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Shaving heads is growing fundraiser in Annapolis

Teams, volunteers aim to raise $100,000 to support pediatric cancer research

By Elizabeth Heubeck, For The Baltimore Sun

4:19 PM EST, March 3, 2013

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Bernie O'Brien is a big burly guy with a crop of red hair. But sometime after noon Sunday, he'll be sporting a shiny bald head.

So too will at least 80 other people milling about Fado Irish Pub, the Annapolis bar that O'Brien manages. It's for a good cause.

Charitable events usually conjure up images of adults in evening attire attending a gala, or of running a few miles and going home with a tee shirt as a memento — not a something as personal as a shaved head.

But for the past 10 years, O'Brien has been a member of the "baldtenders team," a local group of bartenders who shave their heads as participants in an annual St. Baldrick's Foundation event that raises money for pediatric cancer research. For the past six years, O'Brien has organized and hosted one of several such events worldwide at Fado Irish Pub.

When asked if a particular child inspired his decision to get involved in the event, O'Brien said: "There's no one child in mind. But I've got three nieces and nephews, and I can only imagine."

O'Brien said this year's fundraising goal of $100,000 is an all-time high.

"Last year, we did $88,000; we came up $12,000 short. I know we're going to get it this year," he said.

To reach that goal, the event requires each participant to raise a minimum of $50, though a few participants have exceeded that amount by several thousand dollars. A 50/50 raffle plus live and silent auctions further boost funds. About 25 volunteers make the event happen, including 10 Maryland licensed barbers who volunteer their time to shave the heads of participants.

The first head-shaving event of this kind took place in 2000 as a stand alone charitable event in a Manhattan pub. Five years later, the founders of the growing event decided to formalize their efforts, launching St. Baldrick's Foundation. Since then, the nonprofit has raised $100 million for pediatric cancer research, thanks to head-shaving events held in every state in the U.S. as well as 28 other countries.

The volunteer-driven nature of the foundation allows more funding to go to the cause, and less to overhead.

"For every dollar raised, 82 cents goes to childhood research, 16 cents goes to fundraising efforts, and 2 percent goes to management and overhead," said Traci Shirk, spokesperson for the California-based St. Baldrick's Foundation.

Although the individual St. Baldrick's events — held in pubs, schools, and other community-based venues — possess a decidedly local feel, the funds they raise are collected centrally by the foundation, whose scientific review committee considers grant applications in a rigorous process similar to that used by the Cancer Research Institute.

"We give to childhood cancer institutes across the U.S. We want to fund the very best," Shirk said.

The cause resonates with the events' participants, all of whom know someone who has been affected by pediatric cancer.

"A good friend of my nephew's was diagnosed with a rare form of childhood cancer," said Amanda Reed, a 42-year-old resident of Anne Arundel County who has helped organize the Annapolis St. Baldrick's event for the past four years. Since her involvement, the funds raised have increased 15-fold.

"It's become a big deal," said Reed, who grows her hair long prior to the event, then sits in the barber chair and gets it completely shaved to reveal a large, octopus tattoo.

Reed runs Golden Mean Cooperative, a cooperative home schooling group in Gambrills. This year, five of her students — boys from 14 to 17 years of age — have volunteered to shave their heads and clean up after the event. She's pretty sure it won't be the last time they participate.

"It's like nothing you can imagine. There's so much energy in the room. It's extraordinarily moving. It's also extraordinarily fun," Reed said.

The event is March 10 at 12 p.m. at Fado Irish Pub, 1 Park Place, No. 7 in Annapolis. For more information on the Annapolis St. Baldrick's fundraiser or to donate, go to stbaldricks.org/events/mypage/880/2013.