CRYSTAL LAKE – Josh Brent was one of the few people immediately comfortable with the new haircuts that were given Thursday in the Crystal Lake South High School cafeteria.
Brent, a senior at the school, was one of more than 40 people who shaved their heads for St. Baldrick’s Day to support research efforts aimed at finding a cure for pediatric cancer.
Unlike most of the students participating, Brent has shaved his head bald all four years he has attended the Crystal Lake South event. Unlike even more students, Brent is a brain cancer survivor.
“I’m going on nine years with a clean bill of health,” Brent said. “It’s mind-blowing to see how things like St. Baldrick’s have grown in that time and brought awareness.”
St. Baldrick’s participants get their heads shaved bald for donations to St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a charity that raises money for pediatric cancer research. Some also donate their hair to other organizations, such as Locks of Love, which provides wigs for children dealing with hair loss caused by cancer treatments.
According to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, more children in the U.S. die from cancer than any other disease with one out of every 300 boys and one out of every 333 girls being diagnosed before they turn 20.
All childhood cancers combined receive less than 4 percent of federal funding for research. But last year, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation provided $25.2 million to pediatric cancer research. It has given more than $100 million since it became a foundation in 2005.
Locally, the annual St. Baldrick’s events continue to grow.
The largest local event is the McHenry Community Shave at the McHenry High School West Campus. It far exceeded its $150,000 goal this year, raising $180,294 before Thursday’s event even began, which usually brings in additional dollars.
Other events have also done well including three scheduled for Friday in Woodstock that have raised more than $15,000 combined ahead of time. An event in Huntley Sunday has already raised more than $8,000.
Aimee Harris, a volunteer for the Crystal Lake South event, said she was hoping to see St. Baldrick’s events expand to all schools in Community School District 155. The event has been successful at her school, nearing $15,000 this year.
“The student body has been fantastic. A lot of them have experience with cancer,” Harris said. “The loyalty they have for each other is great to see.”
The student body can be so supportive that one former student even came back Thursday to shave her head.
Gina Calabrese, a 2012 graduate of the school, said she cut and donated her hair at a previous event but wanted to go all the way this year in memory of her stepfather who died from cancer.
Shortly after all her hair fell to the ground, Calabrese put on a winter cap knowing the relentless winter awaited her newly bald head outside.
“I just decided to go through with it two days ago,” Calabrese said.
Donations can be made to any event or participant using the search function at www.stbaldricks.org.