

Cunningham had been letting her hair grow for 5 years with the intent of donating it to Locks of Love, a group that makes wigs for children with cancer. She was moved by one story she heard about a little girl who liked wearing different colors and styles of wigs as she was undergoing treatment.

"Or there might be a little kid with red hair that's hard to match," she said. As time passed, she decided to up the ante, and turn her hair-growing marathon into a larger fundraiser. But it was very important to her, she said, that the money benefit organizations which are confronting and working to mitigate cancer's impact on human life. She chose the Terri Brodeur Cancer Foundation, because "their money goes directly to researchers who are working to find a cure." Hospice of Southeastern Connecticut was also chosen, for the hands-on support they offer those with terminal illness and their families.

"People in the last days of their lives deserve quality of life and they deserve dignity, said Cunningham, who lost her grandmother last year.

Having set a goal of $5000 in late 2011, she wondered if she was aiming too high. "I would joke with family and friends about whether I was ever going to be able to cut my hair," she said, adding that the response from those she reached out to was immediate, touching and surprising.

"I raised $2000 in the first month or two, right around the holidays," she said. Donations came in from as far away as California. And she said people locally were incredibly supportive.

"It was wonderful. People would just come up to me at events and donate money. I had to send myself an email every time it would happen so I could keep track!"

It confirmed for her, the high-regard she holds for the people who live and work here.

"I love our community," she said. "And the key word around here is "community" — it's very caring. The support that our local businesses give our nonprofits is amazing and inspiring."