SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - More than two decades ago, one of JoAn Nicely's hair salon clients came to her asking for help finding a wig after experiencing hair loss from her breast cancer treatments.
"She said 'You're my hair stylist. You've got to come through for me.' I said, 'I honestly don't know anything about wigs'," Nicely described.
She dove right in and learned the industry quickly. After successfully finding the right wig for her client, she knew she was on a mission: to find affordable wigs for those fighting cancer and other diseases, hoping to get back their confidence and much more.
"I took that one step further. I never charged for a wig after that," said Nicely. Soon, born the Pink Heart Funds.
Nicely formed a non-profit and her organization began offering more than just wigs. There were also breast prosthetics, special bras, and tons of resources for those trying to get a sense of normalcy back into their lives.
The unimaginable happened in August 2016. Pink Heart Funds' money was virtually wiped clean by a trusted friend and volunteer at the organization, Nicely says.
Melinda Rosetti-Spence pleaded guilty to stealing $266,000 from the funds. "I just thought, oh my gosh, what are we going to do? We're going to have to finally close Pink Heart Funds," said Nicely.
Spence is awaiting sentencing for the crime, while Nicely and her team are left to recover.
"We did have bookkeepers. We did have a professional CPA. But over a period of 18 months, we were being embezzled continuously for a solid 18 months," said Nicely.
Nicely and her team bounced back, determined to not let that keep them from their work. "We never skipped a beat. The money started coming in from people we had helped. They were like, oh my gosh, this place is so amazing. I'm going to give back to Pink Heart Funds," she said.
The Funds now has a new president. Scuba Steve, a well-known Coast figure, recently fought his own battle with cancer. "It's a new beginning. It's going to be incredible. We're moving past that dark spot, so that's the past, we're moving on to a great future. Very bright," said Scuba Steve.
Spirits are up as the organization recovers and continues to help. "It's teamwork and all of the workers are very nice and understanding. I think they know the feeling you have when you've lost some part of your body," said Lady Dell Martin while being fitted at the Pink Heart Funds office in Long Beach.
With a strong group of friends and support from the community, Nicely said that the organization isn't just South Mississippi Strong. "We are Pink Heart Strong," she said.
The Pink Heart Funds gives an average of 1,000 items away per year, including wigs and prosthetics. About 100 of those items go to children.