DOWNERS GROVE — Children are taught to not solve problems with their fists, but no one would blame Nate Pautsch for defending his friend when chemotherapy caused her to lose her hair five years ago.
"There was a bully in this park that me and Mikayla were playing at, and he was making fun of her when she was bald," said Pautsch, now 10. "And when he wouldn't stop, I ended up punching him in the face."
Nate was not punished for helping his friend, but his mom did want to find another outlet for him to stand up for his friends without fighting. That's when she heard about the St. Baldrick's Foundation. It raises money to fund life-saving childhood cancer research at events where participants shave their heads in solidarity with cancer patients.
Nate jumped at the idea, and has kept at it.
The Downers Grove resident has raised a total of $8,000 the last five years, including $2,500 in the most recent fundraiser. He has asked for donations in lieu of birthday presents and by asking friends, family and strangers to contribute.
His shaved head has become a yearly ritual. Every August he gets a back-to-school haircut, and then doesn't get it cut again until a St. Baldrick's event in March.
This March, he spoke to about 3,000 children, teens and adults gathered at an all-school assembly at Downers Grove South High School to raise money for the charity.
"I told Mikayla's story and how it is … better to give than it is to get," he said.
Next month, the Association of Fundraising Professionals Chicago Chapter will recognize Nate with the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award. It was Mikayla Sweeney’s grandfather, Chuck Coughlin, who nominated Nate for the honor.
Nate says he is thankful for this award because it is “a way to inspire other kids my age and even adults to get involved in a good cause.”
Best of all, Mikayla has been in remission for four years, and another batch of tests came back clear this month.