At 13, Molly McBean has had plenty of experience with cancer affecting her loved ones.
The eighth-grader was just 2 when her dad, Jack, battled cancer. Three of her four grandparents fought cancer, along with uncles, a close family friend, and recently, her godmother.
"Cancer has been a huge part of my life," Molly said. "I just felt like I want to do something."
Her "something" was a library at Thompson Middle School in St. Charles filled with middle-schoolers on a recent Friday afternoon, all waiting for a pink hair extension that came with a $10 donation to the American Cancer Society and the Susan G. Komen foundation.
She wasn't sure how many would show up, she said, and was thrilled with the lines of more than 200 students and teachers who participated. With the additional checks donors had written, Molly estimated she had raised more than $2,500.
The idea was sparked five years ago when she and some girls on her soccer team went to a local salon for the pink extensions that often appear in October as part of breast cancer awareness month. Each year since, she and her mom, Martha, would visit the Suzanne Denee Salon in St. Charles as part of the salon's Pink Hair for Hope campaign.
It was a fun, chic way to show support, said Martha McBean.
Molly then wondered why they couldn't do something similar at Thompson. Her mother approached Tim Loversky, the new principal, about a fundraiser. Loversky was on board, as long as Molly headed the effort.
"This was Molly's gig," Loversky said, who said he wants to empower students and staff who have good ideas. Molly's efforts show the other students that they can undertake projects outside of school to make a difference, he said.
Molly asked Suzanne Zafiriou, the salon owner, if she would come to the school. On Friday, the students waited excitedly at tables as their numbers were called, each receiving a human hair extension that had been dyed pink. The extension is bonded to the student's natural hair, and comes loose in about a month, Molly said.
Zafiriou said that she's been working with Pink Hair for Hope for five years and each year raises about $5,000 for the American Cancer Society.
Shianne Votava, a Thompson student, said she was a little nervous about the extension, but had been assured by friends that it was painless. She said she wanted to participate in honor of her grandmother Nancy, who died two years ago of cancer.
"Maybe this will raise awareness," said Shianne's mother, Diane Votava. "Maybe seeing [the pink hair] will remind people to get checked."
Jack McBean said he's amazed at how many cancer stories he hears. His family tries to focus on the positive, he said, an attitude that he thinks has inspired Molly to be proactive.
"She's upset about all the people in her life and she wants to fight somehow," he said.
Molly said that after seeing the success of the pink hair campaign at Thompson, she'd like to take the idea to high school next year.
"It's really amazing to see how much the community is willing to support this," she said.