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Students shave heads to raise funds, awareness for St. Baldrick’s Foundation

Marisa Iati | Wednesday, April 18, 2012

For the past four springs, members of the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s communities shaved their heads and fundraised to support St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s childhood cancer research.

Senior Catherine Soler, organizer of The Bald and the Beautiful (TBAB), said the initially small-scale project has grown into a three-part event, involving more than 1,500 people last year.

Soler said TBAB, held Wednesday through Friday in the LaFortune Student Center, was born in 2009 when the Freshman Class Council service committee hosted a St. Baldrick’s event. She said approximately 150 people helped raise $26,000 the first year.

“The next year we were like, ‘Well, we want to open it up. We want to be able to include more people, people who maybe don’t want to shave their head, but want to be a part of it,'” Soler said.

The committee created an option for people to purchase hair extensions and donate their hair to benefit Pantene Beautiful Lengths, which turns hair into wigs for women with cancer.

Soler said the group named the event “The Bald and the Beautiful” after their adviser jokingly suggested the name in an email.

“It was hard to really convey everything I think in the name,” Soler said. “We liked it, it was kind of catchy, and I think it sends the right message.”

The money raised by selling colored hair extensions benefits Memorial Hospital of South Bend, and Soler said kids treated in the pediatric oncology unit often come to the event.

“We contemplated giving the hair extension money to the American Cancer Society, but we thought it was really important to give back to Memorial, and we liked the local and national component of it,” she said.

The money raised for Memorial supports its young adult cancer survivorship program, Soler said.

“I think that’s just a really neat connection that we have with them, because the hair extension money goes directly to people who come to our event and help us, and also goes towards a cause that if one of us were to have cancer right now, or had cancer as a child, we would be included in that age-range,” she said.

The colors of the hair extensions represent different types of cancer, Soler said.

“You could come in and say, ‘I want yellow for bone cancer, I’d like pink for breast cancer and blue for ovarian,’ whatever it is,” she said. “People can kind of do that in honor of different people.”

Soler said almost 1,800 people participated in TBAB last year and raised $46,500. This year, she said several residence halls and sports teams will be involved. The football team will participate in a kick-off event Wednesday at 6 p.m.

“It was very hard in the beginning to get sponsorship from students, friends, organizations, anything, just because no one really knew, but we have a lot to talk about now … and people come to the event,” Soler said. “And one of my favorite parts is that it’s very upbeat, and while it’s for such a great cause and there’s definitely time for memoriam and honoring people, it is really just fun.”

Senior Elle Metz, a TBAB committee member, said she enjoys seeing the support people show to those who shave their heads, especially girls and women.

“We have five or six girls already signed up to shave their heads this year, and their friends will come out with posters, and everyone is so supportive of them, which is great,” Metz said. “It’s inspiring to hear the stories as to why they do it and why they feel so strongly. A lot of people have personal connections. They know someone who had cancer, a family member has cancer, something like that.”

Soler said although the core 15 people planning The Bald and the Beautiful have remained the same throughout the years, the group has expanded.

“This year there’s about 30, 35 people, maybe more than that, who are planning it, and they’re all different age ranges, all different clubs, all different halls,” she said. “And so it’s just really fun that you don’t necessarily have to belong to a certain association to be a part of it.”

Participants in TBAB find solidarity with people suffering from cancer, Soler said.

“I would say that we just feel really lucky to be a part of an event that’s able to combine all the great things that I think about Notre Dame … the ability of people here to work hard, and put the greater good before themselves,” she said.

“We’re just constantly blown away by the community … That’s by far been the best part for me.”

Metz said coordinating The Bald and the Beautiful has been a special experience.

“It’s easy to get caught up in … classes and extracurriculars and things like that, and Notre Dame students are obviously really busy, but these three days are just an awesome example of getting back to what’s actually important and helping people,” she said.

Soler said the TBAB committee will ensure the event continues after most of the coordinators graduate in May. She said the Class of 2013 has expressed interest in organizing the event in the future, and it might also become a joint signature event for residence halls.

“I hope that we can come back in ten years and donate our hair to The Bald and the Beautiful, and I can bring my kids and donate their hair,” she said. “I’m just always supremely impressed by how generous and selfless everyone who works on this event is, and so giving of themselves and their time, and I’m constantly inspired by the people who work at this event … I think it’s just an amazing demonstration of the true spirit of Notre Dame students.”

The stress and busy-ness of coordinating The Bald and the Beautiful finally pays off during the three-day event, Soler said.

“Within the first hour of the event, we’re still scrambling, getting ready, and then you see someone shave their head and the kids show up and you just stop and think, ‘This is worth every single minute of the effort,'” she said. “We all just always stop and kind of pause at the event, and you can see even big football players or like our guy friends, everyone’s just so moved by what’s going on, and I think it’s really cool.”