Every year, more and more people shave their heads.
It’s not a fashion statement — it’s an effort to raise money to bring an end to childhood cancer.
This year, at Chestnut Hill Elementary, four teachers, an occupational therapist and a friend of the school agreed to shave their heads in exchange for donations from staff, students and families as part of a St. Baldrick’s Day fundraiser. The goal was $500, but the teachers raised nearly $2,000.
“The support we’ve gotten has been amazing,” said sixth grade teacher Larry Lazlo, who organized the event at CHE. “Our principal, Martha O’Leary, is always willing to let us do anything like this that will help kids, and so many people gave money and time. And then there’s the guys that got roped into joining me in shaving their heads.”
At CHE, four teachers (Lazlo, sixth grade teacher Todd Bourcy, fifth grade teacher Daniel Chilbert and fourth grade teacher Aaron Dennis), occupational therapist Jonathan Reid and Ron Salewski, a friend of Chilbert’s, agreed to participate in the school’s first-ever St. Baldrick’s Day fundraiser.
St. Baldrick’s Day got its start in 1999, when Tim Kenny challenged friends John Bender and Enda McDonnell to find a way to give back to society. The three insurance executives ended up turning their industry’s St. Patrick’s Day party into a benefit for kids with cancer. The three planned to raise “$17,000 on the 17th,” recruiting 17 colleagues to raise $1,000 each to have their heads shaved in empathy for children who lost their hair after cancer treatment. But the first St. Baldrick’s event, held on March 17, 2000, far exceeded their expectations, raising over $104,000. St. Baldrick’s is now the world’s largest volunteer-driven fundraising event for childhood cancer research. Thousands of volunteers shave their heads in solidarity of children with cancer, while requesting donations of support from friends and family.
St. Baldrick’s at CHE
Lazlo brought St. Baldrick’s Day to CHE this year after Bourcy participated last year.
“It seemed like such a great idea,” Lazlo said. “Todd had done it last year, and I was a friend of Father [Joseph] Champlin’s [a local priest and author who passed away from cancer in January]. It seemed like a great way to raise awareness and to raise money.”
So on Friday March 7, in celebration of St. Baldrick’s Day, the six men gathered to have their heads shaved by local stylist Marny Baker, who fired up her electric razor while the entire student population chanted, “Shave that head!”
But Baker didn’t shave all of the heads — Lazlo invited a former student to do the honors for him.
“I taught Matt Mulcahy when he was at Soule Road Middle,” Lazlo said. “So I e-mailed him and asked if he wanted a chance to get back at me for everything I put him through when he was in seventh grade by shaving my head. He was only too happy to do so.”
Not everyone was so happy to see the “shavees” go bald — several female staffers, Lazlo said, offered money to Dennis to keep his lovely shoulder-length locks.
But Dennis was undeterred.
“I’ve been growing my hair for six or seven years,” he said. “But I was a competitive swimmer, so I used to shave it. This seemed like a really good reason to do it again.”
Dennis said this was a great idea for a fundraiser.
“It’s so easy,” he said. “I just sit there and someone cuts off my hair. I don’t have to do anything, and we raised so much money.”
Ending childhood cancer
As Lazlo’s connection to Father Champlin proves, most people know someone who has been touched by cancer, another important reason to bring St. Baldrick’s Day to CHE.
“Everybody knows somebody who’s had cancer, or, unfortunately, who has died of cancer,” Chilbert said.
Chilbert was teaching at CHE eight years ago when a girl in his class, Rebecca Pauly, passed away after battling cancer.
“We’re trying to prevent that from happening,” Chilbert said. “We’re trying to bring an end to childhood cancer.”
Most importantly, the teachers’ willingness to alter their physical appearance and the school community’s generosity reflect one of CHE’s biggest missions: to instill good character traits in its students.
“We’ve been trying over the last couple of weeks to work this into all of the character ed stuff we do,” Lazlo said. “We tied it especially to the traits of caring, kindness and responsibility. We want them to understand that these are traits they take into the real world. That’s an important lesson for them all to learn.”
Another important lesson the St. Baldrick’s event taught kids, according to occupational therapist Reid, was empathy.
“A lot of kids asked me if I was nervous about being bald,” Reid said. “They were really surprised that I was willing to be bald. I guess I was surprised by all of the negative attention.”
Reid said that attention gave him some insight into the minds of those children who lose their hair after cancer treatment.
“It was a learning experience for me,” he said. “It helped me to empathize with the kids. Hopefully, with the six of us shaving our heads, it will make those kids see that it’s not so bad to be bald. It will help them to not feel so different.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.