Last fall, with a year-long trip on the horizon, Jennifer Dodsworth added “hair cut” to her to-do list. With plans to visit New Zealand, Asia and Europe, she figured her long locks would be cumbersome.
But rather than ask the hairdresser to tame her tresses, it dawned on the Hinton school teacher that she could use the opportunity to do something bigger. She’d long considered shaving her head to raise money for cancer research. “I’ve always had long hair, but I’ve never been too attached to it – it was just on my head,” she says. “Shaving it for cancer was kind of like a bucket-list thing for me.”
Dodsworth decided she’d use the opportunity to raise pledges for the Alberta Cancer Foundation and she asked another good friend if she’d partake, which she did. When her father heard about it, he embraced the idea too, growing out his hair months in advance. “From October until June my Dad grew his hair and his beard. He looked like Grizzly Adams,” Dodsworth laughs. As support from friends and family increased, Dodsworth realized it might be a great community project, so she decided to approach Mountain View School in Hinton, the kindergarten to Grade 7 school where she teaches Grade 1. The school was happy for Dodsworth to organize a Short Cut to the Cure event as a fun wrap up to the school year.
Event planning and fundraising began in February and included weekly meetings for kids who were considering shaving their heads, as well as classroom lessons about cancer and cancer prevention. It was important for teachers to prepare their students for what could be a major event for young children: “Some of these kids are pretty little. You have to give them a chance to consider the idea,” says Dodsworth. And, for all of the children, the event was a chance to teach strategies for keeping healthy.
On June 18, many months after Dodsworth had first considered shaving her own head, more than 500 students, teachers, parents, community members and cancer survivours packed the gymnasium of Mountain View School. The teachers had taken photos of the participants before the head shave and used an overhead projector to display their faces. “A hush fell over the room when our first group of participants went to get their head shaved,” Dodswith recalls. Slowly, groups of about 10 participants took the stage as 12 volunteers cut and shaved their hair. By the end of it, “there were 48 bald heads just bobbing to the music. There were tears in many eyes,” says Dodsworth.
Sidebar: Engineering an Event
BALD AND BEAUTIFUL: Hinton teachers (clockwise from top left) Andrée-Anne Lacroix, Kelly Smith, Jennifer Dodsworth and Elana Fedorak shaved their locks as part of a school-wide effort to raise money for the Alberta Cancer Foundation.
Buffy Watson, who has three boys attending the school, was on hand to shave kids’ heads – including two of her boys. “My mom passed away from cancer and I have an uncle who’s battled it a few times and has been recently told there’s nothing they can do,” Watson says. “Cancer’s affected my family – and, I mean, it affects everyone – but, I knew in my heart I wanted to be involved.”
It was an emotional day for many people in the community, including Watson, who shared some tears with her son: “It was inspiring. It was encouraging that people were so supportive.” When the dust settled and the hair was swept up, the school raised more than $16,000.
School events, like this one and countless others across the province, are an important part of fundraising for the Alberta Cancer Foundation, which distributes more than $20 million each year to Alberta’s 17 cancer centres to help with cancer research, prevention and screening initiatives. While survival rates of many cancers have improved dramatically over the last couple decades, nearly one in two Albertans will get cancer at some point in their lives, and one in four will die of cancer.
“We’re trying to get more and more Albertans involved in fundraisers not just to raise funds for us, but awareness that cancer is still one of the leading causes of death in Alberta,” explains Daryl Silzer, Alberta Cancer Foundation director of annual giving. That said, community efforts go a long way towards both research and prevention, he adds: “We truly believe in a cancer-free future.”
To help community groups, the foundation provides a number of online resources. After registering with the foundation, Albertans get access to a fundraising kit that includes a press release, pledge forms and a website for the fundraiser. “We try to make it very, very user friendly for all participants to get involved,” says Silzer.
Dodsworth is proud of her students for embracing the challenge. “These kids, they’re so young and they don’t have the experience of older people who’ve lost friends and family to cancer,” she says. “But even though their lives have been less impacted, they still have the compassion, the empathy to help, and the courage to be involved in something like this.”