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Sunday was wonderful. Sad, happy, moving, chaotic, upbeat, serious, silly. Wonderful.

Thank you to everyone who helped the day run smoothly, so smoothly, in fact, that we finished shaving 170 heads in just over three hours. All of the volunteers, from the hard working barbers to the kids hawking baked goods, made our event the success that it was.

And it was indeed a success! Right now, we have $100,201 online plus another $3,381 in checks that I mailed today. I struggled a bit with our goal this year, after such a remarkable 2014. I knew that having two sick children in our neighborhood contributed in a big way to the $124K we made last year. From Carolyn’s unprecedented $12,000+ shave to the impressive showing at Roxboro Middle School, we would have been hard-pressed to match those incredible earnings. But still, I went big and set our initial goal at $125,000. About two weeks ago, I was feeling a bit disappointed at our mediocre progress (I’m not sure whether I’m an eternal optimist or just plain greedy because there was nothing mediocre about what we accomplished!), but I began debating what to do: Should I lower our goal? To a more attainable and realistic $100,000? That felt so defeatist. I didn’t want to give up! But we simply weren’t going to raise $125K, even I had to admit that.

I finally settled on $111,000, a nice in-the-middle sum that included my favorite number. And I’m glad I did, because I’m fully confident that we’ll reach it. I’ve followed my participants’ pages and their totals are rising every day, especially those of the women who did the full shave. No doubt, they’ve gotten enough stares and questions and shocked responses (“You really did it!”) that they’ve garnered additional donations. All of that, plus the couple thousand we should make from the Dewey’s Pizza School benefit in June and I think we’ll be there.

But once we’re in that room, putting the “community” in Community Center, the money matters less and less. Whether you raised $50 or $3,000, every one of you who set foot on that stage made a powerful statement. To sick children, you said, “I stand with you. You are not alone.” To your peers, you said, “I can see outside of myself. There are things more important than how I look.” To the world, you said, “I am willing to sacrifice on behalf of others, even others I don’t know. I can make a difference. You can too.”

Everyone in that room heard you. Everyone was moved by your generosity, your kindness, and your courage. We all watched our children, the little people who are supposed to look up to us, do things we might not be brave enough to do (I’m certainly not). And we watched our own peers do the very same things. We witnessed people growing closer, mother and daughter teams shaving, fathers and sons, brothers and cousins and classmates and friends doing something big, side by side. Which is the only way we should ever be when we do something big.

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I saw three children, two boys and a girl, pay tribute to their father in the way that he would have chosen had he had the chance. They climbed on a stage and sat with their friends and schoolmates to make the world a better place. And then they went to his funeral. It’s not the way the childhood should work, there’s no doubt about that. It’s far, far from fair. But they did it and it made them each smile. At least a little.

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I watched a beautiful young woman shave her head in memory of her mother, with tears streaming down her face. And another young woman, with full pregnant belly, making the world a little safer for her unborn child. I watched a six-year old girl and her mother holding hands with the clippers buzzing above their heads, their eyes on each other, their hearts with their lost friend.

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And the boys. I know I spend a lot of time highlighting the girls and the women, but this is a big deal for the boys too. It requires courage and a willingness to stand up and truly be seen, stripped of that thing that makes you simultaneously stand out and blend in. One, who’s shaved with us since the beginning, said that he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue this year now that he’s in middle school. Looks matter to the fellas too, you know. But then (and I quote), “I thought that this might save my future children from having cancer, and I never looked back.”

And that’s why we do this. So that not one single one of those kids who joined us on Sunday, not one 4-year old or one 15-year old, has to hear the words, “Your child has cancer.” And that they certainly never, ever have to hear the words, “There’s nothing else we can do.”

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I’m gonna say the same thing here that I say every year, because it’s the only thing that deserves to be said at this moment:

THANK YOU.

I am humbled and honored to be able to bring this event to this community and I am humbled and honored by how enthusiastically this community embraces this event. Your eager participation and your incredible generosity, both of spirit and of all things tangible, are beyond measure.

As of right now, between our online donations and the cash and checks we collected today, we’ve raised $98,673. I have no doubt that we will creep over the $100,000 mark in the next few days and even reach our very ambitious goal of $111,000 by the time the fiscal year ends in June. (That means you can keep giving, people!)

There were quite a few highly emotional moments today that I’ll share in the next few posts, but for now, please rub your fuzzy heads, pat yourselves on the back, hug a bald person, and watch Fox 8 news in the morning (8am?) to see Braedan, already bald, and his classmate Joey, who’s shaving on the air, tell you why they do what they do.

I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart.

In four more days, I will be surrounded by bald heads. In fact, many of you reading this will be surrounded by bald heads. In addition to the 160 registered participants at my event this Sunday (you read that right: 160 participants!), another 114 students will shave at University School on Friday (and yes, as of this moment in time, we ARE beating them in the fundraising department), plus 56 people at Rainbow on Friday morning, 180 in Rocky River on Saturday and 70 more at A. J.Rocco’s on Monday. So we should ALL be surrounded by bald heads by this time next week.

What an extraordinary year this is turning out to be.  I am completely blown away by the enthusiasm and generosity of spirit that this has generated in our community.  We have four elementary teams from the Cleveland Heights-University Heights district, plus Roxboro Middle School and two teams at Heights High, in addition to four elementary teams from Shaker, one from Lakewood and another 24-member strong team from Gesu School in University Heights.  Imagine what those school hallways will look like on Monday as those brave children walk proudly to their classes.

Oh, and have I mentioned the money we’ve raised? My initial goal was $60,000, but we are now over $70,000 and I think I need to up our current goal of $75,000 yet again. We have blown past every expectation I’ve had for what this year could become. More people, more schools, more money. I am so so thrilled (and a little nervous about how the whole thing will roll out on Sunday), but mostly I am moved.

I am moved by the number of young children stepping forward to stand in solidarity with those in treatment. I am moved by the number of girls and women (19 in all!) who are loudly proclaiming that how they look does not define how beautiful they are.  I am moved by the number of teachers sitting side by side with their students as live out this lesson in generosity. I am moved by the mothers and fathers and sister and brothers and friends of survivors and those currently in the fight who are saying, “You don’t have to go this alone. I am right here with you all the way.” I am moved and deeply saddened as I read through the donations on my participants’ pages and see how many people give “in memory” of someone.

We have lost too many people already. All of us have: parents and grandparents, siblings, friends and spouses, and — saddest of all — children. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can do better. The grants that St Baldrick’s awards to doctors and researchers truly do better; they are making a difference. And so are all of you, by shaving, by cutting, by volunteering, by raising money and by giving money. We are doing better.

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St. Baldrick’s is less than one month away and we are well on our way to the most successful year yet. As of this moment, there are 84 people signed up and nearly $17,000 raised.  This is way ahead of where we’ve been in the past, so I am super excited, especially since the vast majority of fundraising tends to happen in the final week.

I feel like the movement I’ve been hoping to start in our community is really and truly happening.  We have teams of kids from four elementary schools in CH-UH and four in Shaker plus a Gesu Team, a Rox Middle team, and several from Heights High. We also have tons of girls, not just cutting and donating their hair, but many actually shaving, including four Heights High girls (the Bald Babes) and 4th graders from both RoxEl and Fairfax and my sweet little friend Sara Schubert, a Fairfax second grader. These girls display a sense of self-confidence and self-awareness that is most impressive to me.  I’ve spoken with several of them about their decision, trying to make sure that they understand the impact of what they’re doing (as well as the dreadfully slow growing-out period they’ll have to endure!). They’ve all responded to me with such maturity and careful thought, that I am sort of blown away. We hear a lot in today’s society about how girls are bombarded with princess images and made to believe that their looks are of singular importance in their lives. And yet these girls have stated their goals with such simple clarity, as though physical appearance were far down on their list of defining characteristics: “I know I may look funny, but I’m doing to for something good so that’s okay.” Or, “Well, I think I’ll look cool with a shaved head!” I am completely moved by their commitment and their gutsiness and can’t wait to celebrate them at our event.

Another thing that I’m very excited about for this year is that I’ve finally convinced Mark to shave at my event instead of downtown like he usually does.  This is his seventh year, which means he’ll get inducted into the Knights of the Bald Table, an exclusive St Baldrick’s club for long-term shavees (that’s written with a wink and a nudge since there are no real perks to such knighthood). But now I will have the honor of knighting him, which I believe will be highly motivating to the kids present who are in their second or third year of shaving. Braedan will be next in that regard and is already eagerly awaiting his own knighthood in two years.

All in all, I think this event is extremely empowering for young people, as it gives them an opportunity to truly make a difference in their world. They are giving away a literal piece of themselves on behalf of others, and while it’s certainly a fun and cool thing to participate in with their friends, it is also a meaningful and often very powerful experience. I am so proud to be able to bring them this chance to change the course of someone’s life, as they raise money to save the next kid diagnosed, someone they don’t and will likely never know.  We have a seventh grader from Rox Middle who’s currently in treatment for leukemia and his mother said he was initially very hesitant about being honored by this event, as he’s usually the one raising money or doing good for others. I told her to make sure he knows that his participation in this event is for others. Unless he remains in treatment for many many years (which I sincerely hope he doesn’t), the money that is raised today in his name and in his honor will be used for treatments for some child diagnosed well into the future. Likewise for Austin, who is always a bit overwhelmed (and even surprised) by the number of kids who say they’re doing this for him, while Austin will never benefit from the new cancer research that gets funded by St Baldrick’s. At least, I hope he won’t since I hope he never needs treatment for cancer again. If we wanted to do something truly for him, we’d raise money for kidney research! But this isn’t about us, this is about the families who come next, the families that don’t yet know their world will be rocked by childhood cancer. This is to ease the path of the next child and the next mother and the next brother who have to bear this terrible burden.

This is why we do what we do. This is why people shave. And this is why we come to you year after year asking for your financial support. I will keep coming back to you because you also have the chance and the power to change the course of someone’s life. You too can sign up to shave your head, by linking to our event page here. Or you can make a donation on the heads of any of these brave men, women and children. Austin is here, Braedan here and Mark here.

On behalf of my extremely lucky family and on behalf of all those who don’t yet know how unlucky they may be, we thank you.

Time to move on to the next big thing . . . St. Baldrick’s!

For those of you new to my blog (or for anyone who needs a refresher course in just how awesome people can be), check out these old posts to learn about the incredible St. Baldrick’s Foundation and the even more incredible men, women and children who shave their heads each year to raise money for pediatric cancer research. These are last year’s highlights: The I’m-Actually-Doing-This! Moment, “Great Things,” and Pride. And these are from 2012, the first year we held our own head-shaving event in Cleveland Heights: Noble, Heroes, Thank You, The Petri Dish, and Most of all.

I know, it’s only December (only December?!) but registration opened early this year so our 2014 event is live online and ready for shavees.  We’re booked at the Cleveland Heights Community Center for Sunday, March 16 from 1 to 4pm.  I might make it longer if we have too many shavees (a problem I’m willing to handle!) or perhaps add additional barbers. Whenever you’re ready, get on there and sign up your kids. . . or yourself.  We will again be cutting and donating the hair of girls and women who have at least eight inches of not-color-treated hair to sacrifice (pas moi). That raised an extra $1,500 last year. And I’m really hoping to have teams from more and more schools this year. I know we’ll have a strong Team Fairfax, as well as one from Roxboro and hopefully Heights High and Gesu.  I think Canterbury School will represent this year and maybe we can get Boulevard and Noble in on the action too (hint, hint). Shaker is ready to revive old rivalries as I expect serious teams from both Fernway and Onaway (and if you’re a member of tiger Nation, that should really get you psyched up to shave). There are a couple other exciting additions to our usual crowd of shavees, but I’ll reveal those a bit later.

Leading up to our event in the past, I’ve visited schools during the day and spoken directly to kids in their classes about childhood cancer, St. Baldrick’s and what they can do to get involved. This gets the kids plenty excited, but (being kids) they also tend to gloss over some of the important details and I inevitably get phone calls from confused parents, saying, “Uuuummm, hello? I was told to call you. My son says he wants to shave his head and I’m, like, okay with that, but I have no idea what for….” So this year, I think I should cut out the middle man/middle child and speak directly to the parents. If you have an interested group or even just a potentially interested group at your school, contact me and we’ll try to plan for me to attend a January or early February PTA meeting.

I’ve decided to go big and bold this year and raise our event goal to $60,000. The first year we made $37, 271 and last year $45,030, but I’ve had enough of this slow inching upward and am confident that this is our year. Heck, I think we could make $75,000 if we really got enough kids involved, but I don’t want to stress myself out trying to reach that goal. Each of the past two years, I’ve felt a surging panic in the weeks prior to the event, certain that everyone’s forgotten us, that they’re “over” childhood cancer and there’s no way we’ll reach our stated goal. And then the last week arrives and, with it, at least one thousand dollars in donations per day. We surpassed our goals in both 2012 and ’13, so I don’t see why we won’t carry on that tradition in 2014.

St. Baldrick’s is a fun and playful celebration, a beautiful way for people, young and old, to feel the power of making a difference. We laugh and spray our heads green and eat shamrock cookies. But it is also very serious work. There are thirty-seven children who will be diagnosed with cancer today. One fifth of them will not survive. Another two-thirds will live with lifelong health complications as a result of their treatment. This is not okay. We can change things. You can change things. Right here, right now.

Our St Baldrick’s adventures are not yet over.  Tomorrow, Mark will shave his head for the sixth year in a row at AJ Rocco’s downtown.  The schedule is a bit different this year, with the head-shaving event taking place before the parade instead of after.  It makes a lot of sense since the meaning of people’s sacrifice can be easily overshadowed by the throngs of drunk people meandering through the bar. But it’s also sort of a bummer because I’m not sure I can muster the will to drink beer that early in the day (for the sake of St Patrick, though, I will certainly try . . . I am a Gallagher, after all).

One of the cool things about tomorrow is that the executive director of the national St Baldrick’s Foundation is coming from California to knight a true Cleveland St Baldrick’s hero: Tom “the Fro” Barnard.  This man, who has a stuffy ol’ day job at the Art Museum, grows his hair from March 17 to March 17 every year. And he is not called The Fro for nothing. Really, check out his page in the link above or just look below.

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In the past six years, he has raised $33,000 for St Baldrick’s and is poised to hit the $40,000 mark any minute now. As far as I know, he has no personal connection to childhood cancer; this has just become his thing. And he’s embraced it in a really big way. And now, in St Baldrick’s hallowed tradition, shavees are welcomed into the Knights of the Bald Table in their seventh year. So we will be there by noon tomorrow to witness Tom’s grand event.

Join us if you’d like, even though the weather won’t quite compare to last year, when my children wore shorts (look!):photo(53)

Or at least plan to be their next year when my own sweet Mark will become a  knight.  (He always has been, if you ask me . . .)

Pride gets a bad rap. You know, being one of the seven deadly sins and all. I don’t really get it (I’m not anti-lust either, but we don’t need to go there). I mean, I see how pride can be a negative, if you’re excessively proud without good reason, if you’re proud of the wrong things (your looks, your wealth, your power). But I also see pride as an appropriate reward for doing what’s right and as a motivator to do what’s right again.

Those kids — and adults — who shaved their heads last week were proud of themselves. Deservedly so. They should feel pride; they earned it. Their pride will be one of the reasons they come back and do this again next year. Or it will spur them on to take other forms of positive action in the world.

I felt proud when Braedan told me I “do great things.” It didn’t make me want to sit back and rest on my laurels; it made me want to do more great things, if for no other reason than to show my children the impact they can have on the world.

Pride is beautiful too; especially when it shines innocently on the face of a child who has just discovered an empowered sense of self or on a parent who has watched their baby do something big and wonderful.  Just look at these:

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Here’s another boy who should be mighty proud of himself. Spencer signed up a mere ten days before the event and managed to raise $1,180 without a single donation over $100. Fifty-three different people contributed on his head. Fifty-three! What an incredible show of support that is. (And what a lot of Thank You notes he has to write!)

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And then there’s this guy, probably the proudest of the bunch. And with good reason. In the four years that Braedan has shaved his head in solidarity with his brother, he has raised an incredibly impressive $13,153 for the St Baldrick’s Foundation. Ponder that for a moment. $13,153, . . . from a child. No wonder he looks like this:

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Even the smallest among us can feel pride. One of my favorite St. Baldrick’s moments this year happened two days after the event, when I received a surprising text from my sister-in-law. My nephew Hill, who was still two on Sunday but has since turned three, announced at the dinner table Tuesday night that he wanted to shave his head too, like his big brother and cousins. Up went the family, straight to the bathroom for the clippers, and what emerged is our youngest-ever (and plenty proud) shavee:

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And here’s another thing to be proud of. For every single person who shaved their head or every single person who donated a few bucks, this is for you:

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And moments like this:

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So hold you heads high and be proud. You deserve it.

I should start by saying we have now raised $43,291, including the checks I mailed today (which won’t likely show up on individual shavee pages for a few weeks).  Which means that we are a mere $1,709 away from my original and very ambitious $45,000 goal. Which also means that if every one of the 75 shavees raised just $23 more, we would reach that goal. Twenty-three dollars!  Let’s do this, people.

More pictures and more stories: We had a lot of school teams this year, which is exactly what I want this event to become and what I hope drives our numbers up even higher in the future. Fernway School in Shaker, home to two preschool buddies of Braedan and Austin, fielded a team of ten kids and one dad and is poised to grow by leaps and bounds next year.

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There were also five kindergarten students from Gesu who shaved, many of them for the second time.

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And then there was the Heights High team (of course, one of my favorites), the Buzz Buddies. This one was spearheaded by a girl, a 17-year-old senior who shaved her head clean bald. I have to admit, these are the ones that get me the most, because it’s something I would never have been brave enough to do as a 17-year-old girl. I was gusty (still am), but not that gutsy (still aren’t). So I watched in awe as Katy raised significant sums of money and rounded up five of her (male) friends to join her and then hopped into that chair without a second thought.

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And of course, there was a Team Roxboro, another personal favorite. This one was captained by our sweet friend Charlie who, as a first grader, has raised more than $2000 in his two years shaving, and was joined this year by his uncle.

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And there was the hard-to-beat Team Fairfax, with fourteen students and one mom (who cut and donated). I think it’s safe to say that it’s cooler to be bald in that building this week than not. And I can pretty much guarantee that their academic performance has improved now that they can see the board. Just look at this shaggy-haired bunch of ragamuffins:

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I have still more to post tomorrow, but in the meantime, check out this photo gallery.

I had my own hero moment on Sunday afternoon, an all-this-work-over-the-past-few-months-planning-organizing-scheduling-emailing-promoting-reminding-pleading-prodding-begging-nagging has been worth it kind of moment, when we got into the car to go home and Braedan said, “Thanks, mom. You do great things.”

Thank you, thank you, thank you. To everyone. To all of the hundreds of people who donated money on the heads of our shavees. To our tireless barbers from Quintana’s and Shawn Paul for putting everyone at ease and working without complaint in such good spirits for so many hours. To Mike Kenney who entertained the kids with juggling and balloon art. To all of my friends (including both my mom and my honey) who volunteered their afternoon to check people in, collect cash and checks (tougher than it sounds), sell baked goods or take more than 1,500 pictures (Dallas was a busy woman!). Thank you to everyone (I have no idea who) who baked those yummy looking treats, which brought in an additional $220. And of course, the biggest and most enthusiastic THANK YOU to every man, woman and child who shaved their head or cut and donated their hair.

As of this moment in time, we have raised $43,101.71. Yup, that’s right: seventy-one cents. I wasn’t kidding when I said every penny counts. And the total continues to rise online. We may reach my original $45,000 goal after all.

That is really something. Really really something to be proud of, for all involved, certainly not just me. And more than anything, everyone should be proud of the very brave souls who climbed into those barber chairs and allowed strangers to shave their heads completely bald. It is not a small thing to do. It is a big thing, even for the men with little hair. Even for the littlest kids who don’t care what they look like. Especially for the women and girls who do. It is a serious and powerful statement to make to the children currently battling cancer. And to all those who love them.

I’m only gonna mange to tell a couple of the stories tonight, so you’ll all have to check back tomorrow. But let’s start with the father-son team who went head-to-head in a heated battle to see who could raise more money.  The younger won (ah, youth always wins, doesn’t it?), by about $80, but together they raised more than $6000. Now that’s a competition we can all support.

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We don’t actually know them all that well, but when asked why they shave, the father simply said, “We do this for Austin.”

And then there was Erica, who emailed me out of the blue a few months ago asking if women could join our event too. “Sure,” I told her, knowing women generate lots of buzz (and donations!). She wasn’t the first or only woman to sign up, but I could tell from the beginning that she was serious about this. She was driven, as I mentioned in an earlier post, by an intense fear that one of her young children might one day have cancer. And like a true hero, not one spurred into action by disaster that’s already struck, she saw this as an opportunity to do something before she was ever impacted. To do something right now. And boy, did she ever. Erica raised more than $3000, taking the coveted first place fundraising spot for our event. And she did it with courage and grace and beauty.

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There were so many more fabulous parts to the day but a picture is worth a thousand words and I have a few hundred pictures, so I’m going to add some more here and then post again tomorrow, including about a mother-daughter team and all the CHUH kids. I’m still working on a public photo gallery on Flickr, but it’s not quite ready. For now, I’m inspired by this image that was posted on the St Baldrick’s Facebook page last week:

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And here are our very own, “Oh my god, I’m actually doing this!” photos:

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And with those slightly stunned, pretty excited and damn proud faces, I leave you. But only until tomorrow, I promise.

In light of the extraordinary fundraising prowess of our more than 70 shavees, I’ve decided to raise our event goal from $35,000 to $40,000.  We are currently at just over $33K and the money keeps rolling in.  I’m convinced that with everyone’s last minute push (plea) for donations coupled with the cash and checks people will bring with them tomorrow and the eventual matching gifts from the workplaces of our donors, we can do this.

To give you a sense of just how successful people are being, my two boys have each raised more than $2,000 and they are only in 4th and 5th place for our event. That means that five people have raised more than $2,000! Another five have raised more than $1,000 and there are a few more pushing the door on the $1,000 mark.

Yesterday, the 14 students from Fairfax School displayed their St Baldrick’s pride with green hair (which was sort of funny considering at least half of them were participating in the school spelling bee!).

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Thank you to everyone for your generosity supporting my Braedan and Austin and all their friends and classmates, year after year, as they shave their heads. We will not stop doing this. And I am so grateful that you continue to stand alongside us as we do.

And now, know anyone who could use a haircut??

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