Tatiana Jefferson sat in a rolling chair holding a set of purple hair extensions that were about to be braided into her locks.

Today, the 12-year-old will attend her first day of school at Bradley Central Middle School with tightly woven, purple locks to go with her freshly painted purple nails.

"This is going to be the coolest hairstyle I've ever had," she said with a grin. "I can't wait to show it off."

Jefferson was one of more than 100 local girls who got their hair braided on Sunday at the first-ever braid-a-thon at the Youth for Christ Parent Life Center in Kankakee.

About 20 hairstylists and barbers volunteered for the event, which provided free haircuts to kids from kindergarten through 12th grade.

"Your first appearance is everything," said Candice Crews, a cosmetology student at the Paul Mitchell School in Bradley, who helped coordinate the event. "We want the kids to go back to school looking good and feeling confident."

It took more than an hour for each girl to get their hair braided. Stylists pulled out all the works, using lighters to tighten and seal the braids, so they can stay intact for a month.

It was quite a hit, considering the youth center was jam-packed with stylists and young customers, some using phones to get through their spa-like day.

"It's pretty tight," said Anayia Young, 9, of Kankakee, referring to the event and her hairstyle, as she ran a hand through her hair. "It's pretty cool that all the ladies did this for us."

With CM Beauty Supply and community members donating all the materials, parents saved tremendously on the haircuts, which typically cost more than $30.

"This saved us a lot of money and time," said Shanika Johnson, of Kankakee, whose three daughters got their hair braided. "They also offered a variety of styles. My daughters are going to be fresh when they start school tomorrow. I can't wait to see their school pictures."

But this event was much more than hairstyles. Organizers gave each child at least three books, as well as some school supplies, to take home. They also sold new and used school uniforms for $1.

"We just wanted to get some positive vibes out here in Kankakee," said Sade Lawhorn, a 25-year-old cosmetology student at Paul Mitchell. "We wanted to unify the community, and I think everyone is coming together and rallying behind it."

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