PRESQUE ISLE—The Northern Maine Museum of Science at the University of Maine at Presque Isle and C-A-N-C-E-R [Caring Area Neighbors for Cancer Education and Recovery] are pleased to announce that the 9th Annual Planet Head Day, held on Feb. 14 in Wieden Gymnasium, had strong participation and raised more than $11,000. A record number of County citizens—well more than 50—had their heads shaved (others donned bald caps) and painted as planets, moons and comets during this unique fundraiser that brings together space science education and cancer awareness.

NASA/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Planet Head Day is the major fundraising event for C-A-N-C-E-R, an Aroostook County-based grassroots organization that assists cancer patients and their families. All monies raised during Planet Head Day stay in the County and help those recently diagnosed or in treatment for cancer. C-A-N-C-E-R strives to help patients with travel expenses and other treatment-related expenses. The organization also helps cancer patients and their families in a variety of other ways, including a rnonthly delivery of “Bread of Life” bags that feature home-baked breads made by volunteers and artwork provided by the students of Mapleton Elementary School.

“Valentine’s Day was never better in Wieden Gym. This year, the event was really a love-in. It was so heartwarming to see new faces, new questions being asked, and watching how young and old were truly interested in giving of themselves to support those working through and dealing with cancer,” Louise Cardone-Calabrese, C-A-N-C-E-R chair of Planet Head Day, said. “People were telling me they were so glad the money they were giving stays here in the County and that we need to help each other. And I felt my heart singing because this fundraiser is about just that, neighbors helping neighbors.”

There was much to do and see at this year’s Planet Head Day. Community members from throughout Maine and nearby Canada stopped by the University to enjoy the afternoon of food, fun, and science and cancer education. As it has since the first year of the event, Pizza Hut provided food and drink, and birthday cake for the 85th anniversary of Pluto’s discovery was provided by NASA.

Around the room, there was an assortment of displays related to C-A-N-C-E-R’s efforts and space education. In one spot, a children’s art area was set up to provide a fun activity for the younger attendees and, in another, the Knotty Knitters were providing free, hand-knit hats to all who shaved their heads. In the middle of the room, WAGM’s Chief Meteorologist Ted Shapiro returned to emcee this year’s event. Circulating throughout the space, the County Clownz spread smiles and laughter with their exuberance and odd-shaped balloons. And just outside the gym, students Renee Browning, Kate Leavitt and Elizabeth Butterfield, with the Presque Isle Regional Career and Technical Center’s SkillsUSA organization, took before and after photographs of each planethead so participants had a keepsake to take home.

There were more than 100 “planetheads” of all ages orbiting around the gym. A crowd gathered around a row of barber chairs to watch the brave get a free haircut—a very close shave—from the staff of the Parsons Street Barber Shop and Great Beginnings Hair Boutique. Theatrical “bald” caps offered a less permanent option for participants. The resulting bald heads offered recognition and support for the many cancer patients who lose their hair during cancer treatment.

At a nearby cluster of tables, volunteer artists and planet head painters were on hand to transform those blank canvases into the celestial body of each person’s choosing, employing imaginative painting techniques and even hand-crafted cardboard rings. Money for the “bald” caps and paints were provided by a NASA grant. Planet Head Day is scheduled each year for the weekend closest to the anniversary of the discovery date for the dwarf planet Pluto (Feb. 18, 1930) and is part of the University’s educational outreach for the New Horizons program.

A fun addition to this year’s event, officials from the Maine School of Science and Mathematics had planned to join the festivities via Skype for the “shearing” and painting of faculty member Larry Berz’s head. Due to weather that canceled activities at MSSM, however, a delegation was able to attend the event in Presque Isle, with Berz taking to one of the barber chairs, Executive Director Luke Shorty tending to the shearing, and Limestone Community School Art instructor Jessica Goodwin providing the space art. This is the second time Berz has represented MSSM for the event—last year, he hosted a supplemental, satellite Planet Head Day site during J-Term activities at MSSM.

Planet Head Day was originally established as a NASA-funded celebration of the University’s involvement in the New Horizons space mission to Pluto. Significantly, the New Horizons mission arrives at the dwarf planet this year on July 15.

“This is a special year for us, as New Horizons will be taking pictures of Pluto as it goes by the dwarf planet this July 15th en route to the outer limits of our solar system and beyond,” said Kevin McCartney, an organizer for the event and Director of UMPI’s Northern Maine Museum of Science.

McCartney said he was deeply moved by the number of children who attended, some as participants with shaved or capped heads. One student, Mason Allen, was the lead fundraiser for the event this year, bringing in $3,200.

“When I see the kids here, I know that science, cancer and the value of community service has been learned by young minds in a manner that will never be forgotten,” McCartney said.

A video of this year’s Planet Head Day activities, provided by Frank Grant, will be made available on youtube. Even though Planet Head Day is over, you can still make a donation to C-A-N-C-E-R. Donations can be sent directly to C-A-N-C-E-R, P.O. Box 811, Presque Isle, ME  04769, or call Louise Cardone-Calabrese at 764-0766.

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