Manchester Elementary and Middle School students shave for St. Baldrick's

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MANCHESTER — Summer vacation is the perfect time to lose your locks, and for students at Manchester Elementary and Middle School (MEMS) a shaved head holds a little extra meaning. On Friday the school hosted its annual head shaving event to support the St. Baldrick's foundation and Pantene Beautiful Lengths.

This is the ninth year that the school has supported Pantene Beautiful Lengths, for which participants donate eight or more inches of their hair to the organization, which partners with the American Cancer Society to create free, real-hair wigs for women with cancer. While it is only the third year that the school has partnered with the St. Baldrick's foundation, over 40 volunteers shaved their heads entirely to raise funds and awareness for childhood cancer research and eight students cut off over eight inches of their hair for Pantene.

"A colleague of mine sent me the link, and I thought it was a great idea," said Anna Nicholson, a teacher at MEMS and the organizer of the annual shaving event. "We had already been doing the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program, and the first year we had students, staff members, and even folks from Burr and Burton Academy participating. St. Baldrick's is in its third year, and it's just grown."

So far, MEMS has raised over $13,000 to fund cancer research, with the help of stylists from multiple local salons who volunteered their time and supplies for the event.

"This is our third year doing the shaving for St. Baldricks, and I went to school here as did my kids," said Michelle Lewis of Manchester's Green Door Day Spa and Salon, which closed for the morning to participate in St. Baldrick's Day. "We're a local salon here in town and we definitely love to give back. This is absolutely a worthy cause."

With a packed gymnasium, multiple rounds of participants had their heads shaved in front of the cheering crowd. Though most of those getting shaved were MEMS students themselves, participants from Burr and Burton and the Manchester Police Department also went under the buzzer to raise funds.

"Cancer affects all of us in one way or another, and it's nice knowing that there's something we can do to fund research in this area," said Andrew Macarthur, a teacher at Burr and Burton Academy. "It's my second year, and we had some good success last year, so I'm excited to do it again."

"I actually have five children of my own, and I've been very fortunate that all of them are healthy and happy children," said Ryan Matteson, an officer with the Manchester Police Department. "I just wanted to help in any way I could for the children who unfortunately get diagnosed with cancer."Matteson was also joined spontaneously by fellow officers Jason Thomas and Sergeant James Blanchard in getting his head shaved, alongside his mother Paula Matteson, a staff member at MEMS.

"One of my coworkers daughter has defeated cancer," said Matteson. "So that was very inspiring."

The compassion and vigor displayed at MEMS on Friday was the culmination of a year bursting with philanthropy, with the school's Kindness Day program initiative taking place last week. Amongst the upbeat music and laughter, the palpable emotion in the gymnasium was a powerful reminder of the tragedy faced by families struggling with childhood cancer.

"You get to see kids step into this hero role of helping those who have cancer, and there are so many people who are proud of them," said Nicholson. "I'm proud to be a part of it."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.


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