Mitzvah Market Magazine: Brave the Shave

Mitzvah Market Magazine: Brave the Shave

By Sophie Glaser

The first time I heard about the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, I was at dinner with my family. I was nine at the time. My parents pulled up a photo of one of our close family friends who had shaved his head to raise money and awareness for pediatric cancer. Something tugged at my heart as I watched the videos on the St. Baldrick’s website about kids with cancer and thought about the many adults in my life who were also diagnosed with cancer.

That was when I knew what I wanted to do. As my long curly hair bounced on my shoulders, I announced to my parents that I wanted to shave my head too. And so, it happened. That was just the first time.

I’ve long been involved with St. Baldrick’s, a non-profit organization that partners with kids, teens and adults to raise money for pediatric cancer research. Volunteers educate, fundraise and spread the word. They also shave their heads in solidarity with those who have lost their hair during chemotherapy treatments.

Towards the end of third grade, I shaved my head for the first time. I raised more than $12,000 for St. Baldrick’s. The fundraising took place over a month, and I wrote letters, contacted my friends and spread the news via the internet to raise awareness about the cause. It was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. That’s why, more than three years later when I was thinking about what I wanted to do for my Bat Mitzvah project, it was the first thing that came to mind.

I also wanted to give back directly to the community and do something more personal than simply raising money. So, I taught myself how to knit hats on a loom. My intention was to donate them to the kids in the pediatric oncology ward to keep their bald heads warm during the cold Connecticut winters.

In order to make the greatest number of hats possible, I taught my family and friends how to knit them too. I also taught a class at a local store where I asked my students to donate their first hat to my Bat Mitzvah project.

In the end, I donated more than 65 hats to the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. I started raising money the September before my Bat Mitzvah. I posted on Instagram and my parents’ Facebook pages, wrote letters, talked to friends and family and even spoke to students at my school about what I was doing. My goal was to raise $5,000.

On February 25th, 2017, the day of my Bat Mitzvah I had raised more than $7,000! But that wasn’t all. During my reception, as I was surrounded by family and friends, I shaved my head for the second time in my life. (This was also after I had already cut off most of it to donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, an organization that makes wigs for people with cancer).

The room was brimming with excitement! I had my mom, dad and sister behind me as I sat in the middle of the room facing the enormous crowd of my family and friends. I felt the warmth and support of the people around me permeate the air. Underneath the cheers of my classmates and relatives, I could hear my family sniffle a little from emotion, just like they had done when I shaved my head in third grade. I cried, too, not only because I felt so lucky to be surrounded by the people who supported me, helped me and listened to me as I completed my Bat Mitzvah project, but also because of how important my Bat Mitzvah and my project was to me. Finishing it and seeing all of my hard work culminate in this wonderful event was so special; it was an emotional moment.

One of the things that I learned while doing this project is that it is important to have patience and be confident in yourself and your abilities. While I was fundraising, there would be periods where it looked like I wasn’t going to reach my initial goal. That just made me work even harder, and I surpassed my goal by $2,000. This project also helped me increase my social skills, as I often had to introduce myself to strangers and talk to them about the cause.

This project meant a lot to me, and it really made my Bat Mitzvah special. The support I got from my family and friends on the day of my Bat Mitzvah was overwhelming, and I feel so lucky that I was able to complete my project surrounded by them. My project proves that anyone, anywhere, can help others. I took something as simple as knitting hats and turned it into a long-term project that positively affected my community. When I donated those hats, I felt such a sense of accomplishment and pride.

Shaving my head in solidarity with those who have cancer connected me to them. It helps to break down the stereotypes that come with a bald head; associations of sickness and masculinity. It also empowers me, and others, to take action and help people in any way possible. Hair, to me, is a form of expression, and I feel like there is no better expression than of support and solidarity.

In the months after my Bat Mitzvah, many people asked me why I was bald. When I told them about my project, I helped spread awareness about pediatric cancer and helped point them in the direction of a great organization that helps people around the world. I hope that I can continue my work with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation in the future, whether it is by helping them fundraise, raising awareness or by shaving my head again.

Sophie Glaser is in the 9th grade at Phillips Academy Andover. She lives in West Hartford, Connecticut. Find out more about St. Baldrick’s Foundation, stbaldricks.com and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, connecticutchildrens.org

Read more about Sophie’s Bat Mitzvah Celebration.

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