Nearly 540 people lined up to shave their heads on Sunday to celebrate the 15th annual St. Baldrick’s Day fundraiser at Kitty Hoynes Irish Pub in Armory Square.
Photos of local children who’ve battled cancer hung on the walls above the two shaving stages as humming clippers released lock after lock to the ground.
St. Baldrick’s is part of a larger national fundraising effort that supports research into cures for childhood cancers. Kitty Hoynes is particularly known for its herculean fundraising efforts; the Syracuse staple earned the distinction of top-earning location in the nation in both 2016 and 2017.
By the end of the shaving day on Sunday, event organizers reported they reached their fundraising goal of $500,000. The top-earner was 14-year-old Bodie Centore, who raised just over $30,000. Centore is part of the first place team, the Baldacious Baldies, a group of middle schoolers from Onondaga Hill who netted nearly $53,000 – enough to fund a research grant.
Centore said he and his friends were not only motivated by friendly competition with the other teams, but by the personal relationships they made with kids who are currently sick and fighting.
Teammate Austin Townley, 14, echoed Centore’s sentiments.
“When you know them, connect with them, you know what’s happening and you can check in to make sure they’re ok,” Townley said. “It’s really cool to know you’re doing something good.”
Coming in second place by a razor thin margin was Team Griffin, raising almost $51,000 in memory of Griffin Engle of Cicero, who was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer just after his sixth birthday and passed away 14 months later.
“I can’t say enough about this place we are lucky to call home,” said Chow Downey, the event’s emcee. Downey has been with the event since its inception year, and emphasizes a sense of community as the underpinning of their success.
“So many kind, caring people always doing what is right…No questions, just the right thing,” Downey said.
Many attendees would agree.
“I do it as a way of giving back,” said Sue Kline, a St. Baldrick’s “shavee” who has been getting her head buzzed every March for the past 14 years.
Kline’s 26 year-old granddaughter, Brianna Kline is a long-term survivor of childhood leukemia. After being diagnosed at age 6, Kline spent three years in treatment. Her grandmother Sue says she shaves every year in solidarity with the children and families who weren’t as lucky.
“Brianna went through all of her treatments and she survived,” Kline said. “A lot of other kids don’t.”
The numbers are sobering. According to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, childhood cancer is the number one killer of children in the United States and one in five children who develop cancer will not survive. Globally, a child is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes.
Kati Arva, 33, is a Syracuse mother of two who shaved her head for the first time Sunday afternoon.
“You kind of, change, when you become a parent,” Arva said describing her motivations for wanting to attend.
Her children, a 3-year-old daughter and 18-month-old son are healthy, but Arva said she can’t imagine what some parents are forced to go through. This was her way of supporting them, to make what she called “even the littlest bit” of difference.
It’s the compilation of those little bits of difference that show the true character of this community and individuals inside it. In 15 years, St. Baldrick’s at Kitty Hoynes has shaved over 6,000 heads and raised over $5 million dollars. And most shavees say they’ll be back.
Sue Kline rubbed her fresh buzz cut with one arm as the other draped over her granddaughter’s shoulders, both women with smiles from ear to ear.
“I’ll do it as long as I can,” Kline said. “As long as I’m around.”