Volunteer event co-organizers and ‘shavees’ Kristen O’Connor (left) and Kelly Siddiqui (right) are also mothers of children from the McGaw YMCA Children’s Center preschool program. Submitted by Kristen O'Connor

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Evanston resident 10-year-old Ainsley Burns is a pediatric cancer survivor who is at the heart of a head-shaving event to raise money for pediatric cancer research with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. Volunteers will have their heads shaved at the McGaw YMCA Children’s Center, 1420 Maple Ave., later today.

As the event’s honor child, Ainsley, who will celebrate her 11th birthday the next day, will attend the event with her mother. The event website states that Ainsley was diagnosed with Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis at the age of 2 and that her status is currently “in maintenance.”

“We’ve all had cancer touch our lives, but it seems particularly cruel when a child is diagnosed with the ‘C’ word,” said Kristin O’ Connor, a volunteer co-organizer for today’s event. Ms. O’Connor said she decided to start organizing the event after being inspired last March by a friend of a friend who was a “shavee.”

Ms. O’ Connor says she has been working closely with co-organizer Kelly Siddiqui to arrange the St. Baldrick’s head-shaving in Evanston. The women are lead participants and, with 14 others, will shave their heads to stand in solidarity with children diagnosed with cancer. Each of the women has personally experienced what it is like to have someone in their lives affected by the disease.

Ms. Siddiqui once worked at the Cancer Center at Riley Hospital for Children in Indiana. “I saw what childhood cancer was like and how awful it is. It takes so much away from their childhood,” said Ms. Siddiqui. “Cancer doesn’t discriminate, childhood cancer especially, and it can affect any of us at any time.”

Ms. O’Connor and Ms. Siddiqui said the process of organizing the event was slow at first. “We didn’t have any other shavees with us for a long time,” said Ms. Siddiqui. “But then all of a sudden it started to snowball.”

Both women sent out letters to civic organizations in Evanston and went to local businesses seeking donations. They said the McGaw YMCA has been very supportive of the event, as have local schools.

“We are in a college town with a lot of social activism, and this is just one more thing that makes Evanston a great place to be that can support something like this,” said Ms. O’Connor.

Among the 16 participants are five women, a team of Evanston firefighters and McGaw YMCA president/CEO Bill Geiger.

Ms. O’Connor said after the head shaving event they plan  to wear buttons that say, “Ask me why I am bald.”

“It is very little effort on our part to shave our heads,” said Ms. O’Connor. “We’re standing up for kids with cancer and making a statement.”

“I’ve already thought about how I am going to feel after [shaving], and I think there is a high chance there will be tears,” said Ms. Siddiqui. “It’s not the mourning of the hair but the symbolism and the emotions of it.”

Ms. O’Connor said the event date was intentionally set close to St. Patrick’s day. Irish dancers from Milwaukee will be performing, as will some of the high school students participating in this year’s Brillianteen musical.

St. Baldrick’s is a volunteer-based charity that focuses on providing funding to the “most promising” pediatric cancer research, says the website. The foundation has awarded $78, 804,186 in research grants since 2005.

According to the McGaw YMCA Children’s Center’s event website, participants have already raised $18,616, approaching the event’s goal of $20,000.