SOUTHWICK – “It’ll grow back” became a familiar refrain last Sunday afternoon at the Southwick Inn as dozens of willing participants lined up to have their once full heads shaved to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation an organization dedicated to cancer research for children.
St. Baldrick’s, a combination of “bald” and the patron saint of Ireland, Patrick, was started in 2000 by three men in the reinsurance industry, Tim Kenny, John Bender, and Enda McDonnell. They searched for a novel way to give back to the community.
They decided to focus their efforts on children’s cancer research and decided the company’s annual St. Patrick’s Day party would be a perfect venue. One suggested that they shave the others head for money as a sign of solidarity with children who lost their hair from cancer treatments.
The three set their initial fundraising goal at $17,000. In the end, $104,000 was raised that first year. Since that first event, the organization has raised over $51 million with the head shavings.
Southwick Organizer Joan Perkins-Smith said the money raised at events nationally and in 18 countries worldwide, goes to CureSearch, an organization that issues grants and fellowships for children’s cancer research.
She became involved when she visited her daughter, Pam, five-years ago in Colorado Spring, Col., and attended her first St. Baldrick’s event. “I thought this is really a good cause and it’s a lot of fun and I’m going to shave my head next year when I get back home.”
When she did get back home, Perkins-Smith discovered that only two cities in New England held St. Baldrick’s, Boston and New Haven, Conn. “I thought, well, I guess I’ll have to start my own event.” Perkins-Smith kept her promise and has shaved her head twice.
She put the clippers away, though, as she performs in community theater and finds that parts for a bald woman are hard to come by.
Her daughter and son-in-law, J.W. Baker, who now live in Vermont, were at this year’s event in Southwick. She pointed at J.W. and at his pre-shaved head that contained a thick tuff of curly hair on top and dyed in color that appeared as though someone dumped a Mello Yello on his head.
With a suggested donation of $50, Perkins-Smith said that some the money raised helps locally, as Bay State Medical Center in Springfield has been a recipient of past research fellowships.
Stylist Susan Shlosser and Carrie Gobeille of Amici Salon in Southwick donated their time and talent for the event. For Shlosser, the owner of Amici, this is her fourth year shaving heads.
“I think it’s fun and a really good way to give back to the community,” said Shlosser. “It doesn’t take a lot of skill to shave a head but I have fun doing it. I do tic-tac-toe, male patterned baldness, if you want to see that. We just have a good time on it.”
Perskins-Smith invited Keith Kennedy to speak at on Sunday. His son, Darren, now 22-years-old, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma halfway through his freshman year at the University of Kansas.
Before Darren learned he had the disease, the then 18-year-old was a sought after scholar-athlete who routinely ran a mile in 4 minutes and 20 seconds. With treatment he able to return to school and begin his life again, that was until he relapsed last August.
Darren received a stem cell transplant a few months ago. As of Sunday, he was on day 128. Since the transplant, he battled pneumonia twice, a collapsed lung, his liver shutdown at one point, and has fought off viruses.
He must wear a mask and gloves to ward off germs and will remain in quarantine for one year. Kennedy thanked the soon-to-be bald crowd, on behalf of his son, for their fundraising efforts and their dedication to the cause.
“The one thing that you can give, and we spent a lot of time in Boston at Dana Farber and Brigham & Women’s Hospital, and when you walk into that space, the one thing that you see on everyone’s face is this thing about hope. It’s hope,” said Kennedy. “Whether it’s a small child or whether it’s a person who is in their seventies or eighties, they’re all there for one thing and that’s hope.”
He said cancer survivors and their families are “hope junkies” that sustain them through difficult times. Readers can follow Darren’s journey from his earliest treatments to his present condition on his blog: dkdelicious.blogspot.com.
To donate or to learn more about the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, please go to their website at http://www.stbaldricks.org.