Sometimes it takes an overwhelming tragedy to make you realize your purpose in life. Such was the case for Jaime Wright, who made the major decision to leave her job as an attorney and start a nonprofit organization after losing her mother to cancer. Jaime was driven to make a difference in the lives of other cancer patients like her mom, so she and her family started Lolly's Locks (named after Jaime's mother, Lolly), which aims to bring dignity and privacy back to the lives of women going through cancer treatments by providing high-quality wigs.
In her own words, Jaime told POPSUGAR about her journey thus far and how building a career out of helping others has aided in her own personal healing.
POPSUGAR: Before founding Lolly's Locks in 2012, what kind of career path were you pursuing?
Jaime Wright: Before founding Lolly's Locks, I was an attorney. My focus was on labor law, and I loved the work, which, among other things, gave me a chance to work directly with individuals in their fight for their rights in the workplaces. I always wanted to use my law degree to make a difference in peoples' lives, and so this was a very satisfying path for me.
PS: What made you want to switch gears altogether and start this nonprofit?
JW: My mom was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer just a couple of months after I had gotten married and started my job. My then-husband and I had no plans to start a family, but we decided to try to have a baby almost immediately after we learned about the grim prognosis my mom was facing. I got pregnant right away, which meant that my mom got to meet my son, her first grandchild. Sadly, she passed away when he was just 4 months old and while I was on maternity leave. Losing my own mom just as I became someone else's mom profoundly changed me, the way I looked at the world, and the impact that I wanted to make in it. I had loved working as an attorney but found it hard to go back to my old life now that so much had changed; I suddenly felt a very strong pull to do something to effect change within the community of people touched by cancer.
"Losing my own mom just as I became someone else's mom profoundly changed me, the way I looked at the world, and the impact that I wanted to make in it."
PS: Was the decision to make such a career leap scary or uncomfortable? Or did you feel 100 percent sure of it?
JW: The idea of leaving a steady job to step into the unknown was terrifying but in an exhilarating way. Change is always uncomfortable, but I had a lot of perspective because of what I had seen and experienced during my mom's illness. Further, I saw this opportunity to do something positive with the tragedy that my family had been dealt as a tremendous gift and a way out of grief.
PS: Why did you and your family choose wigs, specifically, as the way you wanted to help serve adult cancer patients?
JW: My mom credited her wig with giving her a sense of normalcy during a time when life was anything but, and she was shocked and dismayed to find that high-quality wigs can cost thousands of dollars and that insurance policies generally offer little or no help towards the cost of such a wig. She felt like every cancer patient, regardless of their financial situation, should have the option of a quality wig that looked like their own hair and fit comfortably.
Most adult cancer patients who cannot afford a quality wig are forced to rely on wig banks stocking refurbished, used wigs, or very cheap wigs meant to be a temporary solution. While such programs can be an important resource, the women who seek to use them are faced with an extremely limited selection, often comprised of wigs that look nothing like their precancer hair and which do not even fit properly.
PS: What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced in running a nonprofit?
JW: I am always trying to find a way to effectively communicate with two different audiences: recipients and donors. Lolly's Locks spends an average of $1,000 per recipient, so we have to raise a lot of money to carry out our mission. The last year has brought a lot of wonderful awareness of our organization. Unfortunately . . . the demand for wigs has been overwhelming, and, for the first time since its founding, Lolly's Locks has had to turn away potential recipients. The volume of applications we are now seeing drives home just how important our mission is to so many patients who want the ability to maintain control over how they look when they are going through cancer treatment, and I am more determined than ever to find a way forward where we don't have to turn deserving people away.
PS: What has surprised you the most about running Lolly's Locks?
JW: When I made Lolly's Locks my full-time job, I worried about the psychological impact of being surrounded by cancer. However, the patients and cancer advocacy community that are a part of my everyday are some of the most incredible people, and the hope that they have brought into my life has far outweighed the dark cloud of cancer. As a BRCA-positive woman with an exponentially increased risk of certain types of cancer, I am constantly inspired and bolstered by all of the powerful examples of how these amazing people that surround me gracefully live with and beyond cancer.
PS: Can you identify one moment or experience that totally affirmed your decision to start Lolly's Locks?
JW: Nothing is better than hearing from recipients whose lives we have impacted through this organization. Over the years, we have had the honor of serving over 475 cancer patients all over the country, and we have gotten letter after letter from people who describe the impact their wig has made in the quality of their lives as they go through treatment and beyond. The common thread is that through this one item, we have given these patients a sense of normalcy, dignity, and privacy. Every single time I read a recipient letter, I know I am on the right path.
PS: What advice might you give to young women thinking of branching off and starting their own venture (nonprofit or otherwise)?
JW: Keep your eye on the goal, and don't let your ego get in the way. Know your strengths and weaknesses and find great people who complement them to help carry out your vision. Treat those people well, empower them, and give them lots of credit!