Kaitlyn Dougherty got her first haircut in three years recently, and in the process raised $3,200 for pediatric cancer research.
What's more, the Richard M. Teitelman School seventh-grader also supplied plenty of material for a wig that will go free of charge to a child who has lost their hair to cancer.
"With all three ponytails, I donated 55 inches. It makes me feel great, because I don't need the hair, and they need it. My hair can grow back," said Dougherty, 12, of the Villas section of Lower Township.
It was just one of the stories to emerge here as students, faculty, administrators and even maintenance workers at the Lower Cape May Regional School District shaved their heads to raise money for the St. Baldrick's Foundation, a volunteer organization that funds pediatric cancer research.
This is the fifth year for the event, and each one has gotten bigger. Five years ago, 20 heads were shaved, and this brought in $11,880 in pledges. On Friday, amid cheering from the student body, 68 heads were shaved, including the dome of state Assemblyman Robert Andrzejczak, a class of 2004 graduate.
"At the time of the shaving, we've raised $33,173, but I'm confident it will reach $40,000 when all the donations come in. That brings us to almost $130,000 over the five years," said English teacher T.J. Belasco, one of the organizers.
In the five years, no participant has raised more in a single year than Dougherty, who admitted that her mother, Georgia, and cancer-surviving grandmother Susan Waltz helped her.
When it came time to cut the three ponytails, the honors were done by 5-year-old cancer survivor Layton Hansen, granddaughter of teacher Donna Hansen, who developed leukemia in 2011 but is now in remission. She now has a full head of hair.
"At this time last year, Layton was bald," Anthony D'Aleo, a teacher and organizer, announced to the crowd. "She's not only cancer-free, she's in kindergarten, and she's enjoying life. She has a special message for everybody shaving their heads today."
"Thank you," Layton said to cheers from the crowd.
Another story surrounded Jay DeVico of Middle Township, a 15-year-old cancer-survivor and a personal friend of teacher and organizer Paul Schulte.
"It's what prompted me to get involved. Jay is in complete remission, so the world is good," Schulte said.
"It's a really good cause, and it's helping a lot of people battling cancer," DeVico said.
Yet another story revolved around the late George Cremin, a local barber who died in a car crash in February. Cremin was involved in the fundraiser every year. Normally it takes seven years of volunteer service to get inducted into St. Baldrick's "Knights of the Bald Table," but Cremin, with approval from the foundation, was inducted on Friday.
"This is our fifth year, and we are inducting our first member. George Cremin is hereby knighted on behalf of his service against childhood cancer," Belasco said.
Andrzejczak, an Iraq war veteran who lost a leg in battle, was another story. Working with Coastal Broadcasting System radio personalities Denis Brown and D.J. Tanner, who also shaved their heads, they raised $1,200.
"My cousin's child had childhood cancer at a very young age, and it just went into remission. Anything I can do to prevent childhood cancer, I have to do," Andrzejczak said.
Hair from the boys pretty much ended up in the trash can. Hair from the girls was sometimes saved to be used to make wigs, a secondary benefit beyond the money raised. There might have been a few exceptions. T.J. Sheeler, 14, of North Cape May, was one boy who grew his hair into a ponytail just for the event.
"It should be long enough to donate to Locks of Love," said his barber for the day, Ashley Blacketer.
"My head feels five pounds lighter," T.J. said afterward.
Cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease among American children, although Belasco said St. Baldrick's has already "made leaps and bounds" in pediatric cancer research. He notes the event can also can help ground students.
"This teaches them to put charity before vanity," said Belasco, who practiced what he preached by giving up his own hair.
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