By RICK HAYES
MT. VERNON — — A Jefferson County native is doing something unique on her birthday Saturday — she's giving 18 inches of her hair for children's cancer research.
Sarah (Dalby) Mason, the daughter of Russell and Debbie Dalby of Mt. Vernon, is among the many faculty members and students at House Springs Elementary School in Missouri supporting St. Baldrick's Foundation — an organization that funds childhood cancer research.
The students and staff at House Springs have been conducting fundraising events since 2004 when 6-year-old Charlie Long was diagnosed with an aggressive form of pediatric cancer called neuroblastoma.
The youth went through several painful treatments and was cancer-free less than a year later. But on the first day of second grade, he relapsed. Charlie died in 2006 at the age of 8.
Since that time, students and community members have rallied around the Long family. Kids started getting their heads shaved. The adults followed. And, a single fundraiser has turned into a week of activities at the school, all the while, collecting thousands of dollars for St. Baldrick's Foundation.
"The school had a head-shaving event last Saturday, but I decided to wait a week to raise a little more money," said Mason. "The reason I chose to do it is because I want to stand in solidarity with people who have lost their hair because of cancer and also to raise money to fund the research for pediatric cancer."
Mason, a 2003 graduate of Mt. Vernon Township High School, started teaching at the school this year as a one-on-one assistant to a blind student, helping him and his teacher translate lessons into Braille and then he answers back using the alphabet.
On Saturday, Mason will be donating her hair for a team called "Charlie's Angels." So far, Mason is in fourth place for the most money raised by a team member, with approximately $1,350 in donations received. Donations can be made through www.baldricks.org and searching for participants names.
This Saturday's event is being held at Helen Fitzgerald's, a bar and grill in St. Louis. Hundreds of people will be getting their hair cut by volunteers from Great Clips.
"I read online you grow about 6 inches of hair in a year, so I guess it will be three years before mine grows back," said Mason, who will also be celebrating her birthday Saturday.
"It will be a new beginning to my 29th year," she said.
St. Baldrick’s head-shaving events began as a challenge between businessmen and have grown from one event in 2000 to over 1,300 events in 2012, raising critical funds for childhood cancer research. Events take place in pubs, restaurants, schools, churches, parks, malls, military bases, firehouses and other places.
According to the organization's web site, over $34 million was raised in 2013; and about $10.6 million has been raised so far in 2014.
Worldwide, 175,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year. And, in the U.S., more children die of childhood cancer than any other disease — more than AIDS, asthma, cystic fibrosis, congenital anomalies and diabetes combined, information states.