Having Fun While Doing Good

Barbara Cheatham doesn’t always sport electric pink hair, but when she does, it's for a good cause.

Her hair transformation came about through a fundraiser she and some 20 others in the low-vision support group at the Timber Ridge at Talus Life Services Community in Issaquah, Washington, conducted. They raised $2,700 in support of BrightFocus’ Macular Degeneration Research and National Glaucoma Research programs.

Most members of the low-vision group have macular degeneration, an irreversible destruction of the central area of the retina, or glaucoma, a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve and can lead to vision loss and possibly blindness. Together, these diseases affect around 276 million people worldwide.

“I joined the low-vision support group because I wanted to be with fellow sufferers to try to help one another come up with solutions to our problems as we had less and less vision and share our feelings about losing our sight,” said Barbara, who has both macular degeneration and glaucoma and has lost nearly all her vision in one eye. “Having the community helps, but we don’t have enough information about the diseases.” 

In thinking of ways to raise money for a cause that was meaningful to them, Barbara thought back to something her son told her on her 90th birthday: “Now that you’re 90, don’t be dignified. Stay silly." 

So she came up with the “undignified” idea of holding a raffle where thewinners would get to choose the color of her hair. While there were some initial skeptics, “They were overruled,” she said, laughing.  

When the fundraising committee, of which Barbara served as chair, discovered the free resources and innovative research funded by Macular Degeneration Research and National Glaucoma Research, they knew that they had found the right fit for their project. 

Word of the fundraiser spread quickly around Timber Ridge, and soon there were three volunteers to dye their hair—Barbara, resident Martha Martin, and Heather Turner, the executive director of Timber Ridge. Members of the low-vision group sold raffle tickets in the lobby, which gave committee members an opportunity to share information about their support group with other residents who opened up about their own vision challenges. 

“Money started coming in, and we were surprised,” Barbara said. “We didn’t think we would make $1,000, and then we ended up with $2,700—nearly triple what we had started out to do!”

Raffle winners were notified with a knock on their apartment door and balloons before they were asked to choose their desired hair color for the volunteers. A group of amused residents watched the transformation take place at the beauty salon—Barbara and Heather to pink, Martha to green.

While the temporary hair dye has worn off, Barbara’s enthusiasm for fundraising hasn’t. She’s already thinking of the next fundraising project for the low-vision group to take on.

“I was excited about the idea that, as a group, we weren’t just insular, talking about our own problems, but that we could make lemonade out of lemons. We could do something that would have broader significance—not just go about our own problems. That sparked us,” she said. “We had so much fun with it.”   

“Our eye doctors are all very proud of us,” she said with a smile.

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