Aug 07, 2014 Allie Wenner Uncategorized
During the early years of Rose Ruggiero’s career as a hairstylist, she worked at a salon that required its employees to take part in community service. And during those years of employment, Ruggiero dedicated hours of her time to cutting wigs for patients at no charge.
When she moved to Manlius in 2006, Ruggiero couldn’t find any local salons that were doing something similar. So she decided to pursue her dream of opening her own shop, called Rose and Co., and teamed up with a local non-profit organization called “Positively Pink Packages” to help get its wig program off the ground and running.
Through the program, Ruggiero and her staff provide a first-time complimentary head shaving and a free wig and wig cut, if needed, to anyone diagnosed with cancer.
“There are people who say, ‘If I didn’t get this wig, I wouldn’t have had a wig,’” Ruggiero said. “Because insurance won’t cover it, or ‘I don’t know how to go about getting a wig,’ or ‘no one can drive me to get a wig.’ There are some sad stories, but the experience has been great – it’s rewarding, it’s humbling and I think everybody should give back in some way if they can.”
Positively Pink Packages
Meanwhile, a few years before Ruggiero relocated to the Central New York area, Jennifer Tom, of Fayetteville, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003.
“It was kind of unexpected,” said Tom, a 1989 graduate of Fayetteville-Manlius High School. “I was 32 years old. And I grew up thinking that your mother, grandmother or aunt had to have breast cancer [for you to get it.] And no one in my family had ever had breast cancer, so it was very surprising for me to get the diagnosis.”
Tom immediately took to the internet to research anything and everything about breast cancer.
“In the first week alone, I read eight books about breast cancer,” she said. “And that kind of gave me a sense of control during the craziness that had become my life since being diagnosed.”
After about nine months into her treatment, Tom started to think that other breast cancer patients could also find the materials she’d discovered through her research helpful throughout the treatment process. So she created a business plan and began calling book publishers to ask for discounts or donations, and began assembling the first Positively Pink care packages with the books she could get.
Originally, Tom tried pitching her care package idea to other already-established local non-profits, but the logistics didn’t work out with any of those she approached. As a result, Tom decided to create her own non-profit, called Positively Pink Packages.
In the ten years since its inception, PPP has provided more than 6,000 care packages, each valued at around $150, to thousands of people in Onondaga, Cayuga and Madison counties. Tom quit her full-time job to pursue PPP, which she still runs as a non-salaried volunteer.
“For me, this is really something that I’m meant to be doing because it gives me so much joy to be able to find these resources for people,” she said. “It started as part of my healing during treatment – I felt good about helping others.”
PPP is made possible through donations from the public, corporate sponsorship, grants and its annual “Kentucky Derby” fundraiser, held in Armory Square. Because there are no salaries to pay and because there is no office (Tom runs the organization out of her home), the majority of the funds go directly to the products, which include diagnosis care packages, radiation care packages and chemotherapy care packages.
Items included in the packages range from a video, to a journal, to a satin pillowcase, to green tea, to support group pamphlets and more. Each care package is dropped off, free of charge, at area surgeon’s offices, hospitals and oncology centers.
The wig program
Tom had considered doing a wig program for years, but wasn’t sure how to get it going. She mentioned her idea to a PPP volunteer, who happened to get her hair cut by Ruggiero. The volunteer put Ruggiero and Tom in touch, and the wig program officially began.
With the help of a grant, PPP was able to donate 150 wigs to Rose and Co. to start the program in September 2010.
“It’s amazing that Rose and her staff donate their time to do this – Rose makes everyone feel so comfortable, and that’s the whole idea,” Tom said. “We really want the patients to feel as they can with their wigs. The last thing we want is for them to walk out and feel like a totally different person and not happy with it.”
Ruggiero estimates about 20 people take advantage of the program every year. Each PPP care package includes a flyer to alert patients about the wig program, but Ruggiero stresses that the program is open to any person diagnosed with any kind of cancer – not just to breast cancer patients.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer last May,” said Cathy Crawford, a Rose & Co. client. “In mid-July I lost my hair. I could not find a wig that I liked so I received a long haired blonde wig and brought it to Rose & co. I had Rose style my wig in August of last year [and] she did not charge me or accept a tip. I have now finished chemo and my hair is coming back … I will be forever loyal to her salon. There should be more people in the world like her.”
More about Rose & Co.
Ruggiero has been a professional hairstylist for 28 years, spending the first two decades cutting hair in Maryland. After moving to the Syracuse area eight years ago, Ruggiero started working locally in Armory Square. Two years later, she decided to start her own salon.
After 5 successful years, Rose & Co. now has four professional full service hairstylists. They offer cuts for men, women and children, as well as highlights, lowlights, perms, manicures and waxing.
The salon also donates regularly to the Ronald McDonald House, CNY Lungevity and the Syracuse Pet Food Pantry. Ruggiero said that in the future, she’d like to do more to give back to charities that benefit animals.
Rose and Co. is located just past Lyndon Corners in Fayetteville, at 6900 Highbridge Road. For more information, visit roseandcompanyhairdesign.com or call 449-0404. And for more information about Positively Pink Packages, visit positivelypinkpackages.org or call 278-0645.