A beauty salon in Encino was buzzing on a Sunday afternoon in late August. More than 200 people visited Epic the Salon throughout the day, getting haircuts, looking longingly at bake-sale goods and browsing through hundreds of items up for silent auction. As they swayed to the music of a DJ, the guests knew their money was doing more than changing their hairstyle: Every penny spent at the day’s event would go to City of Hope — a biomedical research, treatment and educational institution with a focus on fighting cancer and other serious diseases.
The event, dubbed Cuts for a Cure, was held in loving memory of Barbara Klass. After a two-and-a-half year struggle with lymphoma, Klass succumbed to the disease in August 2009.
“We actually planned this event together before she died,” said Morgan Davidson, Klass’ granddaughter and the event’s host.
Morgan wore the same black T-shirt as the other volunteers, which featured the slogan, “Giving back is the new black.” What helped her stand out from the many adult volunteers, however, was the fact that she is only 12 years old.
After making a promise to remain dedicated to raising money for cancer research and increasing awareness about stem cell donation, Morgan saw her upcoming bat mitzvah as an opportunity to honor her grandmother. She felt inspired by her mother — a hairstylist at Epic for almost 16 years — to incorporate a little beauty into her mitzvah project. Choosing haircuts was her way to show that the best things people can do to help others is to use their everyday talents.
“She has a heart of gold,” Gary Davidson, Morgan’s father, said of his daughter. “She’s so thoughtful, so giving and so caring. She’s a special person who has a gift.”
Motivated by the memory of “a very cool grandmother,” Morgan took on a great deal of the event preparation herself, which included recruiting vendors and sending e-mail blasts to friends and family.
“Morgan passed out the letter and talked to business owners and asked them to please help her with her journey,” Arlene Davidson, Morgan’s mother, explained. “So between the Internet, hitting the streets, mail and good recruitment of good help, that’s how we were able to get it all together.”
The items featured in the silent auction ranged from beauty products and salon services to Dodgers tickets and a seven-day Royal Caribbean cruise. The funds raised from these items — and from the haircuts and bake sale — totaled about $23,000.
On the night before her Nov. 27 bat mitzvah, Morgan — whose family are members of Temple Judea — plans to donate all of the money to City of Hope during a presentation. The money will go through the center’s Barbara J. Klass Foundation, which was created in a family effort to promote stem cell research and to aggressively fight cancer. Morgan’s Cuts for a Cure also produced a significant nonmonetary gift: Approximately 20 potential stem cell donors for the organization Be the Match. The family invited the national stem cell and marrow donor registry to set up a booth at the salon and provide information. During the event, Be the Match representatives administered a simple saliva test to check for potentially life-saving donor matches.
“She definitely deserves a party,” Gary Davidson said, “but we can also use this as a platform. There is so much more going on than the dance floor.”
Morgan’s dedication to philanthropy is not aberrant for the Davidson family, and her mother sees such charitable giving as “a part of Jewish life.”
“My kids have so much stuff,” Arlene Davidson said, “and Morgan appreciates the things she has and how fortunate she really is.”
Despite all the attention Morgan is getting for her mitzvah project, her family says she’s really just a normal kid who isn’t interested in standing out or being in the limelight. She took on the challenge to keep a promise to her grandmother.
When asked what she would say to others who have family members battling cancer, Morgan said, “I would tell them that family is the most important thing in the world, and they will always be there for you.”
Morgan wasn’t quite sure how her grandmother would have reacted to the mitzvah project, but her godmother, Jill Cutler, said: “I’m sure that wherever Barbara is, she’s smiling because of what Morgan has done.”