The year 2000 marked the first St. Baldrick’s Day event, held in a Manhattan pub on St. Patrick’s Day. A year prior, three friends and business colleagues – reinsurance professionals Tim Kenny, John Bender and Enda McDonnell – had challenged each other to give back to their communities in return for their good fortune in business. McDonnell’s thick head of hair inspired Bender to come up with an idea: Raise $17,000 on the next St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, by shaving 17 heads for donations to benefit the Children’s Oncology Group, a National Cancer Institute project devoted to research on childhood cancers.
To say that the plan worked is an understatement. The trio raised more than $100,000 at that first head-shaving fundraiser, and repeat events brought in $1 million by 2002. The nonprofit St. Baldrick’s Foundation was established in 2004 to maximize the volunteer-driven effort, and since then, communities across the country have organized under the foundation’s banner to put on head-shaving events in their own towns to raise funds for childhood cancer research.
Saugerties has hosted a biennial event since 2015. The Ulster/Greene County St. Baldrick’s Day event this year will be held on Sunday, March 3 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. inside the joined cafeterias at the Saugerties Junior/Senior High School, located at 310 Washington Avenue Extension.
The purpose of the fundraiser is a serious one, but there’s plenty of fun on tap for attendees, who are encouraged to wear green and gold: green for obvious St. Patrick’s Day associations and gold as the color of ribbon that represents childhood cancers. The Hudson Valley Youth Chorus will open the event at 11:15 a.m. after the event’s honorees arrive: a group of children who are fighting childhood cancers. (They’re driven around town first in a donated vehicle and then brought into the event “celebrity-style.”)
Volunteers from Face Painting by Crystal and About Face will be on hand to embellish little faces all day, and Saugerties-based licensed massage therapists Sakinah Irizarry and Aubrey Zambrella will give chair massages. (Both services will be provided exchange for donations.) The Kingston-based Energy Dance Company will perform at 1 p.m.; and at 3 p.m., Celtic Heels Irish step dancers will also entertain.
The main draw, however, will be the head-shaving, done by licensed stylists and barbers from local salons and barber shops who volunteer their services. “It’s really quite the sight,” says event co-host Arlene Deahl. “We wind up with stacks of tissue boxes all around the room. There’s nothing like watching the people who do this: the firefighters, or teachers and students, or a bunch of women who get together to do this as a team, together. It brings you to tears so many times during the day.”
Childhood cancers are shockingly common. According to the national St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a child is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes in the US, yet less than four percent of the National Cancer Institute’s budget is directed to childhood cancer research.
The 2015 event registered 109 “shavees” and raised nearly $90,000, and in 2017 more than $108,000 was raised through 200 shavees. The goal this year, say the organizers, is “bigger and balder!”
Participants offering activities or donating goods to the event are growing each year, too, says Deahl. “People get wind of us, and then they get involved and jump right into our circle. Once you’re in it, it draws you back in to help.” Pizza and hot dogs will be available for purchase, alongside a large bake sale with goods donated by home and professional bakers from throughout two counties. Divergent Coffee of Saugerties will sell coffee, with all proceeds donated to St. Baldrick’s. There will be a book donation table and a few tables of kids’ activities, including one sponsored by the Ben’s Builders LEGO Club, a group organized by a dad in honor of his young son who had cancer. The Moment of Magic Foundation will send volunteers who provide in-depth characterizations of superheroes and fantasy characters to amaze the kids, and a big raffle will offer the chance to win many items donated by local businesses from all over Ulster and Greene Counties. Raffle prizes include gift certificates to spas, fitness facilities and restaurants and other goodies such as four passes to Zoom Flume.
“When we began this, we were thinking we’d register maybe a dozen people to shave their heads and raise $1,000 or so,” says Deahl. “We had really low expectations of what we were capable of, though; we blew it out of the water. Now that we’ve realized the magic of what we have, we’re ready to bring it to the next level.”
Ulster/Greene County St. Baldrick’s Day event, Sunday, March 3, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Saugerties Junior/Senior High School, 310 Washington Avenue Extension, Saugerties; www.stbaldricks.org/events/mypage/11646/2019, www.facebook.com/bravetheshavesaugerties.