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April 04, 2018

In Western New York, one teacher's 'revolution of razors' raises $5 million for cancer research

Author: Liza Frenette
bald for bucks

Bald for Bucks founder Tony George has his head shaved by his daughter, Bailey. Photo provided.

Here’s what a shiny dome or two can do: By shaving his head and getting scores of others to shave theirs, Lake Shore teacher Tony George started a revolution of razors that has raised $5 million for Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

George — a social studies teacher, and president of the Lake Shore Teachers Association — is founder of Bald for Bucks, an organization powered primarily by teachers and students to raise money for cancer research.

Whether it’s facial hair, long or tousled locks, moussed manes, or curls — it all goes to the floor.

Snip, snip bzzzzzzzzzzzz. Strands of hair float in the air then settle on the BOCES cosmetology salon floor. Or the gymnasium floor. Or school auditorium floor. It’s created such a buzz, in fact, that now there are 50 locations where people are taking part in Bald for Bucks – many of them schools. In all, $850,000 was raised last year, and 2018 should be as strong.

Just last week at Lake Shore, the bald and the brave raised $27,000 during an event in which Erie II BOCES cosmetology students did the shaving, earning service credit.

“I want to make it a community event and bring people together who may not necessarily interact,” said George, who set up a bounce house and provided dinner – both of which were donated. “The only place all aspect of community come together is at school.”

While many students get shaved bald, others have their long locks cut off and donated to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths, which uses the hair to make wigs.

George’s motivation for building Bald for Bucks was his sister’s cancer. In 2002, his solitary sibling Cathy found out her breast cancer had spread to her brain and she needed brain surgery. George was flummoxed about what he could do to help. Offering support in words only was kind of like making pretty mud cakes on shore while the tide was roaring in. He wanted action.

He told his students he’d be shaving his head in solidarity with his sister.

“I told my students, ‘The next time you see me I’ll be bald and here’s why,’” he said. “It just killed me when we went out in public and people stared at her.” Several students volunteered to shave their heads, too. Someone else suggested that if they were going to go bald, why not make it an event and raise money for cancer research?

That first year, 36 teachers and students shaved their heads and raised $3,600. Just as importantly, George said they shared stories about their family members dealing with cancer. One of those teachers who shaved their head that first year was Michael Desing, who years later would undergo treatment at Roswell after being diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer.

At a party one night, George was talking to a teacher who suggested spreading the event to other schools. The second year, three more schools were added, and that’s when George gave it a name: Bald for Bucks, using the suggestion of art teacher Dan Gerken – also a cancer survivor. George then asked high school art teacher Marcia Belliotto to help with a logo, and one of her students created a design under her guidance. Belliotto, George said, is now a cancer survivor, too.

Bald for Bucks is not its own nonprofit; the funding is handled through Roswell Park’s fund-raising organization. George said student groups such as the finance and business academy or student government help put together spreadsheets and track the money raised by Bald for Bucks.

“There are a lot of teaching moments inside this,” he said.

bald for bucks

This year, the Buffalo Sabres pro hockey team got on board, and raised more than $110,000. They allowed Bald for Bucks to use the Sabres logo, and the two logos were used on T-shirts given to people who donated more than $50. Bald for Bucks also set up booths at hockey games to raise money and provide information. National Hockey League reporter Marty Biron, a former goalkeeper, shaved his head on live TV. Bella, a young cancer patient, yielded the razor. (Pictured above.)

“She took a big old swat down the center of his head,” said George, who knows all too well the feel of the razor on his scalp.

“My promise to my sister was: ‘”I’ll keep my head shaved until yours grows back.’ Hers never did,” he said. She died in 2004.

Part of his sister’s treatment involved the targeted radiation Gamma Knife, a non-invasive tool developed in part at Roswell, George said. Developments in the research, prevention and treatment of cancer are part of what keeps his hope burning as he continues to raise money through this community outreach.

George lets his hair grow out, and then shaves it again each year. It is a teaching tool he hopes to use for long time.

bald for bucks

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