Cousins Ivy Bautista, seated left, and Emmy Guntner, seated right, cut their hair Wednesday at Young Americans Christian School, where they are seniors, in honor of their aunt who recently was diagnosed with breast cancer. Pictured, from left, is seventh-grader Odell Blackmon, senior Lukas Storey, teacher Mary Kelly, senior Kendall Brown and hair stylist Cindy Thomas, whose daughter also attends the school. Staff Photos: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
CONYERS -- Cancer. One word that can change an entire family.
Cousins Emmy Guntner and Ivy Bautista, from Conyers, have had 12 people in their family with cancer, the latest being their aunt in south Georgia.
Now the two seniors at Young Americans Christian School in Conyers are raising money and awareness for the cause.
With the help of fellow senior classmate Abbey Atkins, the girls have raised more than $1,200 so far for the foundation of Atkins' late mom, the Kimberley Chance Atkins Foundation. She died in 1999 after battling breast cancer.
They raffled off a laptop that was donated by Evans Tool & Die and also sold bracelets, tattoos and stickers in just three weeks to raise the money.
One of the driving reasons behind the students and staff at YACS raising the money -- if they raised $1,000, the cousins would cut their hair to honor their aunt, Paula Gullige, who lives in Sylvester.
"She's completely bald," said Guntner about her aunt, who learned of the cancer earlier this year.
Even though they were nervous and scared about cutting their long hair, especially since it was in front of half of the school during chapel, the girls said they want to show support of their aunt, who has had to undergo chemotherapy for treatment.
"I'm proud of them," said YACS Director Jan Taylor. "It's a very touching and brave thing."
The girls will donate their hair to Locks of Love, a public non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children.
About 250 middle and high school students at YACS helped raise the money. They also are bringing in comforting items like scarves for the girls' aunt.
"I think it's awesome how we've all come together," Abbey Atkins said.
She said the money will go toward raising money for a mammography unit at Rockdale Medical Center and a grant through the foundation for women who cannot afford to get mammograms.
"It's real sweet how the students have come together to support them," Taylor said.
Last year, YACS presented the Atkins Foundation a check for more than $5,000 in funds that the school had raised from pink-out volleyball and football games.