Jaeleen Davis is in the running to win $100,000 for Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan.

Jaeleen Davis is in the running to win $100,000 for Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan.

Photo provided by Jaeleen Davis


Wig recipient racing to help others with NASCAR Foundation award

Supporters can vote daily to help win donation for Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan

By: Kristyne E. Demske | Metro | Published October 28, 2021

 Jaeleen Davis is a finalist for the 11th annual Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, which recognizes NASCAR fans who volunteer for children’s causes in their racing communities.

Jaeleen Davis is a finalist for the 11th annual Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, which recognizes NASCAR fans who volunteer for children’s causes in their racing communities.

Photos provided by Sylvart Studio

 Jaeleen Davis, a recipient of wigs from Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan since she was 10 years old, volunteers with the organization.

Jaeleen Davis, a recipient of wigs from Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan since she was 10 years old, volunteers with the organization.

Photo provided by Sylvart Studio

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“I started seeing that I wasn’t alone. There were other kids who looked like me, other adults that looked like me and were doing what they wanted to do, regardless."

Jaleen Davis, Finalist for the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award

ST. CLAIR SHORES — Jaeleen Davis wanted to see her name in lights.

As a child, she said she was “living the high life” at the age of seven, performing with a national tour of a Broadway show.

“That was my dream,” she said. “I wanted to be a performer. It was amazing, and then I started getting sick and we had to pull out of the show and come back to Michigan for two to three months of testing.”

After ruling out everything else, Davis was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair to fall out, at the age of eight.

She said she became a shell of her former self, turning introverted and shy because she felt that, somehow, she was now “damaged goods.” She got wigs from other organizations, but it wasn’t until her mother discovered Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan when Davis was 10 years old that her story began to change.

“Wigs 4 Kids is a very pivotal part in changing that narrative,” she said.

Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids Wellness Center and Salon, 30130 Harper Ave., in St. Clair Shores, is a local non-profit providing wigs and support services at no charge to children and young adults experiencing hair loss due to cancer, alopecia, trichotillomania, burns and other disorders.

“I started seeing that I wasn’t alone. There were other kids who looked like me, other adults that looked like me and were doing what they wanted to do, regardless,” she said.

Davis began attending Wigs 4 Kids events, including the organization’s annual gala where she asked, as a young teenager, if she could sing as part of the night’s entertainment. She didn’t know there was a previous Miss St. Clair Shores in attendance at the gala until the woman came up to her and asked why Davis didn’t participate in Miss America pageants.

“I never knew someone like me could do that,” said Davis, now 26.

That inspired Davis, a resident of Bay City, to enter the Miss Bay County pageant as a teen. She has been competing in pageants ever since, winning a local title and going to the state competition for Miss America every year, except for one year that she took off from the pageant circuit. She has competed in Ohio pageants, as well, after moving for family.

Throughout all of her years on the circuit, her platform has always been Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan, and her volunteer work with the organization has included advocacy to get bills introduced in Michigan and Ohio to make insurance companies cover the costs of wigs. When she had the opportunity to apply earlier this year for the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award from The NASCAR Foundation, she looked at it as an opportunity to teach an entirely different market about the work Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan does for Michigan children experiencing hair loss.

“Not only for support or donations, (but) also for awareness for children and advocacy work in the pursuit of making sure that every state either has a wellness center, like Wigs 4 Kids, or has insurance that covers (wigs),” she said. “This is one way we can reach out nationally in a way that we never have been able to before.”

The 11th annual Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award recognizes NASCAR fans who volunteer for children’s causes in their racing communities. As a finalist, Davis already received a $25,000 donation for Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan and is in the running for the $100,000 donation from The NASCAR Foundation.

Davis said each hair piece she has received from Wigs 4 Kids would have cost her about $3,200 if she had had to pay for them herself. But Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan provides them free of charge to children like Davis and also provides therapies, classes and services.

“Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan doesn’t just provide a hair piece; they also offer the services that come along with having a life-changing diagnosis,” Davis said. Diseases and disorders that cause hair loss all come with “a lot of baggage that needs to be unpacked, not just for the child, but for their family, especially for those that need that wig to feel a part of society again.”

The organization provides art, music and animal therapies, among a wide range of other therapies and services, to the child and their family, she said. There are also classes on how to service and style the wig so it looks as natural as possible, makeup classes for those who have lost eyelashes or eyebrows, cooking and nutrition classes, and even a child-sized gym. Davis said group field trips also boosted her self-esteem growing up because she was able to be in a group of children who looked like her and knew what she was going through.

“With the help of an organization like this, they’re not surviving anymore — they’re thriving,” she said. “There’s nowhere else like this. That’s why this program needs the votes. That’s why this program needs the support.

“I cannot imagine what I would have been able to do if I had not had services, the support and the family that I have now that’s from Wigs 4 Kids.”

Maggie Varney, the founder and CEO of Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan, said the organization moved into its new Wellness Center in 2020, and while it had money saved for construction, there were programs Varney planned to put into place that have had to be put on hold due to financial strain amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

An exercise therapist and masseuse comes in to help by appointment, as does an oncology dietician, Varney said, but if they were on staff a number of hours each week, more clients would take advantage of their services. Sometimes, she said, it’s difficult for the children and their families being served at Wigs 4 Kids to make multiple trips to the facility. Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan serves children across the state, and Varney said she discovered that when a social worker was on staff instead of available by appointment only, more children and families took advantage of the services being offered. She thinks the same would be true of other programming she wants to offer at the center.

“These are things we planned on doing in our new center, but COVID, the funding, has not permitted that. ... It’s not on-site every day,” she said. “That’s what we’re going to do with those funds, implement the programming that we developed to have available in our new center but, because of COVID, we’ve not been able to put into place yet. That would be phenomenal.”

Online voters will determine who receives the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award from The NASCAR Foundation and the $100,000 donation. Votes can be cast once per day through noon Nov. 12 at NASCARfoundation.org/Award. The winner will be announced Nov. 17.

Davis is excited for the chance to represent this organization to a sport that her family has been invested in her entire life.

As a single, disabled parent after an auto accident, Davis’ mother relied on the help of family to help raise Davis.

“My Papa was in charge of me and didn’t really know what to do with a rambunctious little toddler who broke things everywhere she went,” she recalled of spending time with her grandfather.

But every Sunday, they would go to church and then for doughnuts before heading back home to prepare lunch while waiting for the NASCAR race to start.

“On many weekends, family members would come over to watch it. The excitement and the camaraderie of cheering on our favorite racers, or a crash. ... It was exciting for a kid but also, it was a comfort to know there was some type of routine,” she said.

Along with Davis, the award finalists include Erin Collins, of Texas, who volunteers with the Dallas Hearing Foundation, serving children living with hearing loss; Jeff Harmon, of Kentucky, a volunteer with Down Syndrome of Louisville; and Beverly Hodsdon, of New Hampshire, who volunteers with the Richie McFarland Children’s Center, an early childhood program.

“This year’s finalists exemplify the values of Betty Jane France and honor her legacy,” said Mike Helton, chairman of The NASCAR Foundation, which was begun by France. “Each one of them is working to improve the lives of children while incorporating the excitement for our sport.”

Davis, who works as a brand ambassador, said one of her most cherished memories was getting to work the Pure Michigan 400 Race in Brooklyn, Michigan, in 2015. She bought a race ticket for her Papa, and through working with the Dove Men’s campaign for Dale Earnhardt Jr., she was able to get him an autographed hat, which he still wears. To top it off, their two favorite racers at the time placed in the top five at that race.

“It was very exciting for both of us. He talked the entire drive home,” she recalled. “It was rewarding and one of my most favorite family memories that I have.”

Varney said Davis, herself, has had a huge impact on the organization with her advocacy and also by showing children currently in the program that they can get through this time and come out with dignity and grace.

The additional therapies that are not covered by the price of a wig are “all part of the healing process,” Varney said, explaining that children who are in her program are entitled to take advantage of the therapies and programming for life, not just when they’re getting a wig. A former client who now volunteers with the organization received a wig when she was 4 and had cancer. Now, as an 18-year-old, she is participating in exercise and nutrition classes.

“They feel like they’re getting control of their life back,” Varney said. “Those classes are very important, and the kids can use them at any time, not just when they’re in treatment.”

To vote for Jaeleen Davis and Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan, visit NASCARfoundation.org/Award.

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