Wearing a shirt with the logo “Do it for Dominic” emblazoned across the chest, Ernie Cairo had his head shaved in memory of his son who died from cancer two years ago.
Cairo was one of nearly 300 participants to shave his head in solidarity with cancer patients at the sixth-annual Just Irish Enough block party and fundraiser for St. Baldrick’s Foundation Friday night. This was Cairo’s second year to participate in the head shaving.
Cairo was joined by his wife Anna, who wielded the shears to shave her husband’s head. A photo of their son Dominic adorned Anna’s table while she worked.
For the past five years Anna Cairo has been involved with St. Baldrick’s, spreading the importance of raising money for children’s cancer research. Although Dominic has been gone for two years, participating in St. Baldrick’s events and raising money to find a cure keeps his spirit alive, they said.
“Only about 4 percent of money raised for cancer research goes to children’s cancer, and this is a way to help further the research for children,” Ernie said.
With a shorn head, Cairo said it’s another way of keeping Dominic with him. When he and his wife take their other son to a ball game, “it’s like Dominic is right there with us,” he said.
On Friday the Cairos were joined by more than 900 people celebrating life and for hope in finding a cure. Music and laughter echoed throughout the Max as stylists from area salons, working at long tables in the middle of the gymnasium, provided their services in shaving nearly 300 heads Friday night, while other volunteers swept up the mounds of hair on the floor. As heads were shorn clean of hair, children clambered in and out of inflatable bounce houses, while adults laughed and shared in neighborly fellowship. They were also delighted by the presence and antics of Tommy Hawk, the mascot of the Chicago Blackhawks.
“This started as a block party with about 30 people and look at it now,” said Sarah Mycek, one of the event organizers. “It just keeps getting better and better every year.”
The event started five years ago as a neighborhood St. Patrick’s Day gathering, but morphed into a fundraiser for children’s cancer research. Each year the Just Irish Enough event has grown until organizers had to find a larger venue. This year the Max donated the space for the event.
“It’s wonderful how people step up to support this cause,” Mycek said.
To date the event has raised more than $330,000 for research, said organizer Jim McCarthy. Prior to Friday’s event at The Max McCook Athletic Center, the group had raised more than $70,000, according to the St. Baldrick’s website.
“There will be more than that by the time we finish. So many people have been bringing in donations tonight, it’s been great,” Mycek said.
But McCarthy was quick to say their event wasn’t about raising money, it was about the number of people who shaved their heads in solidarity with cancer patients.
“That’s what it’s all about. We want to show that we’re with them, we’re supporting them in their journey,” McCarthy said.
Several students at area elementary schools have been diagnosed with cancer. McCarthy said it’s important the families know the community is there to support them. This year students from Forest Road Elementary School, Cossitt Avenue Elementary School, Ogden Avenue Elementary School and St. Francis Xavier Parish School participated in the haircuts.
“The support we’ve been shown from residents of all ages has been amazing,” McCarthy said.
Over the first five years of the event McCarthy speculated more than 700 heads have been shaved in total.
“The more heads that are shaved, the more awareness of children’s cancer we can raise,” McCarthy said. “We want more heads. That’s our main focus, walking in solidarity with them.”
Mycek said numerous girls participated in the haircuts. Some shaved their heads completely, while others cut off their ponytails to be donated to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths program to make wigs for children who lost their hair through chemotherapy treatments.
The Friday night fun at The Max was followed by a Saturday block party in the 600 block of Newberry in La Grange Park. Mycek said the annual growth of the Just Irish Enough event has caused them to stretch it over two days.
“It’s so much fun, it’s great to keep it going,” she said.