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Towson senior plans to shave her head for children’s cancer charity

When Carole Crites gave birth about 50 years ago, her newborn daughter required some extra hospitalization and surgery. Because of that, Crites, now 73, got to know some of the other patients.

One of them, a “beautiful” baby boy, wound up dying in the hospital, Crites said. She still tears up when she talks about him.

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It’s because of those two factors — her daughter’s surgery and the death of the other child — that Crites says she intends to shave her head as part of a fundraiser for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a nonprofit based in Monrovia, California, that donates to children’s cancer research.

It was an experimental treatment that saved her daughter, she said, adding that “I know how important that research is."

On March 8, the Towson resident will be one of dozens of people who get on stage at Martin’s East on Pulaski Highway and have their heads shaved during the 12th annual Baltimore Heroes Event organized by local volunteers.

Leading up to the big day, Crites is doing her own fundraising — with a bonus. For anyone who donates at least $10, Cripes will give a handmade beanie, complete with a decorative pompom on top.

Crites, who lives in the Aigburth Manor neighborhood, said she’s already given away six hats, and raised more than $200.

The big shave next month won’t be Crites’ first. A few years ago, she doesn’t recall exactly how many, Crites participated in the same fundraiser for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. In big block letters, someone inscribed “THIS SIDE UP” on the top of her head as it was sheared.

“I want to get curlicues painted on my head when it’s shaved this time,” she said.

Crites has been making the pompoms and attaching them to the already-knitted hats at the Bykota Senior Center in West Towson, where she’s been a member since she moved to the area about five years ago from Williamsburg, Virginia. One of her friends, Lorita Martin, has helped.

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“I don’t follow patterns [for the hats],” Crites said. “I make my own.”

It’s not unusual for members at Bykota to initiate their own fundraisers, director Julie Lynn said. And every month, the center chooses a local charity for which to take up a collection. In February, it was BARCS.

Lynn said some of the women on-site do “an awful lot of knitting,” so it’s nice to see that put toward a charitable cause. Plus, she said, the hats are fun.

“I love the colors,” she said.

St. Baldrick’s

St. Baldrick’s Foundation was founded in 1999 and, no, it’s not named after any recognized saint. Rather, the charity’s name is a play on words, since so many events to raise funds focus on volunteers shaving their heads and going bald.

According to its website, the foundation focuses on new discovery research, clinical trials and infrastructure for more individuals to gain access to that clinical research, and other areas that are recommended to the organization by pediatric oncologists. The independent charity watchdog Charity Navigator says the foundation spends more than 70% of its revenue toward its program goals, with less than 4% on administrative costs.

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Local volunteer organizer Dan Jarkiewicz, a lieutenant at the Eastview Fire Station in Baltimore County, said he started organizing for the foundation because a co-worker was about to shave his head for an event in Pennsylvania, and Jarkiewicz thought the idea sounded cool.

After organizing, and as the event was about to happen, the Jarkiewiczes’ newborn daughter, Ally, was diagnosed with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. The disease is not a cancer, but is treated in a similar way to some forms. Ally, who is now 11, required a bone marrow transplant, Jarkiewicz said.

“She was actually in the hospital during the [first] event,” he said. Through that time, the family got to know other families with sick children, especially those with cancer.

“That’s one of the things that’s driven us to stick with it for so long,” Jarkiewicz said.

The Baltimore Heroes Event is scheduled for March 8, and free to enter. There will be raffles, food and drink, and games and activities for children. More than 130 people shaved their heads last year.

Participants will be getting their heads shaved throughout the day. Jarkiewicz said a bone marrow registry program will be on-site, too, so potential donors can sign up.

In the 11 years that he has been organizing events for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, Jarkiewicz said Baltimore-area donors have raised more than $1.5 million. Since its all volunteer labor, almost all of the money goes back into the foundation, he said.

“That’s important for me, because, like my daughter ... they have found advances in her treatment that they treat differently now. They found a better way and a less harsh way. There’s always that advancement,” Jarkiewicz said. “For my kids and the futures kids and everybody’s kids, it’s better.”

More information about the Baltimore event can be found online at https://www.stbaldricks.org/events/bmoreheroes2020.

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