Splitting Hairs: Students to shave hair for charity

On January 19, 2003, five barbers gathered at the McArthur Glen Designer Outlet in North Yorkshire, UK and established a world record. The quintet shaved 228 heads in four hours, setting the current world record for Most Heads Shaved in Four Hours.

GW student organization Buzzing for Change is planning to beat the current record Sunday, Sept. 14, the day after Fall Fest. The group plans to gather five barbers and 230 people, while raising $10,000 for charity.

Buzzing for Change founder Judah Ferst said he was inspired by his friend, Wade Strauss, who had organized a similar event a few years ago. Strauss, who currently works for GW Hillel, arranged a mass head-shaving as a student at University of California San Diego.

“I loved the idea and wanted to take it a step further,” Ferst said.

Ferst created Buzzing for Change last fall.

“It was thrown together in a week,” Ferst said. “We started to raise money but then began to realize the idea wasn’t really focused. I wanted to make it a huge event. We came up with a name and started to put together a team to work on it.”

Ferst, a Philadelphia native who is majoring in human services, called on friends and co-workers for help in forming Buzzing for Change.

“I drew on all areas of my life,” Ferst said. “For example, Rachel Sandler, our treasurer – I knew from my work on the Program Board. In some cases people are both my friends and co-workers, but I made sure to pick people I knew would be good at their job.”

While Ferst has been involved in service-related work since high school, the organization of an event on this scale is new to him.

The money raised will go to the Child Life Department at the Children’s National Medical Center in D.C. Most of the funds will come directly from participants, who will raise sponsorship money for shaving their heads.

“I really liked the idea of targeting children’s cancer,” Ferst said. “It clicked in terms of who I am and what I want to accomplish with this.”

Child Life works to help children who are chronically ill maintain normal living patterns and minimize trauma.

“Millions of dollars are spent on cancer research every year,” Ferst explained. “I knew that $10,000 would be a drop in the bucket and I wanted to do something for kids who are already sick.”

The money will go to buying laptops for Child Life.

“The laptops will allow the kids to do things like watch movies or educational programming or keep up with school work. It will help them stay plugged in, like other kids their age,” he said. “It’s a small thing, but it can make a big difference.”

Buzzing For Change has a strong personal importance for Ferst, who lost his mother to cancer five years ago. The event is a way in which to honor her memory while helping better the lives of children with diseases such as cancer.

The decision to be open about his motivations for starting Buzzing For Change was initially a difficult one for Ferst.

“I wasn’t sure how public I wanted to be. I talked with a lot of my friends; they insisted that letting people know why I am doing this would make the event more compelling,” he said. “This isn’t a whim. Buzzing for Change has a deep personal resonance for me. With their encouragement, I put the information out there. The response has been really positive.”

“The correlation between the shaving and cancer cannot be lost,” Ferst continued. “While we are trying to beat a world record, the real focus is doing something to help people. The record is another angle from which to look at things. We want to get people interested any way we can.”

To beat the record, participants must have their hair shaved down to the two level of a shaver, which leaves the hair a quarter of an inch in length.

“We’re encouraging people to go all the way, to strengthen the connection with what radiation therapy patients undergo. But we understand that not everyone is comfortable with that,” Ferst said.

The barbers at the event will also be cutting hair for Locks of Love, an organization that makes wigs for children who lose their hair because of disease. Hair must be 10 inches or longer and not dyed. Locks of Love participants can also gather sponsorship money, but their contribution will not be part of beating the world record.

Local D.C. children’s salon, Cartoon Cuts will be providing the barbers for the event.

“We found Cartoon Cuts through Locks of Love,” Ferst explained. “They do a lot of this kind of work and were really responsive to our requests.”

Kathee Cassady, who is responsible for coordinating Cartoon Cuts’ involvement with Buzzing For Change, said six barbers, including herself, will be present at the event.

“The list is not finalized, but we are all excited about the event,” she added.

While Cassady has not participated in any similar events in the past, she said she is looking forward to the challenge.

“I do this sort of thing every day,” she laughed.

Cassady herself will not have her head shaved, but said that Andy Dorer, program manager at Cartoon Cuts, is considering it.

Ferst will be shaving down all the way – a brave move for someone who is often recognized for his large Afro; Ferst’s photograph is the Buzzing For Change emblem and can be seen on the organization’s Web site., www.Buzzing4change.org.

“Asking people to shave is an intense commitment, and we welcome people who want to help, but don’t want to cut their hair,” he said. “Volunteers are very welcome.”

Buzzing For Change will need volunteers to help during the hectic first few weeks of school.

“We are going to have tables and people out on Kogan recruiting participants and sponsors,” Ferst said. “Also, we’ll have posters available on our Web site that people can print out and put up on their doors. There are a lot of things we plan on doing.”

As of now, 100 people have signed up to have their heads shaven Sept. 14, and almost 40 people will be donating hair to Locks of Love. Ferst said he anticipates a rush of interest at the beginning of the semester.

“We had palm cards in every single CI kit, and we want to tap into the interest those generated,” he said.

Financially, Buzzing for Change is well on its way to reaching its goal. To reach the $10,000, each of the 230 participants needs to raise just under $45 in sponsorship money.

“I am really excited to see just how much we can raise. Things are going well and every little bit helps,” he said.

Hillel has played a key role in helping Buzzing for Change coordinate its finances.

“We found that it would be much easier to use Hillel’s existing infrastructure for donations,” Ferst explained. “They already have the credit card donation system set up on their Web site, and they are a non-profit organization so all donations made are tax deductible.”

Buzzing for Change has received money directly from the University, Hillel and a few charity-related grants such as the Irving and Sarah Pitt Campus Creativity Grant. The money has been used for basic operational costs including mass mailings and palm cards, but the bulk will go to making Buzzing for Change T-shirts.

Participants who raise more than $25 in sponsorship money will receive a free T-shirt.

“We are also looking into corporate sponsorship so that we can have prizes for people who raise large amounts of money, but there is nothing definite yet,” Ferst said.

This past spring, Buzzing for Change became an official student organization, although it has yet to receive Student Association funds.

“It all depends,” Ferst said. “The possibility exists that we may want to try and turn this into an annual event.”

While this might not mean an annual assault on the world record, Ferst is cautiously optimistic about the potential of students shaving their heads.

“I don’t want to say anything just yet,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes in September. I want to see what people thought and what energy is left after it is over. It might be the kind of thing that can only happen once. But I don’t want to make assumptions; I just want to see what happens.”

Check out Buzzing for Change’s Web site, http://www.buzzing4change.org, or e-mail the organization at info@buzzing4change.org. for more information.

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