MANCHESTER — Green salon capes blanketed 17 chairs in front of 34 participants waiting to get their heads shaved in the Manchester Elementary Middle School (MEMS) gymnasium Thursday morning.
The "Brave the Shave" fundraiser is an initiative to raise money for the St. Baldrick's Foundation, a volunteer organization that started in 2000 to fund research for children fighting cancer. Last year, MEMS reached $12,000 and this year over $13,000 was raised with a goal of $14,000.
"I'm truly touched by the community to support this cause," Anna Nicholson, MEMS community service coordinator and fifth-grade teacher said. "You have to fight the bad with the good and endure the peace."
Family and community members came out on June 2 to support each other in the shavee's decision to lose their hair. Ponytails were chopped off eight participants at the start of the event to be donated to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, a program that partners with the American Cancer Society to make wigs for women battling cancer. Since its inception in July 2006, more than 800,000 ponytails have been donated. Its outreach message is "Donate eight inches," or "Donate eight dollars."
It takes eight to 10 ponytails to make one wig.
About a dozen shavees returned from last year, with all others first timers. Some did it together, like the Triple A Team that consisted of brother and sister Alexander and Abigail and mother Anne Kopeck, who collectively raised over $1,000. Father and daughter Scot and Mischa Emerson also shaved their heads together. Paula Matteson returned as well in honor of her mother who passed away from lung cancer.
Nicholson shared a story about her experience at a summer camp working with children with cancer and how their strength encouraged her to shave her head Thursday. Her son Joe joined her as the last two to be shaved.
"Out of all the funding for cancer that the government gives, childhood cancer research is the least funded," Nicholson said. "It's the most underfunded section of cancer research and that's why St. Baldrick's Foundation was funded and it's specific to children battling cancer. That's why we encourage everybody to do something about it. Whether it's shave your head and raise a lot of money or just reaching out and giving someone support."
Hairdressers volunteered from American Hairlines, Sport Clips Haircuts, Ted's Barber Shop, The Green Door Day Spa and Salon, JCPenney Salon, and others. From American Hairlines, it was Sarah Gaiotti's and Rachel Clift's first time being involved in a St. Baldrick's event.
"I'm honored. It's very emotional," Clift said. "I'm amazed that kids this young are willing to do what they're doing. I have kids in my life and I can't imagine them going through [cancer]."
"We have a Locks of Love program [at American Hairlines]," Gaiotti said. "We wanted to do it because it's such a good cause."
St. Baldrick's' proceeds go to the cooperative research of the Children's Oncology Group and has gathered $100 million in childhood cancer research grants since 2005, according to the foundation's website. One in 285 children in the U.S. will have cancer before age 20, and worldwide, a child is diagnosed every two minutes. Today, about 90 percent of kids with the most common type of cancer will live, but in the 1950s, almost all diagnosed died.
"Life is pretty awesome isn't it? Sometimes life brings us scary things, sometimes awesome things. We grow from it every day. If we can think about that, we can be proud of ourselves, and feel good about it," Nicholson said. "Every three minutes, when we're just going about our day, some child, and some family, has really been deeply affected. So we have to remember that, and that's why we're here today."
Other participants who left MEMS with a shaved head on Thursday include Hogan Noyes, Regan Casey, Taylor Harrington, Teresa Cole, Stuart Moore, Jack Pellerin, Thomas Sheldon, Mark Carthy, Max Brownlee, Grayson Moore, Shaymus Willette, Niall Monahan, Sydney Kulis, Griff Briggs, Chamberland Willette, Vickie Cole, Cameron Roy, Tyler Keyes, Paula Matteson, Gary Mears, Nathan Severance, Derrik Whittemore, Nick Plants, Andrew MacArthur, Gail Gaudette, Sean Young, Joe Mundt, and Laura Keyes.
St. Baldrick's Honored Kid for MEMS is Grace R., a 4-year-old diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She's from Williston and is currently in treatment at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen, according to the foundation's website.
The top three fundraising teams were Team MEMS with $6,767, Team Burr and Burton Academy with $2,380, and Triple A Team with $1,020.02. Nicholson was the top participant raising $1,525, followed by Stuart Moore with $982 and Laura Keyes with $836.
For more information on this initiative, visit stbaldricks.org.