By AMANDA ARNOLD
JEFFERSONVILLE — In a lot of ways, the Spring Carnival at Wilson Elementary School last week was what people have come to expect from the annual celebration: Huge crowds (more than 600 people), games, snacks and plenty of fun for all ages. But it was a new addition to this year’s carnival that turned a lot of heads.
Kyle Parr, a fifth-grade teacher at Wilson, enlisted the help of Sheila Gustafson, campaign coordinator for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, to organize a kick-off for the Pennies for Patients fundraiser as the festival’s special attraction.
“We are doing a Pennies for Patients Drive, and tonight is the kick-off. It’s also for the purpose to raise awareness,” Parr said about Friday’s event.
In the coming weeks, students who lend their support to Pennies for Patients can elect to participate in hat and pajama days and other activities before the fundraiser wraps up with a closing event on April 10. And even though there’s still plenty of time to give to the fundraiser, some students and teachers — including Parr — decided to give to the cause in a big way during Friday’s carnival by gathering donations and then have their heads shaved to raise both funds and awareness for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation.
Student Adam Weigel had his head shaved, and his dad, Sean, was proud of his son’s fundraising efforts.
“I think this is a very good cause. It’s great to get the students out here for the donations, and it’s a fun way for kids learn about it,” said Sean Weigel.
Two stylists from Hair Concepts of Greenville, donated their time to the event for the head shaving.
“It was very enjoyable to participate in the cause,” said Hair Concepts owner Audrey Marcum, who said her salon often participates in such fundraisers as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.
In total, five students and four teachers took the plunge to shave their heads during the Pennies for Patients kick off. One teacher elected for a haircut for a donation to Locks of Love.
“It [the head shaving] went very well,” Parr said. “It was not as emotional as I thought [it would be], but seeing parents and teachers cry didn’t help,” said Parr, who was emotional because his wife, Jennifer, was diagnosed with lymphoma in October of 2012.
“I think this is awesome and it’s great for everyone,” said Jennifer Parr, who came out to support her husband and the Pennies for Patients kick-off.
Although Kyle Parr said he and his wife have the worst behind them, they are very thankful for the supportive community that continues to help them.
“We are appreciative for everyone’s support and the kids who were bold enough to have their heads shaved. Also, the teachers who joined me to support my wife and myself. I know the school, employees and my boss have supported us, and that has been nice,” said Kyle Parr.
Jennifer Parr echoed her husband’s sentiments.
“The support of friends and family is what has gotten me through — support and the power of prayer,” she said.
In addition to the head shaving, the Pennies for Patients kick-off included students selling ribbons and bracelets they made. Kyle Parr said there have been Pennies for Patients fundraisers at Wilson before, but not to this magnitude.
Gustafson said the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society often coordinates fundraising drives with local schools.
"I was very impressed with how organized it was, and excited about the enthusiasm, and the individuals who came out to have their hair cut and to help us find a cure,” said Gustafson.
But it’s not just schools who support the cause, Gustafson said. Businesses are also welcome to hold fundraisers and serve as sponsors, as Bales Auto Mall and Bowles Mattress recently did.
Wilson raised $350 — $150 from the students and $200 from a matched check written by Kyle Parr’s mother — on Friday and that amount is expected to continue to grow over the next few weeks, organizers said.