Since taking on the role of principal, Tim Callahan always thought about hosting a St. Baldrick's event at Madison Elementary School in Wheaton.
There were three reasons why this year was the right time to do it, he said: kindergarten teacher Karen Baker, attendance secretary Kim Bestwina and kindergartner Sophie Cho are all battling cancer.
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"Everybody here has been looking for some way to stand in support of them so this became our rally point," Callahan said of the St. Baldrick's assembly, which was held Friday at the school.
Events for the St. Baldrick's Foundation are held throughout the country, mostly during the month of March, to raise awareness and money for childhood cancer research. Participants get their heads shaved to stand in solidarity with pediatric cancer patients.
Callahan said the plan was to keep the event small. The school set a goal of finding 10 people to shave their heads -- knowing that four staff members were already interested -- and decided to try to raise $2,000.
There ended up being 34 "shavees," which included Callahan, a parent and a mix of staff and students. Some girls also cut off more than 10 inches of their hair to donate to Locks of Love, which makes hairpieces that are donated to financially disadvantaged children experiencing hair loss due to a variety of diagnoses.
Overall, more than $17,000 was raised. That included money raised at the event and by groups of students who have taken the initiative to do their own fundraisers, from a cupcake sale to making and selling bandannas and bracelets.
"The whole program from beginning to end was fantastic," Callahan said. "This is a special community here, really. This small school community continues to step up over and over again."
Callahan said Sophie's classmates have a teddy bear they place in her seat and bring with them when they attend class in different areas of the school whenever she is absent due to treatments. He said she attended the event with her parents and hoped it let them know how much the school is standing behind her.
In addition, two other students who quietly battled cancer when they were younger were recognized at the assembly, Callahan said.
"This is also our way to celebrate their success in battling cancer and winning," he said.