Baldwin-Whitehall Girls on the Run group supports classmate with fundraiser
Makaylah Perri used to be known for the elaborate braids she wore in her hair.
The fifth-grader at Whitehall Elementary in Baldwin-Whitehall School District also loves to dance and would pull her hair up in ponytails to perform.
Two weeks before the start of this school year, Makaylah shaved her head.
Doctors diagnosed Makaylah, 11, with alopecia, an autoimmune disease causing the body to fight hair particles, three years ago. This spring, the disease hit hard, and by a June dance recital, Makaylah only had a small amount of hair left to tie up.
Yet through it all, Makaylah stayed positive, often flashing the kind smile for which she’s also always been known.
Her innate kindness made her friends want to show how much they cared about what she was experiencing. The 20 girls in the Baldwin-Whitehall Girls on the Run team centered their community impact project this year around Makaylah, selling headbands and bracelets in school to raise money for Wigs for Kids.
“They love her, and they didn’t want her to feel like anything is different,” said Mattie Porter, the team’s head coach. “They wanted to make a love bubble around her, and they truly did.”
While Makaylah has four wigs — one from Children with Hair Loss, another from Wigs for Kids and two more from a salon in the North Hills — it was so hot this fall that within the first week of school, Makaylah decided to sport her bald head.
She read a letter to her classmates explaining that she’s not sick or contagious.
They asked questions, she said, but didn’t say much.
In the beginning, there were stares and some teasing by the boys, she said.
But the girl who used to be shy and take time to warm up to people found a way to get through it, simply by being confident.
It’s something she gets from her friends, teachers and just being herself, she said.
Makaylah’s attitude is in line with the mission of Girls on the Run, an international program aimed at empowering young girls to grow up confident and strong, Porter said. The Baldwin-Whitehall team meets twice a week from the end of September to the beginning of December at Harrison Middle School. Along with running, they learn lessons about how to be a good friend and part of a team.
The program culminates with a 5K run in North Park with teams from across the region. This year, 280 girls participated.
This year’s B-W team was composed of third- through seventh-graders from Paynter and Whitehall elementary schools and Harrison Middle School.
Through selling homemade bracelets and headbands — and with the help of a few outside donations — they raised $860 for Wigs for Kids.
Makaylah’s mom Holly Perri said the young girls’ efforts were humbling and helped Makaylah “see the goodness in people,” she said.
While Makaylah doesn’t often wear a wig, the first time she put one on, the smile that returned to her face was something her parents hadn’t seen in a long time, dad Fiore said.
“It was our daughter,” he said.
Makaylah, who wasn’t a part of Girls on the Run, joined the team for their final run Dec. 2. They were there for her, so she wanted to be there for them, Holly Perri said.
Makaylah felt like she was part of the team.
“With this,” said Holly, “she’s showing people what inner strength is and what inner beauty is.”
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.