NoShaveNovember 0737By Jennifer Gomori, MAP Editor

When over 80 Sterling Heights Police Officers grew beards in November and raised money for Wigs 4 Kids, the community noticed and supported their efforts.

“This is our first year being involved in it,” said Rich Heins, a Sterling Heights Police Officer and MAP Executive Board President.

Despite getting a late start in the Pigs 4 Wigs No Shave November campaign, Sterling Heights Police raised an impressive $4,629. “We decided we were going to do a fundraiser to raise morale and raise some money,” said Sterling Heights Sgt. Chad Finkbeiner. “Sgt. Dave Allen has a friend on the Milford Police Department. They suggested that fundraiser and we looked into it.”

“We jumped on board a week late,” Finkbeiner said, adding 25 Command Officers and 59 Patrol Officers joined the effort. “We had 84 officers participate with most of them contributing $50 … and a couple $100.”

“That’s amazing,” said Maggie Varney, Founder & CEO of Wigs 4 Kids Wellness Center and Salon, of the large donation for their first fundraiser. The program, based in St. Clair Shores, assists children and young adults, ages 3-18, experiencing hair loss due to cancer, alopecia, trichotillomania, burns and other disorders. Varney is a cosmetologist who has worked with adult patients through the American Cancer Society’s “Look Good, Feel Better” program for 28 years. Since Wigs 4 Kids' inception 14 years ago, over 4,000 children have received program services.

“We provide wigs and all the support services for families - grief and loss counseling, field trips with other kids like them, individual, group therapy, painting and music therapy,” Varney said. The services extend to siblings and continue while the families need them. “Even after, when they lose their child, they’re picking up the pieces of their life and still putting it back together and we charge nothing for any of the services we provide for our children,” Varney said. “All the therapy, that’s what this money is raised for.”

“We have 10 departments (participating). We have never had that,” Varney said, noting it was double the number of departments involved last year. “It started with Milford. We had two kids in that area and some of the officers’ children went to school with those kids and they are aware of it.”

Milford Police Officer Dan Caldwell led the effort, turning the fundraiser into a competition. “Everyday I sent each department their totals,” Varney said. “All the guys are so competitive.” In all, $38,984 was raised compared to $10,559 in 2016.

The competition went on the air when Village of Wolverine Lake Police Chief John Ellsworth went head-to-head with Wolverine Lake Reserve Officer Steve Grunwald, a celebrity DJ at country western radio station 99.5 WYCD. Grunwald gathered $14,525 in donations from his celebrity friends compared to Ellsworth’s $6,895. Wolverine Lake Officers donated another $400.

“The Chief ended up having to shave his head,” Varney said. What began as a joke culminated with a serious donation of $21,820 when combined with the rest of the department.

Sterling Heights Police, Milford Police and Varney are motivated to expand the fundraiser, which began five years ago with Milford Police. “He (Caldwell) said, ‘You know it would be really great if we got the schools in the area involved,’” Varney said. “Not only are we about raising funds but raising awareness for kids in need of our services.”

Sterling Heights School Resource Officer Dustin Leak had the same idea when he brought the fundraiser into Jefferson and Holden elementary schools. “They knew he was participating so they had a day where the kids could wear a hat to school if they contributed a dollar,” Finkbeiner said. “He raised about $300 from the children there to give to Wigs 4 Kids.”

“It was great awareness going to a family Thanksgiving party (with a beard),” Finkbeiner said. “It opens eyes and awareness for everybody in the community. We’d like to raise more money next year. Wouldn’t it be cool if the whole state did this next year? Not every department will allow you to grow beards, but for the most part they do.”

The irony of area police choosing Wigs 4 Kids as a cause to support doesn’t escape Varney.

“This was just remarkable,” she said of Pigs 4 Wigs efforts. “My whole family has dedicated their whole life being a servant of the community and they didn’t even know my family was in law enforcement,” Varney said. “My brother is retired from Detroit (PD) and Dispatch in Grosse Pointe; my son in law is a retired Chicago policeman. My uncle … he’s a retired motorcycle police officer in Detroit. My cousin, Gary Clark, he was a Police Officer and now head Detective in Roseville; and Clark’s son (Ryan Clark) is an Officer in Warren.”

One thing is for certain – Varney appreciates the outpouring of support and local police appreciate what Wigs 4 Kids is doing for the community.

“I was actually allowed to tour their facility and what a phenomenal place,” Finkbeiner said.

For more information on Wigs 4 Kids, please visit http://www.wigs4kids.org/