October is nationally known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To honor the women who battle this disease, we at Estetica Magazine are celebrating some of the Breast Cancer “Thrivers” we know in our community and are highlighting a very special organization that some might call the beauty industry’s “breast kept secret”!
So to raise awareness about hairdressers battling breast cancer, we are shining a light this month on The Jill Foundation. This is their story.
In early 2004, Jill Etzold Kester, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer, and faced with surgeries and treatments, she fought each battle until that October when she lost the war. She left behind two young daughters, extended family and countless friends and a devoted and loyal clientele in Orange, CA. She was just 43 years old, and Jill was a hairdresser.
While she spent years as an accomplished and beloved hairstylist, Jill’s greatest accomplishment occurred posthumously. Her fight against breast cancer became a catalyst for building a community of hairdressers devoted to helping other hairdressers with the same diagnosis. Her legacy is The Jill Foundation.
Jill spent the last 15 years of her career at Artistic Hair in Orange, CA working along side Barbara Nolasco. Placing great importance on philanthropy as part of their salon’s core culture, in 1996, the Artistic Hair family decided to start raising money to fight breast cancer through their annual “Cut-A-Thon” with all proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society. They knew their contributions would always help, but they also wanted to make a more lasting impact on the beauty industry, particularly the hairdressing community. Barbara Nolasco explained just how The Jill Foundation was formed. “Shortly before she died, Jill and I were together alone in her hospital room. She was adamant about me starting a foundation for hairstylists in her condition. She had been a constant supporter of the Cut-A-Thon, and felt the proceeds could instead be used to benefit the hairstylists directly who are diagnosed with breast cancer.”
Artistic Hair Salon’s 2004 Cut-A-Thon was dedicated to supporting Jill and her family and was the most successful to date, raising $12,000. A week later Jill passed away. During the next few years, Barbara did research to develop a plan to help hairdressers who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2008, Nolasco called Derek Benson, Jill’s best friend, and Jerry Grinstain, Jill’s brother, to begin the process of creating The Jill Foundation.
According to Julz Coda, a Los Angeles hairdresser diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2018, “As hairdressers, we’re often self-employed, often with no health insurance, or even just under-insured, no disability, and rarely any advocates to help us navigate when we have serious medical problems.” Julz and her boss, Antonio Lobato of Sutra Salon, had participated in several fundraising efforts for The Jill Foundation over the years. “I always loved working with TJF. I loved their dedication to our community and their generosity to their recipients. But never in a million years did I think I would need their help.”
After her breast cancer diagnosis, Antonio and Sutra Salon helped Julz apply for assistance through The Jill Foundation, and because of this amazing community of hairdressers, Julz was honored as the 17th beneficiary of assistance from The Jill Foundation. Barbara came to Sutra Salon, where Julz works, and presented her with a check personally. As Julz continues to battle not only her breast cancer but also with insurance companies, the generous gift from The Jill Foundation allows for a stylist like Julz going through breast cancer treatments to pay bills, rent, and regular life expenses. “We don’t make money if we aren’t behind the chair! So the financial fear that came along with my diagnosis and knowing I’d be out of work for several months, was crippling,” Julz recalls as she expressed her gratitude toward the help The Jill Foundation was able to provide for her and other hairdressers in the same situation.
The Jill Foundation’s annual Cut-A-Thon event, along with other fundraisers coordinated and sponsored by those who loved Jill, now benefits local hairstylists battling breast cancer. The Jill Foundation’s contribution to hairdressers with breast cancer is unparalleled. Barbara Nolasco and the whole team at TJF are dedicated to making a difference and also to raising general awareness about health in the beauty industry by taking care of oneself and each other. “TJF exists because of the amazing community of people that have been so generous and supportive from the beginning. We could never do this without them!” says Nolasco of all the amazing support the foundation receives. The Jill Foundation exemplifies what it means to be a stylist: the beauty, the relationships, the connection, and the support.
If you or a fellow hairdresser is suffering from breast cancer or to learn how you and your salon can get involved, please contact @thejillfoundation
By Julz Coda and Liz Diaz @beyondbeautyschool