They say beauty is only skin deep.
Kissimmee police and first responders are set to get at the root of that saying next month at the city’s third annual Shave Fest, a special fundraiser that benefits children battling cancer.
Shaving is a form of solidarity at the event, a symbolic gesture to children who lose their hair while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.
All proceeds benefit the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a volunteer-powered charity that funds more childhood cancer research grants than any organization except the U.S. government.
Since 2005, St. Baldrick’s has raised over $270 million in research grants.
Shave Fests have been raising money across the country recently, and the unique event made its way to Kissimmee in 2017.
Kissimmee Police Department Cpl. Shannon Taylor was inspired to bring Shave Fest to Osceola County after experiencing it in Brevard County a few years ago.
Taylor was so moved by stories of young children battling life-threatening illnesses that she shaved her own head at Kissimmee’s first Shave Fest two years ago.
“I wanted the children to know that your hair is only surface deep,” Taylor said. “That doesn’t represent who you are… I wanted them to know that even though you’re bald, you’re still beautiful.”
Taylor’s curly locks have grown out some since then, reaching just past her shoulders now. She says she’s willing to do it all over again but would prefer not to this year for a very specific reason.
Taylor, who is pregnant with her first child, said she’d like to have more hair than her daughter when the baby arrives.
This year’s Shave Fest is March 9 and Taylor is due less than two weeks later.
“It doesn’t leave me much time to grow it back,” said the mother-to-be. “And the doctors say the baby already has a full head of hair.”
Although she’s hoping to keep her hair, Taylor is more passionate about the cause than ever before – especially now that she’s expecting a child of her own.
“I feel even more connected to what these parents and children are going through,” she said. “It’s so hard to imagine anyone battling to save their child’s life like that.”
This year, KPD and the Kissimmee Fire Department are dedicating support to Lelia, the niece of a police department employee.
When Leila was just 19 months old, her parents learned their daughter had a rare form of stage-four cancer called neuroblastoma. Over the past year-and-a-half, Leila has faced 12 rounds of radiation, six bouts of immunotherapy, five chemotherapy sessions, two stem cell transplants and multiple surgeries.
However, because of foundations like St. Baldrick’s, Leila recently began a promising new clinical trial.
The young girl is 3 years old now, and although she’s doing much better, her fight continues.
Event organizers are hoping to raise $15,000 in the next month to help children like Leila.
They’re off to a good start, with 12 people already registered to fundraise and just under $2,800 collected.
But reaching this year’s goal will require support and involvement from the community, according to KPD Public Information Officer Bailey Myers.
“Anyone can participate and donate,” Myers explained. “And no - you don’t have to shave your head if you don’t want to.”
The Shave Fest is a fun, family-friendly event, Myers said, with food vendors, games and other events taking place in and around 3 Sisters Speakeasy in downtown Kissimmee.
For more information or to donate to the cause, check out Kissimmee’s special fundraising page at www.stbaldricks.org/events/mypage/12809/2019.