Photos by Max Ryazansky
On the third floor of Christ Hospital, past the efficient hustle and bustle of the nurses’ station, the halls—painted hospital-issue beige—are quiet. But the tones aren’t muted in one room where pink brightens the space and laughter brightens the spirits. It’s the Mo’Hair Foundation salon. The glam décor elevates the mood, but it’s the dynamic woman who runs the salon who lifts the spirits of those who need it most.
Monique Smith-Andrews is the founder of the Mo’Hair Foundation, a nonprofit that provides wigs for those who are suffering from hair loss caused by medical conditions like cancer, alopecia, and lupus.
Smith-Andrews has been running the charity for almost 10 years, but Mo’Hair just found its home at Christ Hospital at the beginning of the summer. Prior to that Smith-Andrews saw Mo’Hair clients in her Jersey City salon, Monique’s Techniques, in McGinley Square.
“The salon is small, and sometimes people don’t want to come because they’re embarrassed to show themselves without hair,” Smith-Andrews says. “In a small setting, you can’t help but see. This is a private setting. I knew people would be more receptive to coming here.” The connection to CarePoint Health also gives her organization an edge: “It solidifies and legitimizes the Mo’Hair Foundation.”
Hair and Health
For years Smith-Andrews hoped to connect Mo’Hair with a healthcare facility, but she couldn’t find the right fit. “I didn’t give up, because I just looked at it like maybe it wasn’t my time,” she says. “I think God does things the way they’re supposed to be. In my mind I knew I would have my opportunity. I knew it was a win-win solution. Some hospitals do it, but no one’s doing it like this.”
Smith-Andrews means that not many charities provide free wigs. Mo’Hair doesn’t do financial checks on potential clients. The organization is supported by fundraising and donations. Smith-Andrews holds events like tea parties and holiday balls to raise money. Mo’Hair also accepts donations on the foundation website.
The Mo’Hair salon in Christ Hospital celebrated its grand opening in June. The event drew a flurry of friends, family, and media. “I never cry, but it just kind of hit me,” Smith-Andrews says. “I came in here, and I thought about my mother. My mother had cancer, so this is like a tribute to her.” Smith-Andrews was in her early 20s at that time, working as a high-end hair stylist. She saw firsthand how an ill-fitting wig can lower the morale of a cancer patient.
She wanted to do something to ease the experience of hair loss for people like her mom. “I didn’t do it then, but I thought one day I’m going to be able to help people who can’t afford it,” Smith-Andrews says. “My mother was a giver, and she always helped people. When I was a kid, I just didn’t understand why, but anybody could come to Josephine, and she would give. As I got older I picked up her trait.”
Head Over Heels
On the day we visited, Smith-Andrews was supposed to see a client who has cancer. They had scheduled a wig fitting, but the woman felt too ill to come to the salon after her chemotherapy. Smith-Andrews says that cancellations happen a lot for this reason, but when she does see a client in need it lifts the person’s self-esteem.
“It’s so rewarding,” Smith-Andrews says. Mo’Hair accepts clients who are not patients of Christ Hospital or CarePoint Health. She sees both men and women. There’s no age requirement. It’s the youngest clients who have a place in Smith-Andrews’s heart.
“There’s this little girl I’ll never forget,” she recalls. “It was in November. I was driving people crazy because I needed that wig for Christmas—it takes six weeks for a wig to arrive—and I’ll never forget, that wig came on Christmas Eve. I was in the shop putting the wig on her on Christmas day. It was such a joyful feeling.”
Smith-Andrews searches through photos on her phone. A collage shows a little girl around age 6 grinning ear to ear. “Her mother said, ‘If you could see my daughter, she’s so different right now. She’s just so happy’’”
“She was just swinging her hair,” Smith-Andrews says. “It’s things like that that make me want to keep doing this.”—JCM