Bald is beautiful: Over 100 to shave heads for cancer fundraiser in Saugerties

Team Grant Morse in 2015

To many, the idea of shaving off your hair in front of a packed audience might sound like the kind of dream that wakes you in a cold sweat. To a number of local residents, however, it is the perfect way to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancer.

At last count, 102 people have registered to shave their heads March 5 at the second Ulster County St. Baldrick’s Day fundraiser scheduled for the Saugerties Senior Center. The youngest participants will be from the Saugerties elementary schools. Several have lost friends or classmates to pediatric cancer, or know a student currently in treatment. Organizer Gloria Darmanin notes that these local children are the drive behind the event.

“The children that have been diagnosed in the Hudson Valley have been my inspiration,” she said. “Many know of local Saugerties resident Zach Swart. His mother was our emcee in 2015, and now he is fighting cancer for the third time at 15 years old. Jayden [Holzhauer] was only in the second grade when he signed up to be a shavee on Team Grant Morse in 2015 in memory of other students. Jayden passed away just a few weeks after this from his own unknown cancer.”

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This year, Grant Morse student Molly Napolitano will be joining those shaving their heads to honor these and other children. “I signed up because of all the kids getting cancer in our area,” she explained. “All kids deserve to grow up and be what they want to be.”

Though Napolitano admitted to being a bit nervous about the actual shave, she said she was excited for the event. “I’m sure we will raise a lot of money, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Edie Knisell gets a shave.

Molly’s mother Rachel will also be shaving her head. She recognizes her own nervousness must be nothing compared to what pediatric cancer patients go through. Napolitano was motivated to brave the shave partly because of the lack of funding pediatric cancer receives. “Less than four percent of federal funding goes to pediatric cancer, and only three medicines have come out in the last 20 years, with St. Baldrick’s being part of that,” she said. “It’s unacceptable. There’s no money in it for the pharmaceutical companies. The families depend on organizations like St. Baldrick’s.”
Spreading the word about those statistics is part of the reason Edie Knisell will be shaving for the second time at the March event. After she shaved her head the first time in 2015, she was given a pin that said “Ask me why I’m bald.”

She wore the pin every day. “It gave people permission to be bold,” Knisell said. “They would ask me why, and that was my opportunity to spread the awareness just a little bit further. I haven’t come down off of my soap box since.”

That she would shave again was a no-brainer. “As for shaving in 2017, now it’s personal,” she said. “I have faces to put with the numbers. Sadly, the numbers haven’t gotten better. They’ve gotten worse. We have buttons that say ‘every three minutes’ from the 2015 event. At that time, worldwide, every three minutes a child was diagnosed with cancer. That number is now every two minutes.”

Awareness is one of the goals of the event. On this front, Darmanin believes the mission has been successful. “Every time we get another person to open their eyes and not turn away from childhood cancer, it’s a victory. Every time someone asks a shavee after the event why they are bald and they get to answer that seven children died in the USA from cancer today, another person is now aware. That’s a victory.”

Fundraising is a major part of the effort. At the 2015 event, $88,859 was raised. That was a staggering amount, Darmanin noted, when you consider the event wasn’t “a fancy gala.”

“We don’t have a board of directors,” she said. “This was a very small amount of dedicated people that came together, and it just happened. The majority of us are mothers with young children who just know something needs to be done.” The fundraising goal for the event this year is $88,860. The St. Baldrick’s organization is the largest non-government funder of childhood cancer grants.

Shaving, or supporting an individual or team who is shaving, is not the only way to contribute. On the day of the event, there will be raffles, baked goods and face painting, in addition to music and dance performances.

“We understand that braving the shave isn’t for everyone, but there are other ways that you could be involved,” Darmanin said. “One of my favorite quotes is ‘No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.’ You can still raise money as a volunteer, give a donation to a shavee, hang up a flyer, leave a donation jar at your business, donate a raffle item, or just simply spread the word.”

The event will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 5 at the Saugerties Senior Center, 207 Market Street. Register to shave or donate at https://www.stbaldricks.org/events/Saugerties.

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