By Michael Candelaria
Space Coast Conquers is proving to be more than a great name – through community service to support the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and fight childhood cancer.
The scene in March was almost historic. Certainly, it was moving, inspirational and effective – with impacts that will change lives and likely even save some of them.
The event was called Space Coast Conquers @ The Avenue Viera. Most people in Brevard County, though, know it as the Big Shave. And it was a big deal, indeed. Established to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the event witnessed 353 givers – young and older – shaving their heads to support research for childhood cancers. Among the highlights was the presence of VIP children (current and former local cancer patients) and their families, with siblings shaving their heads to become “angels.”
The foundation, a national charity powered by volunteers and donors, has funded more than $234 million in childhood cancer research grants, more than any other organization except the U.S. government.
“As always, the Big Shave thrives because of the generosity of our community. I might be biased, but St. Baldrick’s Brevard has the best volunteers, teams and ‘shavees’ in the nation.”
– Michelle Bujold, marketing coordinator of The Avenue Viera
Clearly, the local community is doing its part. In the past eight years, the foundation’s Brevard chapter – Space Coast Conquers – has raised nearly $1.8 million, including approximately $225,000 this spring.
So, while hundreds were losing their hair at lushly landscaped Central Park within The Avenue Viera, a popular open-air shopping destination, significant ground was being gained in the struggle against a cancer that needs all the help it can get. Consider that across the nation more children are lost to cancer than any other disease. Sadly, before turning the age of 20, one in 285 U.S. children will have cancer, while a child is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes worldwide.
That was the backdrop for the event, where ultimately hope reigned.
“As always, the Big Shave thrives because of the generosity of our community,” said Michelle Bujold, marketing coordinator of The Avenue Viera, which for the first time served as chair of the foundation’s Brevard chapter. “I might be biased, but St. Baldrick’s Brevard has the best volunteers, teams and ‘shavees’ in the nation. Without a doubt, we could not host this event in any capacity, let alone successfully, without the support of our community.”
Notably, by late February a reported 6,500-plus people had registered to shave their heads at more than 700 events nationwide, which totaled nearly $2 million in support. Among all chapters, typically Space Coast Conquers is a top fundraiser.
According to Bujold, while the majority of shaving events occur in March, an event can continue to raise money long after it is completed. Such is the case in Brevard, where “a dedicated Facebook page and an online community continues to donate year-round.”
In addition, the week prior to the Big Shave saw the return of “Bow Ties & Blue Jeans” casino night, another fundraising event by the local chapter, held at Melbourne BMW.
In the end, children are the winners, commented Ann Fairweather, a community relations specialist for Orlando Health, which is a local recipients of donor dollars. Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, a part of Orlando Health, is especially well-regarded for cancer care on a global scale.
“For the past two years, I have been able to see firsthand the impact our services provide to the Brevard community, and it is amazing the support the Brevard community shows for these VIP kids,” Fairweather said. “I look forward to working with St. Baldrick’s and spreading the word on the importance of children’s cancer research.”
Marnie Supernaw, a registered pediatric hematology oncology nurse at Orlando Health, agrees. “I know that several of our patients have been treated with new therapies due to the research that was funded by St. Baldrick’s,” Supernaw said, adding that the Brevard community also donates food, water, snacks and toys for the VIP room “year after year.” The hospital room provides comfort as well as a bonding place for cancer patients and families.
Much more remains to be done. At St. Baldrick’s alone, of the $34 million needed to fund every grant application that received an outstanding score in June 2017, only $23.5 million was available and granted. Every grant goes through a rigorous scientific review process, ensuring each dollar has the greatest possible impact for children with cancer.
In turn, the Brevard community, including The Avenue Viera, has no plans of slowing their commitment, Bujold asserted.
“The St. Baldrick’s slogan is ‘conquering childhood cancer,’” Bujold concluded, “and we will continue to aid in that fight as long as we’re able.” ◆