Ten-year-old Sydney Clarke always loved the idea of having long hair, like some of the princess characters from Disney movies such as “Frozen” and “Cinderella.” But Sydney, who was diagnosed with alopecia when she was just a year and a half old, has lost most of her hair.
She got a surprise in her fourth-grade class at Davison Avenue Intermediate School in Malverne on Jan. 31. Members of the Magic Yarn Project, who were dressed as Disney characters, delivered two wigs to Sydney while she was in class. A nonprofit organization, the group donates wigs to children who have lost their hair. Sydney immediately tried both of them on.
“For me it was overwhelming, because I think it really changes how she sees herself,” said Sydney’s mother, Glenda Clarke, of West Hempstead. “This allows the world to see how she views herself.”
The idea for the surprise came about last fall when Amy Gardner, one of the school’s monitors, who had befriended Sydney, thought it would be nice for her to have hair to braid. “I never imagined that this surprise would come together,” Gardner said. “Aside from having my own children, this really was one of the greatest days of my life.”
Sydney has Type 1 diabetes, asthma and thyroid problems, but her mother said that none of her illnesses have stopped her from sharing her spirit. “She likes to pull pranks, she likes to play games, and she’s a sweetheart,” Glenda said. “If she thinks you’re upset or you’re hurt, she’s there to comfort and console you.”
Davison Principal Rachel Gross said that the school aims to celebrate inclusivity and acceptance for all students, and that Sydney’s gift aligns with that mission. “Oftentimes, students with disabilities feel like they’re on the outskirts, or they might feel different,” Gross said. “However, she was the star of the show today, and seeing her smile, you can’t put a price on that.”
Her mother said that it is challenging to provide Sydney with the medications and support she needs every day. Her grandmother Pamela Hector, a lunch monitor at Grace Lutheran Church and School in Malverne, said that sometimes she has to leave work to give Sydney her medications.
“I love helping my granddaughter, but it’s tough,” Hector said. “I’m overwhelmed seeing all of this support today, but I would really be happy if the district would find a way to provide her with a nurse.”
Glenda said it would be helpful if school districts could better guide parents of children with disabilities through the school system. The support isn’t missing at Davison, she added, but it could be tightened.
“What I’m hoping for is that school districts — outside of school districts that are specific for special needs — recognize that children with special needs need a little bit more support, because they can accomplish so much,” Glenda said. “It’s not always in the budget, and I get it, but I think that as more children with disabilities are recognized and we have events like this, it brings about the idea that disabilities can be abilities in different ways.”
Glenda said that Sydney’s surprise should be a steppingstone for children with disabilities, and that events like this one show other parents like herself that people are caring and willing to go above and beyond.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” Glenda said. “Without that village, the child kind of stands by themselves. I hope people realize that there are services and items that can help your child feel like themselves and that you don’t have to do it by yourself. There are people that are willing to help step up.”