Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Alumni Come Together to Honor a Friend's Memory Through Service

In May of 2004 a group of UNCW alumni lost a dear friend, Peyton Degray, to her battle with cancer. Though the loss was crushing, they knew they had to find a way to celebrate their friends memory, and thus, Love is Bald was born.

“After she passed away, we all decided that we would get together each year and celebrate her life the way Peyton would have wanted us to,” said Brandon Hillis '02, who helped start Love Is Bald. The friends spent several years reuniting in May to celebrate and remember Peyton, but did not formally establish Love is Bald, an organization dedicated to raising both awareness of the disease and money for cancer patients and their families, until 2010.

“It took us a while to get our heads and hearts wrapped around the idea of losing Peyton, but we knew we had to start something to keep her memory and spirit alive,” said Kelli Russell '01, who co-founded Love is Bald with Allen Williford.

Even in its name, the organization is rooted in memories. “When Peyton began losing her hair, [during treatment] she decided to just shave it off. Soon after a lot of our guy friends did the same thing. We all quickly realized that hair is just hair...we loved one another no matter what,” said Kelli.

Love is Bald relies on both the Wilmington and UNCW communities to host successful events and raise money.  “This town and community is very supportive in sharing knowledge and lending a helping hand to make Love is Bald the great success it has become,” said RJ Russell '02, another member who helped start the organization.

By planning numerous events in the community, from volleyball tournaments to chili cook-offs, Love is Bald does everything it can to raise funds to support cancer patients, as well as their family and friends. “We always have three goals when planning events; first, to keep Peyton’s spirit alive, second, to never take life, family or friends for granted, and to always “Pey” it forward,” said Kelli who promotes these initiatives on the group's blog. To date, the organization has raised over $80,000.

The group applied lessons they learned during their time at UNCW to establish the organization. “You see some colleges that are very cliquish, with athletes only hanging with athletes and Greeks only hanging out with Greeks, but UNCW never seemed like that,” said Brandon. “Everyone always rallied around each other, from a sporting event to a tragedy.”

Alison Eagen ’03, fellow alumna and a member of the Love is Bald Board of Directors, has big goals for the organization. “My goal is to assist in growing our support base by engaging the community in successful, enjoyable events,” said Allison. “We believe there is no such thing as too many volunteers.”

UNCW Alumni Relations/Shannon Rodenheiser '11

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