DUNDEE — All children get excited for their birthday. There is the excitement of going to school to celebrate and then it continues with a party at home with presents to open.
This was no different for Aleena Smith, who recently turned 6-years-old.
Aleena, the daughter of Bill Smith and Shawna Vore of Dundee, was just like any other child on her birthday. The slender, blue-eyed, blonde-haired little girl with a sweet smile could not wait to get her day started.
But if you are a stranger and arrived at the family home, Aleena likes to wear a ball cap.
“She feels most comfortable with her head covered around people who are not our close family and friends,” Shawna said.
Aleena started to lose her hair last November. This past January, she was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes hair to fall out.
“Since then, we have good days and bad ones,” Shawna said. “Aleena sometimes feels bad and says, `Why did God make me this way?’”
“I try to stay positive,” Shawna added. “Aleena tells me, ‘I just want to be a normal kid.’”
It was her dad who suggested Children With Hair Loss, a nonprofit organization in South Rockwood, to get Aleena a wig. So the family contacted the organization and Aleena got a blonde wig that she wears.
Shawna Vore has been a hair stylist for 20 years, 16 of which have been spent at Cella-Mar Studio in Dundee. The studio has helped the Children With Hair Loss program with donations for years. The non-profit organization gives wigs to children under the age of 21.
The owner of Cella-Mar Studio, Marcella Osenbaugh Valle, happens to be Aleena’s grandmother. Aleena lovingly calls her “Grandma Fufu.” She has given Aleena colorful wigs to wear that include rainbow and blue.
Aleena has three siblings, Alex Smith, 22, Ella Smith, 18, and Skyle Messer, 17. Alex has become an esthetician, which is a person who specializes in the beautification of the skin. Ella is in her second year in the Michigan College of Beauty high school program and Skyle will be a senior at Dundee High School.
Shawna, who is on the advisory board of the Michigan College of Beauty’s high school program, says the high school kids are encouraged to do a volunteer act for the community as part of the program.
“I suggested to Ella to host a fundraiser for Children With Hair Loss,” Shawna said.
Aleena has inspired two fundraisers to bring awareness. She was a part of an event at Michigan College of Beauty, which hosted a Cut-O-Thon earlier this month, and Shawna started a fundraiser at Cella-Mar Studio in which hearts can be purchased in Aleena’s name with the donations for Children With Hair Loss. The fundraiser continues through the end of June.
As Aleena prepared for school one recent morning, you could tell she is more comfortable wearing her wig.
“I love bows,” she said, as her mom attached a blue Jojo bow into her hair.
Once finished, Shawna and her best friend, Gini Thompson, whom Aleena calls “Aunt Gini,” walked Aleena to Dundee Elementary to attend her young fives class with teacher Leah Erickson.
“I cannot wait to see Gotham,” said Aleena. Gotham Cole, who is Aleena’s buddy, was also turning six-years-old that day.
On Aleena’s walk to school, she saw Gotham hanging out of his car window as it was parked at the school while he was being dropped off. The two children, both wearing their COVID masks, took off to get in line as school was about to start.
Ms. Erickson placed a birthday crown on both of the children’s heads as their day at school began.
This cute little girl has endured so much these past couple of months. But she also showed how she is one of a kind, and how she can bring awareness for children with hair loss.
Tom Hawley is a photojournalist for The Monroe News, a sister paper of The Daily Telegram.