Side-Effects Management

Proof that Bald Really Is Beautiful

Read about the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a program that took off after a few colleagues thought of shaving their heads as a way to raise money for children with cancer.
Web Exclusives – April 14, 2015
Tracy Wright
Andrea Ryan embraces her wife Danielle after she had her head shaved at a St. Baldrick’s event in Denver, CO. The couple has been supporting the St. Baldrick’s Foundation since 2010.

How will you give back in return for your own good fortune in business? This is the challenge that Tim Kenny posed to his reinsurance industry colleagues, John Bender and Enda McDonnell, back in July 1999. While looking at McDonnell’s thick head of hair, Bender suggested they shave their heads for donations to raise money for children with cancer, and the idea for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation was born.

The first St. Baldrick’s event—held in March 2000 before their industry’s St. Patrick’s Day party in Manhattan—was a huge success, surpassing the group’s initial goal of raising $17,000 by shaving 17 heads. Not only did they shave 19 heads, they also ended up raising $104,000, which was donated to fund research through the Children’s Oncology Group.

When the second event raised $140,000 the following year, the 3 colleagues decided to expand the event beyond their industry. By 2002, there were 37 head-shaving events in various locations, and nearly $1 million had been raised for pediatric cancer research.

“Shaving your head at a St. Baldrick’s event gives you a very euphoric feeling,” says Danielle Ryan, who has been participating in the Denver, CO, event since 2010 with a team of coworkers who call themselves the Q-ball Crusaders. “I look forward to it every year. It’s hair, just hair, and I’m giving my hair to raise money for this great foundation. It’s a blast.”

“We call the St. Baldrick’s event our Christmas,” adds Ryan’s wife, Andrea, who attends the event every year with Danielle. “I love it so much. We get to have a really good time while helping kids with cancer. We work in healthcare, so this is a great cause for us to support.”

According to Traci Shirk, Media and Public Relations Manager for the foundation, St. Baldrick’s is currently the largest nongovernmental funder of childhood cancer research grants.

“We became an independent, nonprofit organization in 2005. Since that time, we’ve granted over $154 million to researchers across the country who are searching for cures and better treatments for all types of childhood cancers,” explains Shirk. “We fund virtually every institution and hospital in the US doing research for children’s cancer.”

With over 1,100 head-shaving events in cities across the country so far this year, St. Baldrick’s is well on its way to surpassing the 1,300 events held in 2014.

“I think the success of these events is based on a couple of things,” points out Shirk. “Our volunteers are truly amazing. They’re so dedicated to the cause. They come back year after year and get their colleagues, friends, and families involved. Because we are a volunteer-driven, grassroots organization, we have grown through word of mouth and have been able to put the most funds possible toward research.”

“We also provide something that’s very unique. Head-shaving isn’t just a way to raise money, it’s a way to show solidarity for kids who lose their hair during cancer treatment. Having a shaved head raises awareness and continues the conversation even after the event,” continues Shirk. “We have a lot of women who shave their heads. Many of them are nervous at first, but afterward they feel empowered.”

“I was self-conscious the first time I did it,” admits Danielle. “Now I ask other people to try it, especially women. It’s the easiest hair care in the world and you’re raising money for a great cause. One of my coworkers came to support me one year. She had really long hair down her back and wasn’t planning to shave her head. Someone at the event offered her $500 and then $1,000 to shave her hair off, so she did.”

It goes to show that bald truly is beautiful.

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